Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Short Story Competition

New writers out there might be interested in the Mystery Women's short story. It's open to unpublished writers only and the closing date is 15 March. Go to the Mystery Women's web-site at Mystery Women.freeserve.co.uk for further details.
There'll be a proper blog later in the week. Bye for now.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Historical novels

I am not generally a fan of historical novels, largely I think because I am an historian myself. I prefer the line between fact and fiction to be clear-cut. I really can scarcely bear to read novels set in my own period, the nineteenth century, because they so rarely seem to ring true. The way people thought in the past, the things they took for granted and assumed that other people took for granted: that is very hard to capture. Having said that I can enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche and am tempted to try my hand at one sometime.
This is by way of explaining why I felt a certain reluctance to read William Brodrick's A WHISPERED NAME, even though it won the CWA Gold Dagger last year - and was in addition recommended to me by Richard Reynolds at Heffer's bookshop. Richard has recommended some great writers to me in the past, so I decided to take a punt. The novel is set in the First World War and concerns a court martial for treason and the attempts of a present day monk to untangle what really happened. I was totally convinced by the evocation of the trenches and the men who lived and dies in them. It is a gripping read and beautifully written.
Another writer is pretty well pitch-perfect is summoning up the past is C. J. Sansom in his series set in Tudor England and featuring the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake. I've nearly finished SOVEREIGN and it is a cracking read. Shardlake is an engaging figure and the historical background is conjured up in wonderfully convincing detail, a particular tour-de-force in a novel that is 650 pages long. Only once was I pulled up a bit short: surely 'week-end' is a word that wasn't in use until the twentieth century? But really, I am full of admiration for the way Sansom combines accessibility and historical accuracy. It doesn't matter that it won't have been quite like this, because as one reads, one's suspension of disbelief is total and that is all that counts.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Short Stories II

A few blogs ago I mentioned that I'd written a short story about a surgeon who had murdered his mistress. Well it's been accepted by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I love this magazine (of course!). They have just published another short story of mine, 'A Tour of the Tower' in their March/April issue. I only wish there was somewhere similar to place short stories in the UK. it's a form that I very much enjoy. A short story provides a welcome change of pace from a novel and its rewards are more immediate. It can be a thrill to find oneself rubbing shoulders with writers who are far more distinguished than oneself. My very first short story was published in a CWA anthology along with writers whose work I'd long admired: Michael Gilbert, Reginald Hill, John Harvey. I could hardly believe it.
If I had to pick a favourite crime short story it would have to be 'A Jury of her Peers' by Susan Glaspell, first written in 1917, though stories by G.K, Chesterton and Conan Doyle would run it close. Although it is set in a vividly realised time and place, It hasn't dated and I can give it no higher accolade than to say I wish I could write something as good one day. I often reread it as a masterclass in psychological insight and narrative control.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Maidens' Trip

I have been on the look-out for this book by Emma Smith for a while, even since I learned that it was about the war service of young women on the canals during the Second War War, and had recently been re-issued. It's an intriguing subject. This was her first book, published in 1948, when she was only twenty-five. It was based on her own experiences and she explains in the introduction is part fact, part fiction. She wrote it at breakneck speed in three months and it does show in places. It veers between the first and the third person rather disconcertingly, but no matter. It is full of youthful verve, innocence, joie-de-vivre and, she frankly confesses, egotism. It's the story of three young women - all under twenty - taking a boat full of steel to Birmingham and bringing back a cargo of coal, an arduous and even dangerous journey. I loved it. There's some wonderful writing and some piercing little insights: 'we tried to delay the passing of any portion of our lives, we still imagined that we lost, not gained the minutes.'

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