Monday, October 23, 2017

Grasping at Straws: Finding a Cure for the Blues

Annamaria on Monday

I am having a lot of trouble hanging on to my reputation of the MIE neighborhood jejune and cockeyed optimist.  The news reports these day could make one despair.  Could make even an optimist like me terminally angry.

The news makes my heart hurt.

If your heart doesn’t hurt, go away now.  I don’t want to know you.

At times like these, I find consolation in music.  The Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem or  Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings can turn my anger or sadness into sound and somehow make it bearable. 

But not even that is enough to perk me up now that, here in the northern Hemisphere, the daylight is  dwindling away.  The cold is coming.  This is the wrong side of winter for me.  It’s no surprise that Seasonal Affective Disorder is abbreviated SAD.  

 I imagine we all need ways to cheer up.

My spirits are are so low that I am turning to my surefire cure: dancing!  So I present here my most cheering performances.  If you have a case if the blues, log on to these.  They are sure to make you smile.

My first two choices are pretty obvious, but nonetheless surefire hits.

First Fred, but not with not with Ginger Rogers.  In this case it’s Eleanor Powell.   Rival studio contracts kept Hollywood’s two best dancers apart until they finally got to team up in 1940.

And then Travolta!

Here a great favorite you may not have seen.  Did you know the mega-talented Christopher Walken could do this?

I am smiling now.  I hope you are too.

Annamaria's Events

Dagger Awards Gala Dinner
Thursday 26th October
Grange City Hotel

Where our own Leye Adenle and our fellow HOT Writer Ovidia Yu are short listed for the short story Dagger Award.  Hooray for Sunshine Noir!

A Mysterious Affair in PrincetonSat, November 4, 2017
1:00 PM – 5:00
SOLLEY THEATERArts Council of Princeton
102 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08540

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Write What You *Want* To Know Part II: Sailing in the Greek Islands

Zoë Sharp

The last few days I’ve been coming down from the buzz of Bouchercon in Toronto and getting back into the writing of the prequel to the Charlie Fox series. All this is being done from a lovely apartment I’ve borrowed via a friend of a friend up in the Washington Heights district of New York City.

But more about that next time.

I wanted to finish off the exploration of my trip from last month, around the Greek Islands. No, I didn’t travel to the areas that have a problem with the ongoing migrant crisis. It would no doubt have been a highly motivating experience, but heartbreaking at the same time.

I’m still trying to get a little more under the skin of the area, where sailing can go from flat calm waters one moment …

… to wild weather warnings the next. Just before I got out there, the people I joined experienced a mammoth hailstorm and had ended up dragging their anchor right out of a bay and into the main channel.

Mind you, we also began to drag when anchored in a very sheltered bay with little wind. Sitting in a little café on the quay having lunch, we began to realise that the boat was gradually getting further away than it had been. Never has a restaurant bill been paid so quickly.

The best way to ensure you’re not going anywhere is to take lines ashore. Doing this usually involves throwing a crew member (guess who?) over the side to swim them to a suitable making-off point. Much easier than messing around in a dinghy, providing there are no sea urchins lurking amid the rocks.

I remain fascinated with boat names, and how they came about. Take this one: Angela. Who is or was she?

Going ashore in different places so often means finding amazing derelict buildings. This one, with its intricate ironwork balcony, overlooked a beautiful harbour. You would have thought it was in a prime location and would therefore not have been left to run slowly to ruin. You have to wonder at the story behind the place.

And even more so at the interior, which had this little boat inside. Some considerable effort must have been expended to haul the boat up there and wriggle it inside through the narrow doorway. Question is, why?

Small business is rife in the islands, with just about anything available to purchase from the back of a pickup truck. In this case, the traditionally black-clad ladies were selling fish and vegetables.

The ingenuity continued in this harbour-front bar, where all the furniture had been made out of old pallets. Or, alternatively, it had been very expensively crafted to look as if it had been made out of old pallets. Don’t know how comfortable it was, as I didn’t stop. When you’re on a yacht you tend to be looking for the cafés with good Wi-Fi and plenty of power sockets to recharge your laptop.

All the tourists leave behind them a lot of litter, most of which seems to end up in landfill alongside the Lefkas canal. It was one of the few places we saw seagulls in any numbers.

Lefkas itself was a fascinating town, with some of the construction of the buildings similar to the Caribbean, with corrugated tin over a timber frame.

