Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Mysterious Mistress of Murder-Mystery

A Murder To Die For has now gone to the printers. Hurrah! I'm expecting proofs of the special editions (you can still pre-order here) and the trade editions in the next month. Watch this space for a sneaky peek.

The book is set at a mrurder-mystery convention celebrating the life and works of classic crime author Agnes Crabbe, who wrote 20+ novels in her lifetime but never submitted any for publication. In fact, she lived like a recluse for most of her life and her work was only discovered in 2000 when a solicitors' office in Bowcester opened a suitcase that Crabbe had entrusted to their care. Why she insisted that it not be opened unti the dawning of the 21st century is a subject much-debated by fans and scholars, but the fact remains that her work was unknown in her lifetime.

I've been asked quite a few times about my inspiration for Crabbe (Writers are always getting asked about where they get their ideas from). I usually have no idea where an idea comes from but, in this instance, I can be quite specific. Crabbe was inspired by the story of Vivian Maier.

Vivian Dorothy Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer. She worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago, and took photographs in her spare time. In fact, she took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide. However, during her lifetime, Maier's photographs were unknown and unpublished and many of her negatives were never even printed. She lived in poverty towards the end of her life and failed to keep up payments on a storage unit. The contents came up for auction which is how she was 'discovered' by a man called John Maloof who bought some of her photos in 2007. Two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also obtained some of her prints and negatives that they found in boxes and suitcases.

Sadly, Maloof never got to meet her as she was almost invisible on the internet and, in fact, he only finally tracked her down when her death notice appeared in a Chicago newspaper in 2009. Maloof then linked a selection of Maier's photos on FLICKR to his blog and the results went viral. As the result, her work has been critically acclaimed ever since and her work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world.

It's extraordinary work isn't it? 

So that's who inspired the story of Agnes Crabbe. My one regret in deciding to have Agnes's work discovered post mortem is that her books would never have had some of those splendid pulp paperback covers that were enjoyed by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers and their contemporaries.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I can't imagine what they might have looked like, does it?

Monday, 18 September 2017

My Weekend with Genevieve

When a friend of mine asked me if I'd consider being a volunteer steward for the Kop Hill Climb this year, I ummed and aahed for a bit. After all, it's September and the weather is on  the turn; there's more rain, misty mornings, cold winds and falling temperatures. And the event - a classic car rally up steep Kop Hill near Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire (not far from where I live) - was taking place over the weekend of the 16th and 17th, just 48 hours after I was due to fly back from a trip to Malaysia and I'd just be getting over my jetlag. So, as I say, I ummed and aahed. And then my friend said ... 'Genevieve will be there.'

How could I resist that?

Genevieve, as I'm sure you know, was the eponymous 'star' of the 1953 BAFTA Award-winning and Oscar-nominated British comedy film. Starring John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More and Kay Kendall, the plot centres on a race between two married couples and their vintage cars during the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

Genevieve herself was cobbled together from two vintage twin-cylinder 10/12 hp Darracqs built in Paris in 1904 but found in a derelict builder's yard in East London in 1945. After some restoration by a man called Peter Venning, she was registered and roadworthy by 1949, when she was bought (for £35) by car dealer Norman Reeves from Uxbridge, Middlesex - just a stone's throw away from Pinewood Studios where the film would be made a few years later. Reeves finished the restoration and christened her 'Annie' and she took part in her first London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 1950. The run, incidentally, began in 1896 and was originally named 'The Emancipation Run'. It was a celebration of the recently passed Locomotives on Highways Act 1896, which increased the speed limit on roads to 14 mph. Since 1878 the speed limit had been set at 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in the town and an escort had been required to walk 20 yards ahead of the vehicle. Mind you, driving in central London these days you dream of getting up to 14 mph ...

(Interesting to note the tram lines in that photo of the racing couples. London's tram network had been closed down by the time the film came out but the infrastructure was still there.)

After 'Annie' was chosen for the film, she became such a celebrity that her name was changed to Genevieve permanently. She became a star of car shows and car-related events all over the UK and abroad and was eventually sold to a museum in Australia for £1200. And there she stayed until 1989 when the museum collection was dissolved and she returned to the UK to take part in the London to Brighton Run in 1992. She was then put up for auction and now resides in the Louwman Museum in The Hague, Netherlands.

I couldn' resist taking part in the event just to see the grand old lady and the star of one of my favourite Bristish comedy flms. And here she is (being driven by Quirina Louwman):

I apologise for the photos - the weather was typically September-ish and vacillated between fog and rain and drizzle and sunshine on a minute-by-minute basis. But it was lovely to see her and to have had the privilege of patting her bonnet.

There were many other fantastic classic cars there too and I present a small selection below. But none have the comedy cachet of Genevieve. And, indeed, the two day event may not have existed without her. The film's success springboarded national interest in restoring old vehicles and enthusiasm for the hobby rocketed as the result. Genevieve is quite the lady.



Sunday, 10 September 2017

Welcome to South Herewardshire

South Herewardshire is a small fictitious county in the West of England that shares its borders with Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. It is split into four boroughs: Pawley, Bowcester, Hoddenford and Uttercombe. The county town is Uttercombe, which is where County Hall is situated. Traditionally, the county returns two Members of Parliament: South Herewardshire (North) and South Herewardshire (South).

The major export of South Herewardshire is meat with the largest number of farms concentrated in Hoddenford and Bowcester (pigs) and Uttercombe (cattle). Pawley derives most of its income from tourism with the picturesque canal-side villages of Tingwell, Shinwell, Horswell, Washwell and Tugwell - known as 'The Five Wells' - bringing in visitors from all over the world. The canal bisects the county from East to West and forms a corridor between the Oxford Canal and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

Pawley Abbey is also a popular attraction, as is the ancient 'plague village' of Pockheal.

The village of Nasely hosts the annual Agnes Crabbe Murder-Mystery Festival on the first weekend in May, which bring thousands of her fans into the area to celebrate her life and work. Crabbe spent her entire reclusive life in the village and her cottage is now a museum.

Do enjoy your visit.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Congratulations Prize Winners!

Congratulations to Ruth Bourne in Worcestershire and Paula Francisco in New Jersey for being the winners of the first monthly competition of several leading up to publication day in January.

They both win a very limited edition print (there are only five) of the book cover signed by me and artist Neil Gower.

   A new competition mid-September!