Review of 2017

Dark days ahead?



I really commend the blog written by Tara Sparling, a talented lady that I met at the Harrogate Crime Festival.

I mention Tara’s blog because I’m about to do something that writers get into big trouble for and that’s plagiarism. She’s already done a very witty and perceptive review of 2017 and I have been inspired to copy her. Sorry, Tara, but you missed some very important events.



President Donald Trump is sworn in as the most charismatic, intelligent and honest president in history, according to his inauguration speech. President Putin hails him as a visionary and good friend to Russia.


A leaked intelligence report revels that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were having an affair during the presidential campaign. Trump makes a categorical denial and accuses the media of inventing false news. Hillary Clinton says she didn’t know that Trump was Republican and that everyone is entitled to be forgiven for an honest mistake. Bill Clinton refuses to comment.


President Trump announces that a wall will be built on the border with Canada to prevent Americans escaping northwards.

Paula Hawkins releases her follow-up novel to The Girl on the Train entitled Another Girl on Another Train.

The UK trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty confirming withdrawal from the EU.


The Canadian Government offers to pay for the wall.

Another Girl reaches number one in the bestsellers. At number two is A Girl on a Train.

Ireland, Denmark, Poland, Holland and Belgium invoke Article 50.


President Trump agrees to Canada’s offer. Canada point out that the offer was made on 1st April and was meant as a joke. Trump asks the CIA to provide a detailed briefing on the subject of jokes.

The remaining EU members except France and Germany invoke Article 50.

Leicester City, Sunderland and Hull City are relegated from the Premier League. Manchester United and Manchester City share the title. Dagenham and Redbridge both win the FA Cup.


Work on the Mexican wall is delayed because of a labour shortage.

France and Germany invoke Article 50, meaning that the UK has nothing left to leave. Teresa May holds a snap referendum which votes to stay in the EU now that Britain is the only remaining member.


Trump meets Putin in Moscow. Both men hail a new era of cooperation. Putin promises not to invade anywhere west of Germany.


The European Parliament is relocated to Milton Keynes now that Britain is the only member. UKIP change their name to EUPIP and Nigel Farage is elected President of Europe.


Britain agree to re-admit all the previous members to the EU, apart from France.


Putin visits Trump in Washington. The two men decide to swap jobs for a year in the interests of better understanding.


Civil unrest in Russia results in Putin returning to Russia.


Civil unrest in the US greets Trump’s return from Russia where a week long celebration is held.

Nigel Farage renames the European Union as the British Empire. India, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies are admitted.

Christmas is moved to July in order to relieve the backlog of undelivered parcels caused by Amazon’s drone pilots going on strike.

You thought 2016 was bad?

Happy New Year




This is the result of the previous submission I made to the BBC. Note the date. January 1972. It’s taken me this long to recover from the feeling of disappointment. OK, I suppose I’m not quite there yet.

In 1972, submitting a script was much more difficult than it is today. There were no computers, printers, photocopiers, email, internet or automatic spell checks. I had to type out my manuscript on a typewriter, a process akin to carving out letters on to tablets of stone. Mistakes were impossible to correct. They hadn’t even invented Tippex in those days.

The kindest thing I can say about my 1972 submission was that it was typed reasonably neatly.

I’m now used to working with an editor, as you will have gathered from previous posts. I love the freedom this gives my novel writing. I am relieved from having to guess what works and what doesn’t. An editor tells me in no uncertain terms. I’m more happy to accept criticism these days now that I recognise it as an essential part of my writing process. You note I use the term more happy and not just happy.

I’ve (bravely) put the BBC disappointment behind me and have sent them another script, 55 years on from the first (and only) one. This temerity has to be laid at the doorstep of that distinguished Irish writer and friend, Daragh O’ Reilly. He’s developed a bee in his bonnet about radio plays and, just so that I can spend some time with him, I joined him on a course about them. I’ve always been a big fan of Radio 4  and the prospect of getting something out on the airwaves is a delicious one however remote the possibility might be. Writing for radio is very different to writing a novel. My story arcs tend to be vast, requiring several hundred thousand words to complete. I write novels in batches of three or four. A 45 minute radio play needs only about 7,500 words. This is all a bit sudden for my liking so I’ve submitted the first episode of a six-part series.

I need to get back to the third Tyrant book now, but, before I do, I’ll finish a new radio play that I’ve started . Then Daragh and I have a joint one to complete. Maybe I’m catching some of what he’s got.




This isn’t a review site. Usually. Today I’m making an exception.

I like watching TV and I like watching films. I rejoice at the freedom the internet has granted me to watch more or less whatever I want more or less whenever I want to.

There’s also the ability to use a ten minute rule without the inconvenience of wasting money or having no alternative. If I’m not captivated within that time, I simply find something else to watch.

