Accountants

Sometimes I get asked why my protagonist, Jenny Parker, is an accountant when most thrillers are written about members of the police force or private detectives. My answer is simple. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

This legislation has changed the whole dynamic of criminal activity. Previously, the job of a criminal was to rake in as much cash as possible while avoiding the police and the taxman. After 2002, the business became a whole lot more complex. No longer were the bruiser, the enforcer and the hitman the arch-criminal’s most important ally. A new regime evolved in the criminal fraternity. The accountant came to the fore. Without one, organised crime syndicates were lost. Having huge piles of cash became a liability rather than an asset. Converting ill-gotten gains into legitimate money that could actually be spent was the new priority.

I also believe that any plot that can be resolved using violence leaves a lot to be desired. Who’s got the biggest muscles or largest calibre weapon doesn’t do it for me. Jenny has to survive in a world of danger with only her wits and determination. Nor does she have the safety net of an institution like the police force.

So that’s why Jenny is an accountant.

There’s a fourth Jenny Parker novel, Exit Strategy, that is scheduled to be published in December 2016. Although I say it myself, it’s the best one yet. I invite you to catch up with the others while you’re waiting.

I enjoyed reading this particular review of Due Diligence because it reflects the way that the money laundering regulations affect every one of us.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Read, 5 Jun. 2013

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This review is from: Due Diligence (Jenny Parker Book 1) (Kindle Edition)

I couldn’t put this down. So glad I wasn’t reading this on a bus or train because at times I was near to crying in frustration at the cruel fates suffered by the protagonist Jenny. I could easily empathise with the “Kick me when I’m down” life she is experiencing. May say more about me than the book! Minor, occasional suspension of belief (see other reviews) is a small price to pay for a thoroughly absorbing novel, which after all is a work of fiction to entertain, not a treatise on money laundering.

(Have you tried to open a bank account recently? I couldn’t open an account to pay in a cheque from the Inland Revenue because it was in my old married name after I had reverted to my maiden name following my divorce. I’d tried paying it in to an existing bank account but they returned it saying I had told them I was the only resident in my property when actually there were two people – yep, me -married name, and me -maiden name. Caught by the money laundering rules for £1500 from the tax man! You couldn’t make this up.)

Anyway, this novel is entertaining, absorbing, gets your sense of injustice working overtime and is just a very good read.

photo credit: Bank of England Fan of £50 notes via photopin (license)

Plodding Along

Sometimes its all you can do, plod along. Rapid progress is always nice but rarely achievable. Doing big things in one fell swoop is generally impossible and is very daunting. Like writing a story. Whether its a novel or a short story there’s little prospect of doing everything required at one sitting.

So, best not to try.

Many times I’ve heard the refrain ‘I’ll write my book when I’m [insert here a set of conditions that might never happen].’ Nobody has the time to write. There’s always something that needs doing. That’s why a writing habit is so important. Writing every day, even if it’s only a few words, is the best gift you can give yourself.

The arithmetic involved is compelling. I can write about a thousand words in an hour. So, if I wrote for twenty minutes a day I would have 121,000 words a year. A fat fantasy novel or two skinny crime thrillers! Twenty minutes a day!

I’m sorry to bang on about this but if you can’t grant yourself twenty minutes to do what makes you feel good then you’re not having a good day.

So I’m telling you to write every day.

I’m also suggesting that if you don’t manage to write then don’t feel bad about it. Be kind to yourself. But remember that writing is actually being kinder to yourself than forgiving yourself for not writing.

Then there’s another thing. Write for yourself. Don’t worry about readers in general or a reader in particular. In my experience, if you don’t have fun writing it then nobody is ever going to have fun reading it. Equally, if your guts aren’t churning with emotion as you put down the words chances are that it will leave most readers cold.

The publishing bit has been dealt with in numerous previous posts (as has this advice). Don’t worry about markets or genres or what you think might grab the eye of a literary agent. By the time you’ve competed your story, the market will have changed anyway.

Do seek help in improving your writing. Join a writers group, find someone to mentor you, don’t take any notice of the effusive praise lavished on your work by your friends and family.

Plod.

That’s my heartfelt advice.

