Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Go to Hell!

In the intro to A Murder To Die For you'll find this little snippet:

'As the county’s coffers swelled, a contented indolence settled over the uncommonly productive farms and villages. South Herewardshire became synonymous with unimaginative, gouty businessmen and solid, dependable workers who didn’t seek to rise above their station because they enjoyed far better pay and conditions than their contemporaries elsewhere. The county produced no Brunels, no Austens, no Turners, no Wordsworths. The storytellers had no brave or bawdy tales to tell. The balladeers had no folk heroes, no rogues or wild rovers to sing about and the county’s most popular folk song – ‘Go to Hell!’ – describes the death by diet-induced stroke of a gluttonous murderer. '

A verse of the song 'Go to Hell!' is quoted later in the book too but not the whole thing. So I'm sharing it with you now. As a dyed-in-the-wool folkie and occasional performer, I had to write the whole song, plus the story behind it. How could I resist?


Go To Hell!

A man may stand before the judge and buy himself release 
But golden coin and compliments can never buy you peace. 
Can never buy you peace, etc. 

Gold and silver counteth not when weighing up your soul, 
No matter if you’re rich or poor you have to pay the toll. 

So when you feel the hand of fate and hear the deathly knell, 
Remember good men go to Heav’n - but you might go to Hell! 

The origins of this bleak and cautionary song may lie in the story of Sir Hercules Palsery (1770 – 1811), a rich landowner and pig farmer. He was one of the ‘Meat Men of Goyle’ commemorated in Henry Maypie’s famous statue of the same name that now stands in the county museum at Uttercombe. They were the six richest men in South Herewardshire and, between them, they ran the huge cattle and pig markets at Ordon and Goyle. It is claimed by some that they were responsible for creating the menu for the Full English Breakfast that we all know and love today.

Palsery was known to be a drunk, a wife-beater and a gambler and, in 1809, he was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife, Lady Florence. But, despite the strong case against him, he was acquitted; it was widely believed at the time that Palsery used his money and influence to escape justice. However, immediately following the trial, he began to suffer tingling sensations in his arms and legs and then, just a few days later, he suffered a massive stroke; undoubtedly the result of his monstrous meat-heavy diet. Paralysed and unable to communicate, he could no longer run his businesses successfully and, shunned by those he had abused, he was quickly reduced to poverty and ended his days begging for pennies at the meat markets, his face unrecognisable and his life in ruins.

No amount of money or influence, so the song goes, is enough to allow a man to escape divine justice.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Cover Up!

I now have the full artwork for the outside and inside covers for 'A Murder to Die for'. And isn't it gorgeous?

The cover is a great example of what can happen when an author and some amazingly talented designers and artists put their heads together.

When discussions first began, I rather fancied a group shot featuring several of the fans in their flapper-dress style convention outfits, so I did some doodles and drawings.

When I discussed this with designer Mark Ecob, he suggested that maybe what was needed was lots more fans. After all, he said, the book is set at a crowded murder-mystery convention. We also quite liked the idea of building the artwork around the title of the book. So I doodled again, Mark made some recommendations and the job was pitched to brilliant cover artist Neil Gower.

Neil's first sketch was SO perfect that we told him to get on and paint the cover.

Meanwhile (as shown in my doodle above) I'd quite set my heart on having a map included in the cover art and a silly author photo. My good friend Mark Page - an award-winning erotic photographer by trade - is a brilliant portraitist and, by happy coincidence, was working on a project to catalogue the people of his home town of High Wycombe. So I turned up at one of his Faces of Wycombe pop-up studio days and we got the author shot. We then hired the very talented Livi Gosling to do the map, based on a rough sketch that I'd done. And voila! The cover was complete.

I am so lucky to have been supported by such a brilliant team and also by a creative and innovative publisher like Unbound that treats the author as a colleague rather than as a product. 

Roll on January when you'll be able to see the book in the shops!

But you can order the sexy super-delicious special edition before that. It's too late to have your name included in the back as it's gone to print but it's still a nice thing to have and you'll get it before Christmas.

Not long now!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Neil Gaiman's Eight Rules for Writers

I've had the privilege of meeting Neil Gaiman a few times. And as one of the writers of BBC Radio 4's The Museum of Curiosity, I had time to chat to him at length when we had him on the show.

I'll be the first to confess that I haven't read many of Neil's books - fantasy just isn't my thing I'm afraid - but I genuinely enjoyed his Sandman comics back in the day and his early work on Tharg's Future Shocks for 2000AD was sublime. But I do respect his skill and when I first read his Eight Rules for Writers in The Guardian, I realised that I had found my guidebook. Here they are:

1.  Write.

2.  Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3.  Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. 

4.  Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is. 

5.  Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 

6.  Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving. 

7.  Laugh at your own jokes. 

8.  The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Perfect. Just perfect. In fact, it so closely mirrors my own approach to writing that I have it stuck on top of my monitor to remind me that I'm on the right track.

Incidentally, I also have a group of middle-aged gents stuck on my other monitor. Can you name them and suggest why they're there?