I suspect this technique is fairly widespread and applied not only to the visual arts but also to books. We writers need to take lessons from films and television to learn the art of grabbing attention and holding it.

The first item I want to tell you about is a film called Rurouni Kenshin.

I do like kung fu movies, I’m a big fan of Bruce Lee and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of my favourite films. Rurouni Kenshin achieves the almost impossible by bringing a general atmosphere of compassion and gentleness to a story that is essentially a series of fights, some of them quite bloody. The leading character plays a big part in this by being remarkably attractive. He brings to mind Tripitaka from the Monkey TV series. If you remember him you’ll know what I mean.

There are two more films in the series, I recommend all three. At least give them the ten minute test.

The second offering I have for you is In the Night Garden. This is something I have been watching in the company of my 2 year old grandson. It’s what lets him know it’s time for bed. As soon as Derek Jacobi says someone’s not in bed he looks guiltily at the screen and heads for the stairs.

I started off being mildly irritated by the whole thing but now it seems to have invaded my subconscious to the extent that it can surface at any time and I start singing the Iggle Piggle song. The facet that the Ninky Nonk can be small (as in the background of the picture) at one instant then big enough to accomodate the entire cast the next doesn’t bother me any more. We’re all in a dream and reality is only a single facet of that illusion.

These are two very different examples of how to captivate an audience. The brutal opening sequence to Rurouni Kenshin contrasts starkly with the character who emerges into the light. His struggle with inner demons makes for compulsive viewing. At any moment, his peaceful intent may crumble and then he’d be lost forever.

In the Night Garden celebrates the comfort of repetition and familiarity. Nothing much happens. Exactly what your mind needs to slow down and be ready for rest. The entire programme is formulaic to the extent that you can always tell how far you are from the end and, of course, bed time. It’s very weird, but good weird.

There’s a lot to be learned from films and TV that works. I ask myself what makes me feel connected with the characters and how the author has managed this process. I also need to know what keeps my interest until the end, has me on the edge of my seat.

Next week, I may review Timmy Time and Deadpool. On the other hand, I probably won’t.

photo credit: id-iom Why don’t you just switch off the television set? via photopin (license)

By Source, Fair use, Link



There are many violent things happening in the world. The murderous actions of extremists are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis. In reaction, governments pledge to drop more bombs in the places that the terrorists might be. The term is fighting fire with fire. In the real world, it’s what the general public seem to require of our politicians.

In the fictional world of Jenny Parker, violence isn’t an option for her. Even if it were available to her, which mostly it’s not, she realises that the kind of people she has to deal with actually thrive on violence. It’s something they understand. Jenny has to find other means of saving herself knowing that threats of retaliation in kind aren’t going to change her antagonists’ mindset.

If someone’s trying to kill you shouldn’t you just kill them first? Isn’t that the only way?

I don’t believe it’s that simple. I find plots that rely on a hero being able to out-fight, out-shoot or out-muscle the villain somewhat unsatisfying. There is, of course, a degree of might-is-right inherent in the way we humans conduct ourselves and it’s a horrible fact to contemplate. But that doesn’t mean violence has to be the only way out of a difficult situation.

One of the reasons I write the Jenny Parker series is to get away from the convention that a hero has to be able to beat up the bad guys. My old karate teacher, Billy Higgins, used to say that a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un. He also taught me that, regardless of how proficient I might be, someone bigger and stronger would most likely kick my ass. The point of the training was to be able to defend myself long enough to be able to run away. Sprinting is a noble form of defence, in my opinion. Mind you, I only progressed to the level of yellow belt which some might find highly appropriate.

Jenny Parker doesn’t have super powers, nor does she wield a samurai sword to deadly effect. She has to think on her feet and talk her way out of danger. It doesn’t always work, mind you.

In the world of thrillers as in the real world, I firmly believe that violence will never bring a satisfactory resolution to a conflict. There are more subtle and effective means. And these are much more interesting to me and, I hope, to my readers.

photo credit: Explosion (Verleitung, Ablenkung beim SEK-Einsatz) via photopin (license)


As Stephen King will tell you, writers rarely ask each other where they get their inspiration from because we don’t know. The more we think about it, the weirder it becomes, so we tend to take it for granted that the ideas will flow.

Some of us find inspiration comes more easily than others. There’s this horrible thing called writers’ block that gets in the way some times.

I’m very fortunate to have worked with the brilliant and insightful Barbara Turner-Vessalago for many years now. She has taught me the process that I use whenever I write. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing, this really works for me.

Most of the time, I’m writing a novel. I used to think that a novel was an enormous almost never-ending task. I was often so daunted by the immensity of it I would feel like giving up. Then I learned that any piece of writing has to be written one word at a time. One word isn’t so difficult to do. The next one comes even easier than the first and I’m away.