It works for me.

 

Image courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk

Water for Bees

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There’s been a lot said and written about the terrible collapse in bee colonies and the reduction in bee numbers that threatens to disrupt human food supplies. About forty per cent of what we consume relies on bees for pollination. Farmers are reduced to importing bees from foreign countries to make up the numbers. This practice has its own implications for native populations.

Nothing to do with me, I hear you say. What can I do about it?

You can help provide them with food and water.

Food can be some flowers in a window box. There’s lots of information on which flowers are best but I would suggest something that blooms either early or late, in other words when the bees are scratting about looking for food.

Water isn’t something that is talked about much but bees need to drink. They can’t even consume their own honey stores in the winter, unless they have water for dilution they can starve. Water is also important for keeping the hive cool in summer.

Bees will collect water wherever they can find it. Ponds and large tanks of water drown lots of bees because their perception of polarised light is poor and they fly into them. They need a shallow water source with no ripples to wash them away. They have to drink and will put themselves at risk to do so.

A simple sloping ramp, floating wood or pond weed can let the bees land safely and walk to the edge to drink. Take a look at the water around where you are and see if you can make it a bit easier for bees to access.

You can make a difference!

Image Primo Masotti  maso101@libero.it

Writer Services

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No, that’s not me in the picture. I’ve used it to illustrate the dream that all writers have: The Celebrity Book Signing.
It’s the pinnacle of achievement for a writer. Look how happy everyone is in the picture. Makes your heart dance with joy, doesn’t it?
But there’s a long hard road for a writer to travel before the cafe with the green checked curtains is within reach.
I used to think that writing a novel was the hard part. It takes a lot of energy, true, but it’s something I can do. I can write and I love to write. No, it’s the rest of the process that I find difficult.
Getting published is getting harder and harder. Even if you do win this particular form of lottery it’s no guarantee that you will sell enough books to make a living. It has been estimated that the annual earnings of the average professional writer is less than £11,000 per year. Considering that there are the J K Rowlings and Lee Childs in there, that’s not a whole heap of encouragement for the rest of us.
There’s always self publishing. Anyone can upload a book on to Kindle and hey presto! they’re a published author. But 90% of ebooks sell less than 50 copies, or so I’m informed.
What I’m getting at (slowly) is that creating a novel and selling it involves much more than writing skills. Me, I’m the world’s worst salesman. The idea of taking my books into a branch of Waterstones and asking them to buy some fills me with dread. That’s why I’ve never done it even though I’m told it’s worth a try.
So, what should a poor writer do? Well, this is my take on things at the moment. It’s just my opinion and not something you should take as gospel.
Getting a conventional publishing deal is probably the best route to getting paid for being a writer. Advances aren’t what they used to be (unless you’re Pippa Middleton) as publishers are scared of making losses (like with Pippa Middleton). Also novels are sold rather like seasonal vegetables, if you don’t get success soon after launch your book risks going rotten and so do you.
Let’s face it, the chances of this option being open to you are slim to non-existent. If you want to get your work out there you’ll almost certainly have to self-publish. Then you have to face the problem of discoverablily, or lack thereof. Someone described the e-book market as a shitstorm of mediocrity. I’d go further. I’d say 90% of self published books are unreadable and that’s really useful because you wouldn’t want to read them anyway.
There’s the problem, even if you produce a work of stunning quality, your beautiful flower will be amongst acres of towering nettles. Your tiny matchstick boat will be adrift in a tsunami of filth. Your precious jewel will be buried under a mountain of contaminated soil. Readers will be unable to find your work because of the millions, and I mean many millions, of really terrible examples of unmitigated crap.
The gatekeepers have been removed. There really is a free for all going on out there.
There are things you can do to make you book good enough to sell and visible enough to get to your target audience. But they cost money and there are a lot of people trying to take advantage of writers like us.

Next time, I’ll elaborate. Right now, I need to write a bit more of my new novel.

photo credit: RayMorris1 via photopin cc

Fings ain’t wot they used to be

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Things change. The world doesn’t stand still. It might move slowly, especially when you’re sitting in the middle and can’t easily see the rotation, but it keeps on going.

