Saturday, June 15, 2024

It's My Birthday and I'll Sigh If I want to, But I Shan't.

 


 

Jeff––Saturday

 

On the occasion of my birthday, I proudly present “The Road Not Taken––NOT by Robert Frost.”  

 

It’s a greatly abridged description of transcendental moments of decision in my life. For those classicists among you, the original—frosty––version follows upon this parody of my favorite poet’s much revered lyric view on life's choices.

 

 


Two roads diverged in my youth as should,

And thinking I could not travel both

And fearing a wrong choice, long I stood

Searching down each road as far I could

Seeking clues on which led best toward growth;

 

I chose the most financially fair,

Dismissing my passions’ author claim,

I took the label lawyer to wear;

Perceiving fortune by passing there

Instead of a life far from the same,

 

I’d picked my path when I made my play

Yet as years faded by on that track

I longed more to find another way!

But knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted I could ever come back.

 

But I shan’t let this end with a sigh

For I trotted back along the fence

To where two roads diverge in a ‘should I’—

To follow the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 


ORIGINAL VERSION

 

The Road Not Taken

 

By Robert Frost

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Thanks, Robert––Jeff

Friday, June 14, 2024

Your Money or your Life (Part One)

 


There’s far too much stress and tension in the world. So, I’ll let you know at the start of this blog that everybody is fine.  Nobody was injured in the making of this blog.

We are very proud of our NHS in this country, rightly so. Yes, it's dying on its feet. Yes, it's overloaded, but not yet unfit for purpose, but things do need to change.

Just to recap on the lives of those who live in Spooky Towers. There’s been a tsunami of...stuff to do. Things like at 4.45pm the lawyer wanting the current rebuild costs of the practice and all the flats above, if the practice were to blow up. Like that’s the kind of figure that I carry around in my back pocket. A final DLA – Directors Loan Account- figure that had to be given within 14 days, and the lawyer forgot to tell us, and the accountant didn’t know as he was on holiday for the week. 

In practical terms it was coming home from a 12-hour shift seeing patients then Alan and I battering through spreadsheets, not knowing the figure we were looking for, but trying to give the accountant enough information so that he could work it out. And this was with me being able to go into the next treatment room and say to the buyer, "the insurance broker is suggesting this figure and we can adjust it at a later date". Even though that meant the new buyer might be £400 out of pocket for a couple of months until we get the right figure, she said 'Aye, whatever works for you.'  I can’t imagine the stress if I was selling it to somebody that I didn’t know I would probably have backed off the sale as it would be too difficult to cope with.

"England's hospital waiting lists rise to 7.57m"

  And in the background of this we have one mother in a care home and the other mother bed bound since fracturing her heel in mid-February.

On Sunday, Alan’s mum had an incident with another resident in the care home. Nothing bad but he had to manage it while on reception at work while trying to make headway into the figures. It was a day of the two phones ringing at the same time. Then we had to see my mother who always says, ‘have you done anything nice today’. And we say well, 'we’ve been at work since 8am.' And she says, ‘but apart from that have you done anything nice’.

Then at 6.30pm, just as we got home, Alan said that his heart was going a bit funny, 200 beats per minute, down to 50, back up to 210 and he looked quite hot and sweaty. At this point we had two options, to phone NHS 24 where a non-medical person takes you through a questionnaire and a medical person calls you back and says.. A) this is how you manage it B) go up to the out of hours practitioner at the hospital C) go up to accident and emergency. Or D) put the phone down and call an ambulance. The recorded message told us that the phone would be answered in an hour, and I know the call back would maybe be a couple of hours after that. The wait at Accident and Emergency would be 6 or 7 hours and the hospital is 10 minutes away. So, we made a decision to get to A&E so we would be in the best place should anything happen.

Like a heart attack.

                                              

The circus of the waiting area in A&E is a blog all in its own. It’s a bit like Lourdes, if once someone is told it’s 7 hours wait on an uncomfortable chair, while dodging the drunks, they tend to feel better and go home. 

