Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Lest We Forget

Poppy wreaths laid at the Australian War Memorial in London on Anzac Day

Craig every second Tuesday

Kia ora and gidday everyone,

In the past week a rather significant day for Australians and New Zealanders has passed by again. 25 April may just be a date on the calendar for most countries, but down in New Zealand and Australia, and for others all around the world who have links to our two nations (including Turkey), it is a very special, and sombre day; ANZAC Day. A public holiday, but more akin to one like Memorial Day in the United States than its more festive holiday brethren. 

Anzac Day is a day when Aussies and Kiwis pause and remember the soldiers, sailors, and others who have served (and are still serving) our countries in wars and conflicts all over the world. 109 years ago, 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. It was a military bungle by the British commanders - 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.

Despite being about as far away from the main First World War conflict as you could be, more than 100,000 New Zealand troops and nurses served overseas during the First World War, from a population of just over one million. 42% of men of military age served. The losses were huge. You've only got to drive around New Zealand and spy the war memorials in various rural towns, where there are dozens of names listed even from tiny farming communities, to realise the impact the First and Second World Wars had on a couple of generations. Service, sacrifice. 

Wreaths at New Zealand war memorial
in London. Green one is Royal Family
Over the past century, Australia and New Zealand have contributed greatly on the world stage in many ways and in many diverse areas, generally 'punching far above our weight' given our geographic isolation and small populations - and in some ways this can be traced back to the values associated with 'the ANZAC tradition'.

I've been thinking a lot about Anzac Day recently, and what it means. It's thirteen years since I made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli myself, camping out overnight with hundreds of fellow Kiwis and Aussies by the beach where the Anzacs landed in 1915, waking for dawn service then hiking up the steep cliffs for morning services at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair. You can read more about my thoughts on that experience at a prior Murder is Everywhere post. A couple of years ago I attended an Anzac Day ceremony in my hometown of Richmond, Nelson in the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The place where I used to march in Anzac Day parades as a little kid in the Boy Scouts, joining the then-current military personnel and the veterans wearing their medals. 

That April we were back visiting family, for the first time in three-plus years because of the pandemic (we usually go back every year). Some significant things have changed for me since, and I've learned more personally about loss, and grief.

Flight Lieutenant Edward Te Keu
Bennett, a rare indigenous pilot
This year I toyed with attending the dawn service in London for the first time. It's held each year by the Australian and New Zealand war memorials near Hyde Park corner. I even had got Miss Nine and myself some poppies to wear (they're usually sold here in the UK around November, for Remembrance Day, whereas in ANZ they're an April thing). I'd been thinking about nationhood, military service, and more quite a bit recently as I was also writing my first large feature article for a big British newspaper (having had 1,000+ new stories, columns, and features published in other print magazines and newspapers in several countries). That feature combined crime writing and wartime remembrances; an interview with Māori filmmaker and novelist Michael Bennett (Better the Blood, The Gone, etc) about his father, Ted, who was a rare indigenous fighter pilot in the Second World War, and one of seven brothers who served in the war - remarkably, all came home, including three from the famed Māori Battalion. I'd gotten to do some fascinating research and gone down a few interesting rabbit holes while writing and fact-checking the feature article - which was originally scheduled to be published on 25 April (it got bumped to a later issue by the announcement of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year longlist). 

So Anzac Day had been on my mind even more than usual. 

To attend the dawn service in central London, it was going to be a 3am wakeup in South London to get a night bus into the city in time to make the entry time for the service - doable if tricky on a school day. Unfortunately a very late night beforehand for Miss Nine meant I couldn't in good conscience drag her out of bed so early, even for something as significant as Anzac Day. Especially when it's not a public holiday in the UK, so she'd have to go to school afterward. Perhaps in a couple of years, when it's on a Saturday here. After dropping her at school, though, I did head into town to pay my own respects at the war memorials. It was interesting being there, with the poppy wreaths placed by the Royal Family, the New Zealand and Australian governments, each branch of the military, and more. Tourists were wandering around as they usually do in London, and some wondered about why there were so many big wreaths at those memorials today. So I ended up chatting with some American tourists, and German tourists, and others, about Anzac Day. 