Once you get away from the main tourist areas, the houses line narrow paved streets of low-level housing, crammed in cheek-by-jowl with little room for outside space or gardens. It has the feel of an upmarket favela.

Elsewhere in the islands, green spaces are surprisingly abundant. Wild olive trees, some of them of advanced age, are everywhere.

And, of course, the ubiquitous island cats. They are numerous and beautiful.

Some of the cats have the tourists well worked out. This one was begging at our restaurant table. Cats are good hunters, and normally I’d let them take care of themselves rather than encourage them and see them chased away as a nuisance But he was so lame I took pity on him.

At the end of the trip, the boat was hauled onto the hard for the winter. If this yard is anything like the others I’ve spent time in, some of these boats will never move from one season to the next. You have to wonder what the story is of their owners.

A feature of most marinas is the book-swap shelf in the office. This one had all kinds of books in half a dozen different languages. I like to play ‘spot the author friends’ and managed one or two here.

Why is it that your last night always puts on a spectacular sunset to make the end of the trip seem so much more poignant than it might otherwise have been?

This week’s Word of the Week is not one that’s in very common use … as yet, but a part of me hopes it will be. It’s Harveyed, meaning to have been the victim of sexual harassment, particularly at the hands (or other parts for that matter) of someone in a position of professional power. Needless to say, it has been taken from a certain Mr Weinstein, who may well find his lasting legacy is a word in the language akin to boycott or lynch. As Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them.”

Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, October 25th at 6:30pm I’ll be at The Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007 with fellow author John Lawton. We’ll be talking about the inspiration behind our latest books, FOX HUNTER and FRIENDS AND TRAITORS, including what makes a spy, and how I got from the hazing of trainees at the Deep Cut army base to looted antiquities in the Middle East.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Once Upon A Time In A Far Away Land...

Storyteller by Ankar Grossvater


…there was a tragedy.

How many of you think the refugee crisis is over in Greece? By that I mean, how many of you think unseaworthy vessels, filled to multiple times their capacities with desperate families fleeing conflict zones, are no longer attempting dangerous crossings from Turkey to Greece’s eastern Aegean islands?

I ask that question because of a back and forth I’ve experienced several times since returning to America from Greece two weeks ago.  The exchange goes something like this:

“So, Jeffrey, do you have a new book coming out?”

“Yes, in January.”

“What’s it called?”

An Aegean April.”

“Where’s this one placed?”

“On the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos, close by the Turkish coast.”

 “What’s it about?”

“The refugee crisis.”

“I thought that was over.”

I thought that was over is a phase equally apropos to any number of continuing human tragedies plaguing our world should the amount of American press coverage each receives be the measure applied to their significance. 

I’ve come to accept that, in our Trump-driven news world, virtually no story gains traction if it is not somehow tied into his persona. If he’s not involved or commenting, the headline writers are not interested. 

Remember that photograph of three-year old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, on that Turkish beach in Bodrum? 

Two years have passed, refugees of all ages are still dying, and the impact of the ongoing ill-addressed situation is having insidious effects upon refugees and islanders alike.   For the human traffickers, and those who profit by them, it’s all about the money and maintaining control over the inventory. 
Yes, the tragedy continues, whether or not the American media cares to give it much attention.  Here’s a story from earlier this week in Athens’ newspaper of record, Ekathimerini telling it like it really is…to wit, far, far from over:
Tensions Rise on Aegean Islands as Migrants Continue to Arrive.”

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. 

A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning.

The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. 

The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850. 

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. 

Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” 

There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy. 

There are also rising tensions in makeshift migrant camps elsewhere in Greece.

Early on Thursday, in one of several occupied derelict buildings near the port of Patra, a 38-year-old Afghan man was hospitalized after being stabbed by four Pakistanis. The incident followed a recent knife attack on a 23-year-old Pakistani man by an Afghan in the city. 

According to sources, the attacks are part of an ongoing dispute between rival gangs seeking to control the human trafficking trade.

Moria Relocation Center, Lesvos

The difficult thing about writing novels set on the edge of societal change is you run the risk that between when you write the book and its publication, events will pass you by. For all those caught up in this tragedy, I’m sad to say that does not appear to be a risk for this book.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Pat Young, Guest Blogger and One To Watch

I am still in Canada, 'rv-ing' around and getting beeped at for not 'making the turn' when the road is clear. In the UK, we wait to be told to take the right...left? Whatever.

Jeff and Annamaria  may recall me asking them if they would look over a book written  by a Scot but set in the states. They both very generously agreed. The author, the subject of this blog, then went into meltdown at having such famous folk read her stuff.