As a writer, change provides an interesting problem. If I write about the present day (which I generally do) by the time a novel is ready for publishing it’s at least two years on. Not long, you might think, but then consider the fact that a reader might not pick it up for several more years. So, a novel is a thing of its own time, regardless of whether it is purposefully historical or not. It has to have the clues within in that establish the setting and time otherwise it may not work for the reader.

Let me give you an example.
Phones.
For many years, the telephone was a tethered device that required the close proximity of the recipient in order to function. Mobile phones changed things fundamentally, making everyone acessible all the time regardless of location. This began to happen in 1985. The old tethered phone had been standard from the 1870’s, it’s had a long and honourable innings.

Communication is fundamental to our lives and particularly important when it comes to plotting crime thrillers. Before 1985, it wasn’t possible to talk to someone unless they standing next to a telephone. If you were out and about, urgent calls had to be made using a phone box. Imagine! A box with a phone in it used to be the only game in town. If you were going to be late for your tea, you had to find one, stop the car, get out, fumble for coins, dial the number, push your coins in when you heard the pips and explain yourself. Most people, understandably, just turned up late.

A fundamental shift started in 1985. Plotting crime thrillers after that became different. Everything began to move more quickly.

In Proceeds of Crime, the second Jenny Parker novel, Jenny escapes from a brothel by fighting her way out. Then she hurtles down countless flights of stairs, away from her pursuer. Nothing, it seems, can prevent her getaway, she’s much too quick. Wrong. The brothel keeper has phoned his mates who are waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Oh dear. In the modern world, post 1985, running away isn’t as simple as it once was.

photo credit: Helena Nilsdotter via photopin cc

Bankers

Bankers should be spelled with a capital W.

If you haven’t worked out how our financial system works, let me assist. You put your money into a bank or another financial institution such as a pension provider or investment company. These brilliant, exceptional, essential, amazingly well paid people we call bankers look after it for us. They ‘invest’ our money, or, to put it another way, gamble it on some financial horse race.

If they win, they win. They get loads of money.

If they lose, we lose, they still win, they get loads of money.

If they do something really stupid and bring the whole financial world to a collapse, we lose our jobs, we’re subject to austerity measures and they get bailed out by the government using our tax money.

If they do something illegal like this:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/dec/04/banks-rate-rigging-libor-euribor-rbs-citigroup-jpmorgan

They get fined and we pay the fine, either as customers or through our pension funds or because our taxes have bailed them out.

Why? How come this ridiculous situation is allowed to prevail?

It’s our own fault. We’re greedy, just like the bankers. Even though deep down we realise that for every pound we gain someone has to lose one, we cling to the hope that we will be the ones who win.

Also, the system is made to appear so complex that even governments are taken in by it all and are afraid to upset the financial institutions in case something bad happens again and they get the blame, again.

What can we do?

These are some of the things that the government and the bankers would find most inconvenient:

1. We could make more use of a barter system. You know, I paint your living room, you give me a hand maintaining my car in return. (By the way, this isn’t an offer, merely an illustration.) Maybe even set up a system of local credit for payments in kind.

2. We could start to use a new system of money all together, one that bankers and governments can’t control. Things like these:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/28/bitcoin-alternatives-future-currency-investments

3. We can look to bank more locally, use mutuals or credit unions.

4. We should stop believing that growth is the answer and realise that careful use of resources will serve us all better than grabbing everything we can get. Having more doesn’t mean being more happy. We all know that already but we need to remind ourselves constantly because the media are always telling us different.

5. Most of all we can be kind and helpful to each other, lend a hand, lend money, trust people rather than bankers.

In Due Diligence, Jenny Parker finds herself part of the less savoury aspects of the financial system. There are times she has to rely on the greed of others in order to survive. Fortunately for her, there’s plenty of greed about.

Lots of people have said some very kind things about Due Diligence, here’s one review picked (more or less) at random.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Thumping good thriller

By SallyP-B

Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase

For a debut novel this was fantastic, more please! I read this in 2 days and really felt for Jenny. Life has a habit of kicking you when you’re down but she survived all of it. Gripping and full of action, secret recordings, punch ups, dodgy dealings,fast paced, well written and as a thriller reader this kept me turning the pages. Please though give the poor woman a decent brew!!!!!