My dawn view over Anzac Cove on 25 April 2011

After that I strolled down Piccadilly and visited several bookshops, before getting back to my laptop for some work. On the other side of the world, my compatriots had been attending services and spending a public holiday with family and friends. My Anzac Day was a little different, but I was glad I took the time this year to pause for a while, to remember and reflect. I'll leave you with the words of the Anzac dedication, read out at every service: 

“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.”

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 wood pigeon (kereru) is fond of miro berries

Monday, April 29, 2024

Fuel for the Time Machine

 Annamaria on Monday

To make my time-machine stories work, I have to get myself to the point were I feel l]as if I am there with my characters in their historical lives.  Fortunately, when it comes to East Africa at the beginning of the 20th Century, I have found lots of tickets to get me there.  

Sometimes, they just show up in my life - like magical gifts.  For instance, the metal placard pictured above.  It's a 7x9 inch reproduction of a travel poster from around 1910.  Since I acquired it, it has sat on the bookshelf about my computer.  I bought it during a visit to Rome.  At the time, I was working on the beginning of Idol of Mombasa. which takes place in the port city of British East Africa in 1912. I had researched how people went from Europe to BEA, so I knew what shipping and passenger lines plied those waters.  I had already drafted the first scene.  In it, my Vera and Tolliver are returning from their honeymoon.

    "...On shore, a military band, augmented by native drummers, struck up a tune that Vera did not recognize.

    "Oh, look," Justin exclaimed, "someone of note is arriving on that Deutsche Ost-Afrika boat..."

Then, on a sunny afternoon in Rome, when I was not thinking about that scene, while strolling on a favorite street from Piazza Navona to Ponte Sant'Angelo, suddenly, there it was.  On rack outside a stationery and gift shop.The very ship, black smoke from the coal boilers and all.  My next sentence to my fellow travelers began, "Oh, look..."

These days, I am putting the finishing touches on A Death on the Lord's Day, due out in late August.  My favorite source of information on everyday life in BEA is close at hand. 

I first found this goldmine in the indispensable collection of the New York Public Library. Thanks to the University of Michigan Library, I now have my own reprint.

So, for instance,  when my characters take the train, I can look up when they will depart and when they will arrive at their destination.  That is, unless the track has been bent out of shape by crossing elephants or dug up by a rhino.

I can easily look at the organization of the Brits in charge, and even know their actual names.  

In the upcoming book, Vera and Tolliver are establishing their farm, part of which is going to be pasture for cows.  The Handbook of BEA tells what a settler needs to do to succeed.  Among the pages of advice, the experts highly recommend Paspalum Dilatatum for dairy farms.

In those days, pastures were cleared and planted with the a native grass of Ceylon.  Seeds were availalbe from Australia.  Once the introduced plant took hold, it would provide fodder for the large herds needed for a highly profitable dairy farm.

Of course, I looked it up, to see what its common name might be today. It is now called Dallis Grass.  And it is condemned as a highly invasive species in the USA.  In my research, I haven't found any similar contemporary complaints about it in Kenya.  Perhaps, someone out there will who knows about it, will clue me in.

In the meanwhile, my characters are taking the advice of the 1913
"experts," and they are planting the recommended species for their cows.   

Sunday, April 28, 2024

In a garret in Paris - Guest Post by Ann Aptaker.

Native New Yorker Ann Aptaker’s Cantor Gold novels have won the Lambda Literary and multiple Goldie awards. Her short stories have appeared in the Fedora II and III anthologies, the Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir anthology Volumes 1, 3, and 4, Switchblade Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars, the upcoming Private Dicks & Disco Balls anthology, and the online zine Punk Soul Poet. Her novella, A Taco, A T-Bird, A Beretta and One Furious Night, is featured in season two of the Guns & Tacos crime fiction series. 

Her latest novel, A Crime of Secrets, is the start of a new series introducing the crime-fighting duo of Fin Donner and Devorah Longstreet, women ahead of their time, an historical mystery set in the dark streets of New York in 1899.