However, things took a slightly different turn and  let's just say the book went hurtling up the charts  a little later. She tells the story below.

I first met Pat when I was doing a writers workshop. She was so talented I wanted to stab her there and then.  It was no surprise that she won a major prize and then got a publishing deal. Her story to publication though, is an interesting one.

While I have been nagging at her to blog, she has been sorting out the accents for the audio books. No easy feat with this narrative; think me, Jeff and Annamaria and you won't go far wrong.

Just one more thing. Pat says below that the woman has committed a crime and needs to get away. That is true. What Pat doesn't say is that the reader is willing her on every step of the way!

Here's Pat.

"Readers often wonder where writers find their inspiration. ‘How did you get the idea for this book?’ is a question asked at almost every book launch or author interview I’ve ever attended. The responses vary enormously and sometimes the writer doesn’t even know the answer.

I can identify the exact moment in time when I was inspired to tell Lucie’s story. I didn’t know that her name would be Lucie or anything about her or what would happen to her. That came later, once I started writing, but the seed of a plot was planted in my brain one night in September when I was sat in front of the television.

It was the anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps every anniversary is marked with special programs on TV but I had never seen them. Three documentaries caught my attention. I watched them back to back.

One was about the dust that shrouded Manhattan after the Towers fell. It was the first time I’d seen images of people caught in the dust shower. I saw how they became completely unrecognisable. It was impossible, in some cases, to say whether a person was male or female, black or white, young or old. They were walking snowmen. No other way to describe them.

The second report was about a woman who pretended to be a survivor, although she was nowhere near New York State on September 11th 2001. This woman, for reasons known only to herself (and her psychiatrist) set up and became leader of a survivors’ group. She made herself so well-known that she stood by Barack Obama’s side at the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial. No one thought to question her. She was accepted as being who she said she was.

The third programme focussed on crime. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, according to this documentary, many felonies, from the small to the very serious, went undetected, or at least, unreported. As far as the USA was concerned, there was no news, other than the tragedy that had occurred in Manhattan.

A person shrouded in dust beyond recognition, a woman pretending to be someone she was not and serious crime going unnoticed. The three came together and inspired a ‘What if?’ moment. For me that’s the start of every story and it was a great start to this one.

What if a young woman has committed a terrible crime?
What if she’s running away when she gets caught up in the dust storm?
What if such an awful tragedy gives her the chance to take on a new identity?

And so Till the Dust Settles was born.

I pitched the premise to a panel of experts at a conference and got the green light. A year later, at the same conference of the Scottish Association of Writers, Till the Dust Settles won two prizes. It was judged best novel 2015 and won the prestigious Constable Stag trophy, a beautiful silver creature who adorned my sideboard for a year. I also won representation by that marvellous literary agent and editor, Alan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates. Al was convinced Till the Dust Settles would be snapped up by one of the big London publishing houses and every editor to whom he sent it read the full manuscript and enjoyed it. However, a major problem emerged. Till the Dust Settles is set in the United States and the protagonist, Lucie, was American. I am not.
One editor loved the book. She thought its author, Pat Young was an American man. She was poised to buy, apparently. When she found out Pat Young is a middle-aged Scottish woman, it was no deal.
I was downhearted and felt the book needed changes. Al disagreed. ‘Thanks, I’ll take it from here,’ I said as we parted ways, amicably. I will always be grateful to Alan for all he taught me about the publishing world and for having such faith in the book.
Caro Ramsay, who was my first writing teacher, suggested I make Lucie Scottish, which gave me an immediate connection. I trust Caro, so I got on with a re-write and the rest, as they say …
In April 2017 I submitted to Bloodhound Books and within a week I was offered a contract. Till the Dust Settles was published three months later. The joy of seeing my 89 year old mother holding my book in her hands was all the reward I needed but there was more to come. Over one hundred people turned out to my launch and the love in the room was overwhelming. The book is currently being recorded for an audiobook. Readers are calling for a sequel. Bloodhound Books are delighted and the sequel to Till the Dust Settles will be published on March 1st 2018.
What pleases me most among the many heart-warming reviews, from both sides of the Atlantic, are those which comment on how sensitively I’ve handled such a difficult subject. That was my priority, from the moment I first watched those documentaries and thought, ‘What if?’  "

Pat Young Friday  20th October 2017
Guesting for Caro Ramsay