Alan was triaged  quickly and within half and hour we knew there was no heart attack, there was no stroke, and we were sent back out to the waiting room to wait for 7 hours. At the 5 hours mark he was taken in again, more observations, more bloods, then sent back out to wait for the results of the blood tests.

At 2am the doors to casualty opened and the consultant came out, and this is what he said. ‘We are in unprecedented times, the hospital is full, there are no free beds at all. We have capacity for 28 patients in accident and emergency, at the moment we have 73 patients and that does not include you waiting here in the waiting area. So, the situation is now static, nothing can move forward until the patients in the hospital are discharged at 8am. So, anybody sitting in this waiting area has a 6 hour wait from here on in’.

To give him his due, he said if he formed an orderly queue, he would talk to them and offer advice but was unable to offer any treatment.

There was someone there because her cat had scratched her head – a few strips of micropore would have helped that until the GP surgery opened. And then there was the quiet man in the corner who’s bladder hadn’t emptied in 36 hours, and he had gone the opposite route to us, NHS 24,  a one hour wait to get the phone answered, a 2 hour wait for the callback, sent up to the out of hours GP (in the same hospital) where they had a 2 hour wait despite having an appointment. And the result of that is a letter to bring next door to A&E where they waited for another 4 hours and were then told by the consultant that there was another 6 hours to wait without even being seen.

Now medically a bladder like that can be emptied within 3 minutes by an experienced nurse with a catheter, that’s all it would take to offer relief and stop further damage. The cause of it can be left to another day.

We got home at 3 in the morning to being told to live a quiet life pending further tests. On Monday, our GP was very good; he did a call back and arranged appointments quickly so that Alan could go on the relaxing holiday which would do him more good than anything else.

Then my sister phoned at 6am on Tuesday to say that my mother had phoned her in pain, short of breath, thinking that she was either having a heart attack or it was her gallbladder trouble......

It was like getting off the merry-go-round just to get back on again.

Mother is fine, Alan is fine, not quite sure about the NHS. But that’s for another blog.

                                        

Carole

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Confessions of a Tasmaniac


Wendall -- every other Thursday


My husband and I have just made our reservations for our return to Tasmania, the first time traveling back since the pandemic, so I thought I would revisit my very first MIE post ever, about how much I love the Australian island and how inspiring it's always been for me. 

In Hobart's Botanic Gardens.

Michael Sears's most recent “Jurassic Park:Tasmania” post threw me back to my times there, so today I’m offering a companion piece about own “Days of Wine and MONA.”  

 

I’ve been very lucky in my working life to have spent a lot of time in Europe and in the South Pacific, teaching and mentoring filmmakers. Through those travels, I’ve managed to pick up, among other things, fifty-five Clairefontaine notebooks, a glut of commemorative coffee mugs, a husband, and a lot of great earrings. I’ve also found inspiration for almost everything I’ve ever written, one way or another.

 

After multiple work trips to Melbourne, I’d had some great meals, grabbed a few hours in museums, and made a half-day trip up the Great Ocean Road, but in terms of experiencing Australia, that was about it. So on my next trip I was determined to see more. When I found Tasmania was only an hour by plane from Melbourne, my husband James and I decided to use our last two days and one night there. 


First view from our seats

It’s probably the first place I’ve ever gone just because I loved the name. I made a random hotel booking, and off we went, with our day packs, to the Apple Isle, and my second book, Drowned Under, was born.

 

From the minute we saw Hobart harbor, we were smitten, especially because we had lucked into a hotel with the view below. 


Our view from the Grand Chancellor Hotel


As we headed for the harbor, we noticed a mural of what I thought was a dog with stripes. I was taken by the image.




We toured the wharves, visited the Cruise terminal, and found the Drunken Admiral restaurant, just our style, with a huge cooking pot outside. You can see what happened, here. 