When not writing crime fiction, Ann likes to kick back with old movies (and not so old movies), enjoyed with a big dish of ice cream.

In today's guest post, Ann tells us about a very special experience in the City of Light.

It’s been my good fortune to enjoy extended stays in Paris every year since 2020.

But oh, Paris in 2020, the first year of the Covid pandemic. I arrived in the city on March 1st, settled into my teeny-tiny AirBnB garret overlooking a courtyard and the famous Paris rooftops, and then—wham!—two weeks later the whole country, indeed the whole world, shut down.

The French government was very strict about the lockdown. Everyone, locals and visitors alike, was required to download, print, and fill out daily forms stating exactly why you were outside. Legitimate reasons were: shopping for necessities (groceries, pharmacy needs, etc.), medical or other required appointments, going to a job considered essential by the government, or a one-hour daily walkabout for fresh air and exercise, masked of course. If a gendarme stopped you and you didn’t have the form filled out for that day, there was a hefty fine among other penalties. As a non-citizen, you could even be deported. 

As in cities around the world, ambulance sirens wailed day and night, the sick and dying driven to overcrowded hospitals staffed by overworked, helpless nurses and doctors. Basic necessities were often scarce. Fear descended on Paris with a choking grip.

And yet…

And yet it was Paris. No plague could take away its beauty, its, well, Paris-ness. The famous Paris springtime lived up to its reputation. The air was clear and sweet. The sky was an incredible shade of blue. The curlicued beauty of the city’s architecture, Art Nouveau Metro signs and entrances, and my romantic view of the rooftops were sensual balms to my soul.


Bird atop Metro entrance
Place de la Nation

Nevertheless, I was locked away in my garret hour after hour, day after day. I was alone with myself, and yet I wasn’t alone. It was as if Paris, or at least my immediate bit of it, announced itself on my small balcony and beckoned me to step outside through my windowed balcony door. My little piece of Paris showed itself to me layer by layer, the classiest stripper in town revealing her fabulous flesh and bones. She showed me that her zinc rooftops were not really just gray but had subtle colors. The geometric confluence of walls and sloping rooflines became odes to Picasso. Commonplace details like water drains curved in Leger-like forms. 

Colors on the rooftop

Angles and chimneys

Curvy drain pipe

And on dark, rainy days, there was mystery in the courtyard in the black sheen of wet rooftops (I half-expected to see Fantomas slink along the skyline), the shuttered windows and balcony doors, the silver light on the ubiquitous chimneys. 

Bird on rooftop during hard rain

Clouds and silvery chimney

I was out on my balcony with my iPhone camera every day, several times a day and into the evening, seeing with a depth I’d never experienced.

As a writer, it wasn’t hard to fill all those other hours confined to my garret. As it happens, I was already contracted to write the fifth book in my Cantor Gold crime series. So there I was, writing eight hours a day or more, immersed in murder and mayhem on the page while outside were the twin realities of death by plague and the glorious insistence of le joie de vivre. There was a dreamlike quality to my days and nights. But of course, who hasn’t dreamt of writing a novel in a little garret in Paris?

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Apollo and Artemis, the Sun and Moon God Twins.



Perhaps my favorite place on all of Mykonos for watching sunset is by a waning crescent moon beach that was once the island’s most famous beach, Megali Ammos–before new roads made dozens of other beaches readily accessible and development played its inevitable role. 

Yet, for me, there’s still no more beautiful a spot for sunset than there.  The sea shimmers in combinations of gun-metal blue, silver, and gold against a backdrop of vermilion skies and shadowy forms of distant islands.  But for a lone white church with a blood red roof on the tiny island of Baou at the entrance to the bay, nothing in view suggests that the hand of man played a part in any of this––unless of course you look sharply to the left or right.  But no one comes here to do that.  This is a place for remembering simpler times and watching a glowing orange ball fade below the horizon.

On a clear day (as most are) you can see Tinos to the right, Syros dead ahead, and a bit of Rhenia (or big Delos, as the locals call it) off to the left.  Delos is out there too, around a bend to the left and less than a mile away.  I wrote about Delos in my very first Murder is Everywhere post.