My starting point is almost always a place into which I parachute my characters and allow them to have a good look around. Then I see what happens and write it down.

Barbara’s writing process is called Freefall and I heartily recommend it to you. I have found that most books on writing craft only become useful when I’ve more or less finished what I’m writing and am looking for technical assistance to make it work. Freefall is so wonderful because it gets me going. Starts me off. I lower my self into a time and place, sniff the air, listen to the rustling of the wind in the trees, narrow my eyes against the setting sun and…

I think you’ve got the picture.

Until recently, the only access to Barbara has been through her workshops in Canada, Australia and two per year in the UK. I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to attend at least one a year since 2007. Now, she has published two books on Freefall. Get them. You will find them useful and inspiring.

At the moment, I have the fourth Jenny Parker novel away for copy edit. The two Tyrant fantasy novels are sitting in a proverbial drawer maturing and my SF novel, Voyager, has just reached the 30,000 word hump which means it’s now got a life of its own and all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down. So I’ve taken a couple of weeks out to write a radio play. This is really good fun and a complete change to my usual form. As a prelude, I attended an inspirational one-day course presented by a radio producer called Polly Thomas. If I like what I produce, I’m going to actually submit the script to the BBC, who sent me the only rejection letter of my career in 1972.

Wish me luck.

photo credit: SFB579 Namaste Candle-Light via photopin (license)

How the Universe Works

Ever wondered what make everything the way it is? As far as I can make out there’s just one fundamental law that governs everything, it’s called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states simply that the entropy of any system always increases.

So there you have it. That’s all you really need to know to understand how the universe works.

I could stop writing now but I won’t. It may be that one or two of you would like an illustration of what the Second Law means.

OK, Here goes. If you put a drop of ink in a pool of water, the ink will spread out until the pool is a very light shade of blue. That’s the Second Law in action. It may seem innocuous and a bit obvious but it really does have huge significance. Let’s take another example. Drop a sugar cube into a cup of hot coffee. The sugar cube disappears because the sugar dissolves. No big deal, you might say. But, consider this. NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU WAIT THE SUGAR CUBE ISN’T COMING BACK.

The diffusion and the dissolving are not reversible. That’s entropy for you.

Another word for entropy is chaos. The world we live in moves inevitably from order into chaos. There’s nothing we can do about it. The Law is the Law.

It may be that we experience time the way we do because of entropy. Without entropy, time could go either way. It wouldn’t matter if it went backwards or forwards. The drop of ink coalescing in the midst of clean water would be just as likely a state as any other. But it’s not. The way I see it, the Second Law ensures that time only moves forwards for us, never back. Which is a pity because I’ve just sent my two main characters in the SF novel I’m writing back to 1977. I’m struggling to come up with an alternative theory that circumvents the Second Law. Any help would be appreciated.

So, if the universe is a cup of coffee and we are grains of sugar, we know what’s going to happen to all of us at some time. We’ll dissolve away, lose our individuality and become part of the coffee.

The least we can do is to make the universe a tiny bit sweeter.

photo credit: only alice descent via photopin (license)


It’s November and time for the horribly named Nanowrimo which provides encouragement for writers to get down and write like hell for a month. 50,000 words is the target and it takes daily dedication in order to achieve it.

I’ve often referred to the desirability of a daily writing habit and how writing just a little bit every day can accumulate into a major work like a novel. I write about an hour or so most days, sometimes much more but rarely much less. This gives me an output approaching Nanowrimo proportions most months of the year.

As you can see from the banner, I entered Nanowrimo in 2014. I did this specifically to write the fourth Jenny Parker thriller when I’d already committed myself to a fantasy trilogy and a SF novel. It wasn’t going to get done otherwise.

The reason for telling you this is twofold. First, if you need an excuse to write every day, a word count objective can be helpful. Secondly, I want to describe what happened to my script after Nanowrimo.

The first draft of Exit Strategy, as it has become titled, was actually 90,000 words and was written during October, November and December 2014. I then put it in a virtual drawer and carried on with my fantasy novels. In the middle of 2015, I went back to it and tidied it up so that I could send it to my editor. She did her work and issued me with her usual very detailed and perceptive structural edit. This provided the basis of a rewrite, which I completed in May 2016 and called the second draft. This went back to my editor and she provided another detailed report which was used to create a third draft which I sent her in September 2016. This third draft, notably, included a new beginning, a new ending and several injections of pace into the middle. It also changed much of the plot. In other words, draft three was a very different novel to draft one. A much better one in fact.

Draft three was submitted to my editor and she marked up all the areas that needed attention in order to maintain consistency. Draft four was produced a couple of days ago and has now gone back to my editor for a line edit. Up to now, all the editing has concentrated on plot and structure. Now I’ve established what I’m writing about, we can start working on how it’s been written. The line edit will smooth over the words so that my readers can enjoy the story without being constantly dragged out of it by clunky expressions.