These shenanigans were soon eclipsed by our near-arrest. James is obsessed with exploration. If there were a Shackleton Channel, he would subscribe. That’s why he suddenly ran towards an electrified chain link fence and pulled on the gate. He was trying to get to the Antarctic icebreaker on the other side. Just as the security lights came on and I heard imaginary sirens, a lovely man yelled down and said “Want to come see?” That was Gerry, the ship's Captain. He and James are now friends.


James in front of the highly guarded Aurora Australis

We visited the legendary Salamanca market, including the memorable Déja

Vu Books,

 



lots of wine bars, 


A fine Tasmanian Shiraz, as I recall


as well as more representations of what someone finally told me was a Tasmanian tiger.



That night, we had more fabulous food and wine and the next morning, before we had to leave, we visited two museums just blocks from our hotel. The Maritime Museum featured, among many other things, an ancient diving suit, a pictorial history of cruise ships to the island, as well as plenty of figureheads.



Less than a block away was the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. 



It was a fabulous concept, to see art amongst the taxidermy and ancient pottery. 


James's shadow in front of a video installation

Then, we walked into the Thylacine Gallery. There I found the mythic animal that I’d been seeing everywhere. The tragic story of this indigenous animal, now “functionally extinct,” was particularly sad because the government had paid farmers and hunters to kill them, seeing them as a threat to livestock. This tiger broke my heart, as did the photos of their cubs.



I couldn't get these images out of my mind


As we flew home I thought about how my publisher was interested in my second Cyd Redondo book taking place on a cruise ship. Hobart had cruise ships. And the series was focused on endangered animals. What was more endangered than an animal that was “functionally extinct”? 

 

The book, Drowned Under, would be set in Tasmania. I had to come back. Our second trip, in some ways, was even better. I was able to visit the defunct zoo, where the last thylacine died and the surrounding Botanic Gardens.


Legendary Beaumaris Zoo beside the Botanic Gardens

Our new friend Gerry arranged a private two hour tour of the icebreaker. James practically had a conniption fit.

 

We had fabulous rosemary cocktails at the Frogmore Bar on the harbor.



And then we visited MONA, the privately owned Museum of Old and New Art, which was completed by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh in 2011 and is built underneath a vineyard, a ferry ride away from Hobart. 



The outside of the MONA Ferry


The inside of the ferry

It’s one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been. The tables in the restaurant consisted of glassed-over pieces of rare earth, the ones outside made of grass. 

The Source Restaurant inside


The Source Restaurant outside

The cavernous layers of the museum are both stunning and alarming. None of my pictures quite captured the feeling, but the two James Turrell installations are not to be missed. 

Inside one of the James Turrell installations

Outside one of the James Turrell installations

I’ll always be grateful I went to the ends of the earth, and came back with a book.


--Wendall

 


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The 10 Most Hackneyed and Ridiculous Tropes in Crime Movies

 Wed--Kwei

Crime movies are a beloved genre, full of suspense, drama, and action. But let's face it, they can also be chock-full clichés ranging from the absurd to the downright ridiculous. Here are ten of the most hackneyed tropes that make us roll our eyes and laugh out loud.


1. The Bumbling Henchman

These guys are always incredibly powerful but incredibly stupid.




2. The Villain Monologue  

Just when the hero is about to be defeated, the villain decides it’s the perfect time to reveal every detail of their master plan, giving the hero ample time to escape.




3. The Perfectly Timed Explosion  

No matter how complicated the bomb, our hero always manages to walk away just in time for it to explode in a perfectly cinematic fashion, sunglasses intact – mostly.






4. The Mysteriously Printed Photographs  

In the digital age, our savvy detective still stumbles upon crucial evidence in the form of freshly printed photographs. Because, apparently, villains have a nostalgic love for physical prints!




5. The Instant Computer Genius  

Give them five seconds and they can hack into any system. The screen always has fancy graphics and sound effects, of course.




6. The Car That Never Starts  

Just as the hero needs to make a quick getaway, the car inexplicably refuses to start, only to roar to life at the last possible moment.