It’s hard not to think of Delos as you watch the sunset.  After all, Delos is where Apollo, god of the sun, and his twin-sister, Artemis, the original divine personification of the moon were born to their mother, Leto, out of her assignation with Zeus.  Delos wasn’t Leto’s first choice for a delivery room, because back then it was little more than a rock bouncing around the Aegean Sea.  But she had little choice because Zeus’ wife (and sister—more about that here), Hera, had the world fearing her jealous wrath, and only tiny Delos saw nothing to lose in making a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you bargain” with Zeus.

Birth of Artemis and Apollo to Leto

From the moment of Apollo’s birth, when golden light flooded down upon Delos, the island prospered, so much so that it rose to emerge as one of antiquity’s bastions of commerce and religiosity.

But Apollo didn’t stick around his birthplace very long.  Jealous Hera drove Leto away from her children forcing Apollo to grow up quickly—in a matter of hours to be precise (on a diet of nectar and ambrosia)—and begin a pilgrimage that launched his myth, one of the oldest of all Greek myths and one of the few of entirely Greek creation (as opposed to foreign influences).

Although Apollo’s exploits gave rise to his being known by many different names and titles—Karneios, Hyakinthios, Pythios, Thargelios, Nomios, Delphinios, Ismenios, Hebdomeios, Lykios, Musagetes, etcetera—they all in one way or another derived from his link to the eternal operation of the sun and all that the ancients attributed to it.

In much the same way Apollo’s sister, Artemis, found that the qualities attributed to the moon—bringing fertility to the earth through cool, dew filled nights and casting light into the dark night offering protection to flocks and hunters—had her identified with those traits (fertility, hunting) and called by names and titles linked to those perceived powers of the moon: Agrotora, Kalliste, Diktynna, Britomartis, Eleuthro, Orthia, Limnaia, Potamia, Munychia, Brauronia, Amarynthia, etcetera.

Adonis and Artemis

As a duet, Apollo and Artemis might be best known for a bloody, Bonnie and Clyde-style episode brought on by an affront to their mother (and them) by the daughter of a king who boasted that her own children were “more beautiful” than Leto’s.  Talk about perturbing the wrong folk.  Artemis and Apollo promptly punished the prideful mother (Niobe) by slaying all of her children, Artemis by arrows the daughters, and Adonis by arrows the sons.  In her anguish the mother turned to stone.

On the off chance I’ve written something that a buddy of those Delosian twins might find offensive, please don’t come looking for me.  You’ll want to talk to Alexander S. Murray who wrote Who’s Who in Mythology.  It’s his book that’s responsible for driving this post…so help me gods.


Jeff's Upcoming Events

CrimeFest, Bristol UK

Panel THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2024 @ 17:00
"Overstepping the Mark: Abuses of Privilege and Power" with Ajay Chowdhury, Alex North, Kate Ellis, Jeffrey Siger, Sam Holland (Moderator)

Panel FRIDAY, MAY 10, 2024 @17:10
"What a Thrill: Page-Turners and Cliff Hangers" with Chris Curran, Antony Dunford, Charles Harris, Christine Poulson, Jeffrey Siger (Moderator)

Friday, April 26, 2024

Welcome to the Pixelloverse

 This is the Facebook profile picture of my guest on the blog today.

This is the least worrying thing about him.

Scott Pixello. I kid you not.

Here's a bit 'stolen' from somewhere. Scott is like a hospital doctor, both everywhere yet hard to pin down.....

"I have extensive plans for world domination but don't worry, this is not in a Hitler-invading-Poland-sort-of-way. Every three months or so, a book with my name on the cover should be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. These are mostly mindless pieces of nonsense but with a serious underbelly. To me, life's a bit like Donald Trump's hair- the closer you look at it, the more absurd it seems."

So now to the goatman himself-

Can you introduce yourself and the MIE readers to the Pixelloverse?

Well, I’m a bit of a shadowy figure. Not according to my doctor who’s told me to lose weight or die but in more general terms. I’m a Brit currently living in Germany for reasons of cake. I do have a day-job but if I tell you that or my real name, then I’d have to kill you and no-one wants that. I write books in lots of genres (30 so far!) and they tend to coalesce around historical topics, which I often find hard to take entirely seriously.