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photo credit: Byzantine_K via photopin cc

Money Laundering Regulations

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Here is another extract from Due Diligence. Have you ever had a similar experience to Jenny?

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As I queue in line at the bank, an officious lady with hair slightly too blonde and lipstick definitely too pink accosts me. She is carrying a clip board and wearing a navy blue uniform with the bank logo on its breast.

‘Can I help you?’ she demands busily. Her manner is brusque and unhelpful, in direct contrast to her words.

‘Oh.’ I am taken aback at first, deep in my own guilty thoughts. Having grabbed the bundle of cash this morning I decide to open a bank account with it during my lunch break, a sole account, one that Tim is unaware of, my account just for me and my future. It seems a safer place to keep the twenty grand and as I stand here excitedly I wish I’d brought it all with me.

‘Can I help you?’ she asks again and looks aggressively at her clip board as if seeking some justification for all this.

‘I want to open an account,’ I meekly reply at last.

‘An account?’ she repeats loudly. ‘Do you already have an account with us?’ At first hearing, the question appears to be nonsensical.

‘No, no, I don’t have an account. I want to start one,’ I explain.

‘You don’t bank with us?’ she demands, as if I’ve committed a cardinal sin.

‘No, but I want to.’

‘What sort of account?’

‘I don’t know, what sorts are there? Just a normal, everyday current account, I suppose.’

There is a look in her eye that makes me feel even more like a criminal than when I came in here.

She bustles off and returns with some forms.

‘Here.’ She thrusts them into my hand. ‘Complete these then hand them in at the reception desk.’ She indicates a large lady in a uniformed blouse that isn’t quite managing to contain everything it’s meant to.

I breathe a sigh of relief and use one of the pens on a chain to write my particulars on the form. The questions are impertinent, but I persevere and put the thing on the desk hoping to get away in time to buy myself a sandwich.

‘Passport, driver’s licence and utility bill,’ the large lady intones.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Passport, driver’s licence and utility bill,’ she repeats. ‘You need to have proof of identity to open an account, passport, driver’s licence and utility bill, that’s what you need.’

I fish about in my handbag, pull out my driver’s licence.

‘Here,’ I say, ‘it’s got a photo and my address. That should do.’

‘We need a utility bill and a passport,’ she repeats. ‘It’s money laundering regulations.’

‘I haven’t got my passport with me,’ I say.

‘Can’t you go back and get it?’ she asks.

‘No,’ I reply. ‘I’m only on my lunch break, it’s at home.’

‘You’ll have to bring it tomorrow,’ she says.

I take out the money from my purse and put it on the counter with my form.

‘Can I pay this in now, then, I don’t want to be carrying it around. I’ll bring in my passport tomorrow.’

‘Oh.’ She looks at the bundle of twenty pound notes as if it were one of Toby’s soiled nappies. There is a hush. A silence seems to descend on the whole bank. Even the unhelpful lady with the clip board has disappeared, presumably to stalk people elsewhere. The plump lady gives me a conspiratorial look and whispers, ‘Not cash, love.’  I could barely hear her words. ‘At least, not a big wad of cash like that.’

I look puzzled because I am puzzled. This is a bank after all; they should be used to handling money.

‘You’ll get a visit,’ she hisses. ‘Does your husband know you have this money?’

I am shocked to the core by her inference and can’t think of a suitable response. ‘It’s all right, dear.’  I must look pathetic because she has started to patronise me in a serious way now. ‘We’re not allowed to tell people,’ but she does anyway, ‘large amounts of cash get reported, then you get a visit from the police.’

She stops whispering, then shovels the money and the form into an envelope that has the bank’s address conveniently printed on it, with a square in the top right corner that helps you to position the stamp in the event that you need to post it back to them.

I get out of there quickly, trying not to run and managing to resist screaming until I’m well away.

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We live in a strange world, one where it’s assumed that any cash we might have is derived from criminal sources unless we can prove otherwise. Guilty unless we can prove ourselves innocent. It’s a harsh reality that Jenny Parker faces as she’s plunged into ever more desperate circumstances.

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