7. The One-Punch Knockout 

Forget martial arts skills or real combat – a single punch is all it takes to knock out any adversary in these movies.




8. The Never-Ending Ammo  

The hero’s gun seems to have a bottomless magazine, allowing it to fire endlessly without the inconvenience of reloading it


.



9. The Conveniently Placed Newspaper Clipping 

Important plot details are always discovered in newspaper clippings that just happen to be lying around in convenient places.




10. The Unlikely Love Embrace  

Amidst the chaos of fighting crime, the hero finds time to fall head-over-heels in love, often with someone they met five minutes ago.




 

Eating With My Eyes

 Sujata Massey




When life is stressful, resting my eyes on clear surfaces and straight lines helps me take a deep breath. Getting through the last pages of an edit is always a tough time--I'm housebound and frustrated. So during one of my stomps around the house, I caught sight of some overcrowded bookshelves and became obsessed with purging them. I expected this book cleanse would be easier work than my semi-annual clean-outs of the towering shelves in our dining room. This was a simple matter of tending to the walnut and maple-joined bookcases my husband built in our butler’s pantry twelve years ago. He's tremendously creative, and it its a sturdy, six-foot long, granite-topped set of two sturdy shelves that can hold almost two hundred cookbooks.  

 

I find it difficult to retire a cookbook. This is no matter whether it’s been used a lot in the past and has become threadbare or is pristine because of minimal use. I probably struggle also because I have strong feelings about cookbook authors. These writers often have professional cooking backgrounds. They test their recipes multiple times, they use science and history, and they are usually involved in the food styling and photography. My very favorite cookbook writers are also charming storytellers who mix personal tales along with teaspoons. This contingent is headed by the dearly departed MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin and Elizabeth David. Still living, and writing wonderful stories along with their recipes, are Molly Wizenberg, Amanda Hesser, Dorie Greenspan, Hannah Che, and Priya Krishna. 

 

Until now, I hadn’t realized that so many food writing favorites are women. Is focusing on writing because of women’s exclusion from chef jobs for so many years? Or is it because cookbooks are a subgenre of "women's books?" What about the madness of dessert cookbook reading--does reading them hit the same brain receptors as a kiss?









There still are male authors on the shelves, of course. The most favored one is the late Craig Claiborne, who was restaurant critic and food editor at The New York Times from 1957 to 1986. Claiborne doesn't make time for stories, but he writes luscious recipes, never mind the vast amounts of butter and cream in most of them. Claiborne is known for multiple books, but our family favorite was THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERNATIONAL COOKBOOK,  published in 1971, the time my parents were setting up house in Minnesota. I can still picture the thick, dogeared hardcover taking up a big part of a small shelf in the tiny hall just off the kitchen. Whenever my parents wanted to make something exotic like Greek pastitsio or Hungarian goulash, they cooked from this book. The three children in our family had the chore of cooking supper once a week; the good news was it could be anything we wished. I tended to use the cookbook’s French section, because I was enthralled with the poetic names of the soups and entrees. My sisters favored the Italian section and became adept with spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti carbonara, and even pizza. Yes—in the 1970s, in our family, nobody ever phoned out for pizza delivery--it was made from scratch! My parents and I sometimes had a conversation about what we would cook for Mr. Claiborne if he ever came to dinner. I wanted to make Chicken Chasseur, but my parents said Indian. They were firm in their belief that this was one area of cooking in which they were accomplished, and he was an amateur. 


After I went away to college in Baltimore, I was thrilled to find a first edition of THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERNATIONAL COOKBOOK in a used bookshop. I used it to cook for roommates and friends. The first meal I ever cooked for my future husband, during our college days, was his French section’s Chicken with Cream and Tomatoes. I was nervous about Tony having to wait too long, so I cooked very fast—and part of the interior of the chicken breasts was a vivid pink.