The Pixelloverse is a parallel universe inhabited mainly by me and my strange sense of humour. Other people come and occasionally I let them go.


MIE readers like to hear what life is like in another country. Are you English but now living, writing and working in Germany?

I draw M’lud’s attention to my previous answer. I’ve written a whole book about the differences between living in the UK and Germany, so summarising this is difficult but if I had to put it in a word, that word would be…cake. Luckily, I don’t have to very often. Basically, imagine Britain with better transport, food and things that worked. See, it’s hard. No homeschooling is impossible for Americans to wrap their heads around but it has the interesting consequence that all schools have to be equally good- the rich cannot opt out. Could be something for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party to ponder.


You write about London with the same affection as Christopher Fowler.

I do like London. It has much of the best of Britain- not just there are always things going on but folk from all over the world wash up there and mostly rub along together. My son seems to have inherited this predilection and took part of his Law degree there but whether he will, only time and property prices will tell.

 Did you stay in Dorset for a while? Did you know the Famous Five? No point in asking if you knew the Secret Seven as they were secret.

I never met the FF in person and The Secret Seven never really took off in Germany (some problem with the initials). I lived in the SW for several years and had my fair share (and often other people’s share) of pasties. I even started talking like Natasha Kinski in Tess of the D’urbervilles for a while but a dose of anti-biotics seemed to do the trick.

 Your sense of humour is always pushing back the boundaries of comedy i.e. sometimes it’s beyond a joke (to quote Ronnie Barker.).  Did it get you in trouble at school?

Well, I did spend quite a bit of time outside classrooms, outside the Headteacher’s room and quite often outside the school altogether. I was actually banned from the premises at lunchtime for a while, as I was causing so much mayhem. And that was just primary school. Another time, I had to sit in the centre circle of the netball court at breaks but eventually everyone came and sat with me, so I kind of won that one. I’m just not very good with rules. Strange that I should end up in Germany, which, stereotypes aside, has a very rules-based culture.


Who were the comedians that shaped your sense of humour and can the rest of us seek compensation is some way.

I like all kinds of comedians but I’m quite a tough audience- I don’t laugh easily. Right now, there’s a Finnish comedian called Ismo (check him out online) who does lots of interesting material, often about the peculiarities of English. Other figures I come back to include Jim Jefferies, Bill Burr, Stewart Lee and of course, Frank Sidebottom.

Address all queries about compensation to Dan Brown. He owes us all.


I’ve loved reading Never Is a Long Time and once I’ve finished the books I’ve to read for Crime fest I’m going to go back and read the other books. Beautifully written and rather enchanting tale of a teenager who wakes up dead in Highgate Cemetery…. with Karl Marx.

I don’t want to ask where you get your ideas from but, what inspired that book?

There are lots of interesting dead people in Highgate Cemetery (Douglas Adams, George Eliot, Malcolm McClaren…the list is endless). I just wondered what they did all day. Or all night. I’ve also always been fascinated by the concept of ghosts and the logistics of how being dead might be. Marx is there just for comic relief.



You also write a lot of young adult books, how to they differ from adult books?

Shorter words & big pictures. These are just two of the things you rarely find in my books. They tend to appeal to precocious children and childish adults. Find out which one you are and commit.


Living in Germany as you do, are Bavarians like Scottish people? Good at drinking, singing and castles?

No, no and yes.

You are very active on social media. You have a day job, and you write very good books. I like to think I manage 2 out the 3. What’s your secret?

I once killed a badger with a cricket bat.


Why is your Facebook profile a goat?

Just kidding.

And the final words?

Just realised that MIE doesn't mean 'Missing in Edinburgh'- a few of my titles do relate to crime: the Shirley Burly books (directly), the Leonardo & Shakespeare books ( indirectly) and the Keith Ramsbottom series, which are criminally underrated.

I live in fear of the humour fest if Jeff and Scott ever meet in some alternate reality. Perhaps not- it'd be a fun place to be!