I expect the line edit to be done by the end of this year. Then I’ll have to go through it and make the changes necessary before the final process, proofreading, is done. Proofreading clears up glitches, typos, formatting inconsistencies and that kind of thing. Once that’s done, Exit Strategy can be published.

In summary, I finished ‘writing’ Exit Strategy at the end of 2014 and expect it to be published in early 2017.

Many people do Nanowrimo and self publish immediately. If I had done that, you’d be getting something quite awful, virtually unreadable and certainly not worth your time.

After two more years of work, Exit Strategy will be the best it can be. And I can be proud of that.


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

Verified Purchase(What is this?)

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)

An Encounter with Jenny Parker

I always get caught out by flight times. 8 am sounds like a reasonable time to fly but it’s not. They say I have to be here two hours before, it takes an hour to drive and I need at least half an hour to shower and get ready. Counting back brings getting out of bed time to 4.30. Half past FOUR!

It’s hardly worth going to bed.

Add in the stress of travelling, of tossing and turning in bed worrying about the trip, being scared that the alarm won’t go off or the motorway will be closed.

They say to get here two hours before flight time and I always obey. There’s an automatic response built into my emotional make up that gets very scared at the prospect of being even a few minutes shy of the deadline. As usual, though, I’m through security and waiting in the departure lounge wishing I’d used the 90 minutes I have to wait here for extra sleep. Six am would have been a much more civilised time to roll myself out of bed.

I sit on the hard seat wondering if my dignity would allow me to lie down and have a nap like many others have opted for. It won’t. No surprise there.

A lady comes over and sits next to me. This is doubly disconcerting as there are lots of empty places where she could be in splendid isolation, as I hoped to be. She also looks a bit familiar, as if I should know who she is. I think hard but I can’t pick her out from the checkout assistants and CBeebies presenters that spring to mind.

‘You don’t recognise me do you?’ She says unhelpfully.

‘Erm, it’s early, I’m still half asleep.’

‘That’s no excuse,’ she says, ‘I’m Jenny Parker and you’ve written four books about me.’

‘You can’t be,’ I say.

‘Because I’m a fictional character?’


‘Because I’m the product of your imagination?’

‘That’s right.’

‘So where does you imagination get its ideas?’

‘I really have no idea. Thoughts just pop into my head and I write them down. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’ve written until I read it back.’

Jenny smiles but it’s not a warm kind of smile, more of a long-suffering kind. ‘What makes you think that you’re any more real than I am?’

That’s a good question and not one that is easy to answer even for someone fully in possession of their faculties. ‘I’m a writer, you’re a character. You depend on me for your existence.’

‘If I didn’t exist then you’d have nothing to write. Then where would you be?’

I begin to think about the consequences of her turning up in the flesh. What if my so-called imagination is just recording something that’s actually happening? I’m always telling people that my characters, especially Jenny, never seem to do what I intend. That they seem to have a will of their own. I can’t help feeling responsible for the extremely hard time she’s been having, though. ‘Maybe I should write something good about you. Give you a nice easy life from here on in. Would that help?’

‘It’s a bit late for that now,’ she says.

‘What about I change the ending of the latest book?’

‘That would only confuse matters. Why not just let things be as they are for a change? Leave me to get on with my life without all the dramatisation.’

She stands up, ‘that’s my flight,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to miss it.’ Then she merges into the crowd and disappears through Gate 27.

‘You won’t,’ I say. I imagine she’s going to London to negotiate a rather important deal involving Russian Oligarchs and the Italian Mafia. I do hope she keeps her wits about her.

Being Precious

If the world were perfect, this is what I’d look out upon from my writing desk.

In reality, it’s more like this:

Waiting for things to become perfect before I write would mean waiting forever. The myth of that perfect time and place being out there is one that we writers often delude ourselves with. I know, because I do it all the time. In reality its just another way of putting off getting down to work. Because writing is hard work and none of us like hard work, do we?

I used to think that I couldn’t possibly write anything meaningful until I was older. The age at which I would suddenly blossom into the next Vonnegut or Banks was always unspecified. My best option was to wait until I got there and then start writing otherwise what I wrote was bound to be rubbish.

I was, of course, deluding myself. Don’t make the same mistake. Nor should you ever feel that life has passed you by and that starting now will be too late. These are only excuses for not writing so don’t be taken in.

We are writers. We have to write in order to live our lives the way we are meant to. It doesn’t matter one jot whether we are critically acclaimed or even read and enjoyed. These are bonuses that few of us are blessed with. What matters is that feeling we get when we’ve written something.

Off you go. Get writing. Don’t let me distract you.

photo credit: Sunset via photopin (license)

photo credit: ‘Rainy Streets’, United States, New York, New York City, East Village via photopin (license)