 

The following summer, I had a New York romance and was exposed to sophisticated cooking of the moment. I became enchanted with a cookbook that may have defined the 1980s: THE SILVER PALETTE COOKBOOK, written by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I learned about the luscious recipes paging through the book while visiting my boyfriend's mother's dream kitchen--and yes, she cooked from it--and did it well.  My romance fizzled, but the fabulous mother generously gave me my own copy of the cookbook. I left New York without a boyfriend, but I now had a mastery of pesto and dark chocolate cake.  

 

After college I went to the Baltimore Evening Sun as a general assignment features reporter, and cookbooks fell into my life at a rapid pace. It all started because I offered my reviewing services to a food editor overwhelmed by dozens of books sent by publishers each week. I tried out at least one recipe from each book and wrote reviews, getting letters of thanks—and sometimes anger—from the book’s authors. In the process I filled my Ikea Billy bookcases with that spanned such topics Thanksgiving dishes, biscuits and scones, and Indian microwave cooking. 

 

I gave away about a third cookbook collection before I got married and moved to Japan. At the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya, I bought several beautifully photographed Japanese cookbooks—not quite admitting to myself that the dishes were more time-consuming than I could manage. But I still ate through those books with my eyes. 



It’s the same for me now that I’m back in the United States: I have an insatiable hunger for cookbooks that is only amplified by cookbook author interviews on podcasts and cooking videos on YouTube and Instagram. Because of the plethora of food bloggers, it’s easy to find recipes for free on the internet; however, the likelihood of these recipes failing is far greater than recipes by an experienced food writer tested and cleared for publication in a book. Because of the rise of googling for recipes, I fear for the economic wellbeing of cookbook writers; and this is another reason why I rationalize my cookbook buying.  

 

 

 Passing the milestone of forty, health became a powerful reason to invest in new cookbooks. I find myself going through phases of various eating styles with great enthusiasm. My vegetarian period involved several books on Indian vegetarianism by Madhur Jaffrey, and American books like Mark Bittman’s 996-page doorstopper, HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING VEGETARIAN. Mark Bittman also helped me through a pescetarian phase with his seminal book, FISH. During the years my kids were young, food sensitivities flew by the wayside. In the interest of time management, I turned to slow cooker books and anything that had the word “Quick” on the cover. 

 

Late at night is still my quiet time and the perfect opportunity to turn to rereading my favorite food memoirs. My love for literary food writing began when I accidentally discovered a few MFK Fisher classics that described her years living and dining in France—from glorious carefree days to severe food shortages during World War II. I devoured it all. The example of brilliant MFK Fisher led me to think I could make the best of leaving the newspaper to be a trailing spouse—if it were overseas. As a newlywed—just like MFK!—I would settle abroad in an unfamiliar, stimulating location where I would gamely take up a life of eating at restaurants, shopping at exotic markets, and learning to cook another cuisine. 


And reading these books brings me back to that honeymoon period with Tony in Japan. Throughout our time living in Hayama, a small town an hour south of Tokyo, we explored every type of café and home dining experience. This translated to rotary sushi bars, tea ceremonies, tofu-making classes, and old-fashioned US Navy dinners where a Campbells Soup-based casserole might be served with fanfare. But instead of writing a food memoir about this period, I found myself drawn writing a mystery that included food. For instance, there’s a horse sashimi appetizer in THE SALARYMAN’S WIFE that is taken straight from my memory of a tense New Year’s Eve dinner in the Japanese Alps. Another book, THE PEARL DIVER, delves into the backstage world of a Japanese fusion restaurant. Years later, I can’t imagine writing a book without the help of restaurant experiences or cookbooks. I often turn to regional Indian cookbooks to set the tables in scenes within the Perveen Mistry series. THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL’s paperback edition contains an easy menu of dinner recipes meant for book-club potluck meals. 











 

So now that I’ve kissed a few cookbooks goodbye, I have good news. My brain calmed, and I finished my book edit. And I predict the eleven books I’ve left at various Little Free Libraries around the city will soon find themselves in new homes, inspiring people—whether they make a meal or not. 

 



Sujata recently had the good news of a Macavity nomination! Specifically, it’s a best historical novel nomination for her 203 novel, THE MISTRESS OF BHATIA HOUSE—which  describes in detail Gujarati teatime food. Multiple recipes from all her books and past blogposts can be found at her website.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Social tensions, long walks, and religious cults

Vaseem Khan, Kellye Garrett, and Ed James onstage at Capital Crime

Craig every second Tuesday

Kia ora and gidday everyone,

So last time I talked about the then-upcoming Capital Crime festival in London, along with restarting my (previously) long-running 9mm interview series after quite a hiatus. I'm pleased to report reality matched anticipation with Capital Crime; even though this year I was only able to pop in for a few hours each day rather than staying all day every day like I often do at festivals, it was really terrific. A great vibe, wonderful authors. Lovely to catch up with some old friends I hadn't seen for months, and meet some new-to-me authors and booklovers too. 

It was a great week all 'round, really, which was particularly lovely for me given Miss Nine and her mother were away in New Zealand for her maternal grandfather's 80th birthday (I didn't join them for the short trip), but rather than being lonely in London I through fate and circumstance had several overseas friends visiting, from various eras and chapters of my life (law school, summer camp, crime fiction, etc) and various countries.

Taking visiting Australian author and pulp noir scholar Andrew Nette
to the fabulous Goldsboro Books store in central London

So lots of catch-ups and lots of walking around London - which is a great walking city, despite so many people tubing everywhere - playing tourist and tour guide in 'my own city', from Abbey Road to Tower Bridge, and lots of places in between. Long walks, good books, friends old and new; it was a good week for the soul.

One of the main highlights for me was getting to meet award-winning New Jersey author and Crime Writers of Color co-founder Kellye Garrett in person. I'd had the pleasure of doing multiple video chats with Kellye in recent years, for magazine articles and podcasts etc, but we hadn't hung out in person before. So it was really lovely I got to show her (and her mother) around London a little - her first visit to the city - ahead of her appearance at Capital Crime.

Kellye Garrett and her Mom on the Millennium Bridge

One of the coolest things about crime fiction - alongside the great stories - is the wonderful people in the genre. I'm one of many who've discussed this in various places, but crime writers as a whole are a great bunch of people, perhaps because they get all the darkness out on the page. Overall there's a great sense of collegiality at events, less of the scarcity mindset I've seen elsewhere in the arts, and lots of everyone lifting others up. A rising tide.

Capital Crime itself was another terrific example of that. 

Although I couldn't attend the whole weekend, I had a great time at the panels I saw, including CWA chair Vaseem Khan, Kellye and Scottish author Ed James discussing the fine balance between exploring social tensions and providing entertainment in crime fiction, a great discussion on the supernatural in crime with William Hussey, Kristen Perrin, and Stuart Neville, and a hilarious and fun 'in conversation' with John Connolly and Mark Billingham. There were also some really lovely offstage catchups with various authors and readers. An unexpected surprise was getting to sign a copy of DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER 2, which keen reader Peter Murray had brought to the festival in the hopes of seeing me, even though I wasn't part of this year's onstage programme. 

Peter Murray surprises me with DDDU2

Given the book has just come out in recent weeks and I haven't done any events or festivals since its release, this was actually my first reader signing (I'd signed a few copies for friends and family). Again, how cool are crime folks?

I also conducted a few offstage interviews with some crime authors, which will be popping up in various magazines and websites in the coming weeks and months. Always a pleasure to chat books, crime fiction, and life with authors. 

On that note, I thought I'd share another 9mm interview here with you today, with CWA Gold Dagger and Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year winner MW Craven, who's taken British crime writing by storm in recent years. I caught up with Mike at Capital Crime, and we chatted about his new novel THE MERCY CHAIR, among other topics. It's a hell of a read, taking his Tilly and Poe series in a new direction, somewhat... 

But for now, here's MW Craven, staring down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM INTERVIEW: MW CRAVEN

After decades in the Army and Probation Service, punk rock loving storyteller MW Craven scooped the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger in 2019 with his debut, The Puppet Show, which introduced Cumbrian detective Washington Poe and brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw. The fourth novel in that series won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, the fifth scooped last year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. 

1. Who is your favorite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?

Commander Sam Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Watch. I’ve been obsessed with Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld for as long as I can remember, and the City Watch books are my very favourites. Most people have Guards! Guards! as their favourite, but I prefer the later Night Watch, as the cast of characters is wide and fully developed. There’s a touch of Vimes in Poe – how could there not be? – and a touch of Captain Carrot in Tilly . . . 

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?

Watership Down by Richard Adams. I was given this book by my parents – who encouraged me to read from a very young age – as they’d mistakenly thought that a book about rabbits was suitable reading for an eight-year-old . . . Wrong. It’s barely suitable for an adult. I read it at least once a year. 

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?

Nothing. Born in a Burial Gown, first published by Caffeine Nights in 2015 (under the name Mike Craven), was the first real thing I had written. And on the back of that I got my agent. I sometimes feel a fraud when I’m talking to fellow authors and they discuss rejection letters etc, as I never had any . . . 

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?

I collect books – first edition Ed McBains, unusual editions of Watership Down, first edition Stephen Kings, and I’m still trying to complete my first edition hardback collection of the Discworld novels. I’m getting there, but it’s a slow process. Other than that, I read, I socialise with my friends, and I go to gigs. The next two big ones are Stiff Little Fingers in Belfast and Iron Maiden in New York. 

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?

They should go to Poe’s local – the Kings Head on Fisher Street (and if they’re lucky, Spun Gold will be on) – and then they should visit my local independent bookshop, Bookends. It’s a smart shop with friendly, knowledgeable staff, but the real gem is the second-hand part of the business, Book Case. I think I’m right in saying that there are 39 rooms in that part of the building.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?

Sean Bean. He’s unashamedly northern and this shines through in whatever role he plays. He’s also gruff, no nonsense, sarcastic and craggy. 

7. Of your writings, which is your favorite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?

I have a soft spot for the second Poe book, Black Summer, as it’s kind of the forgotten novel. It didn’t receive the marketing that The Puppet Show did (which was the debut) and the series didn’t really take off until book 3, The Curator. But I like the simplicity of the central concept – a woman Poe knows is dead walks into a police station and proves beyond scientific doubt that she is who she claims to be. How someone can be both dead and alive was such a fun thing to do. It also has that opening chapter . . . 

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?

I celebrated with extra chicken when I found out about my first publishing deal (my wife and I were having a Nando’s in Gateshead). I had been hopeful, as Caffeine Nights had been making all the right noises about Born in a Burial Gown, but looking back, we celebrated getting that start-the-ball-rolling email quite stoically. A kind of ‘right, let’s do this’. Little did I know that the email would go on to change my life. I met my future agent the following year and gave him a just printed, not-yet-out, copy of the book, and, after reading it overnight, he asked me to send him the very next book I wrote as an exclusive submission.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?

There are two that stand out – being onstage at Newcastle Noir when a woman collapsed to the floor (she lived, thankfully) and the (won’t name him unless you feed me beer) author who had the mic just carried on talking as if nothing was happening. 

And at Bradford Literary festival in 2018, a woman in the audience repeatedly heckled me, Imran Mahmood and Rebecca Fleet. First, she wanted to know if we had all written the same book. Then, when it came to readings, she heckled again and asked why she, as a respectable woman of impeccable character, should have to listen to extracts from crime books. And finally, she asked why we all couldn’t just talk about Harry Potter instead. Imran and I still laugh about this.

Thanks, Mike, we appreciate you having a chat with us. 

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 nōnā te ngahere, ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga nōnā te ao.”

(the forest belongs to the bird who feasts on the miro berry, the world belongs to the bird who feasts on education)