Westerby Gazette, 7th October 1962


Detective Inspector Willis of the Westerby constabulary later made the following statement:

I can’t really say much about this case, as it is still under investigation. I can tell you that we have now identified the body under the pier, but for operational reasons I cannot release that information to the press just yet. What I can tell you is that we are definitely treating this incident as murder. The post-mortem did give the cause of death as drowning, but there is additional evidence that indicates that we have something here that is rather more than a tragic accident. We now believe that the victim either fell from or was thrown from a ship in the Bristol Channel somewhere in the vicinity of Avonmouth docks, possibly following an altercation, and his body was then carried by the tide until it became entangled with the struts of the pier.

I would like to make it clear that any reports that you have heard that this incident is connected to organised crime are complete speculation, and I would particularly ask the press if they could keep to the facts of the case and not repeat these any of these unfounded accusations. Some of the wilder stories that have been circulating recently are not helping our on-going investigations.

A Fistful of Seaweed is published by Grey Cells Press on 15th September 2014.

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Filed under A Fistful of Seaweed, Fiction, Springer

Correcting Proofs

Back in those innocent days when I was merely an aspiring writer, I often heard about ‘real’ authors (that’s authors with books in bookshops) having to face the task of correcting galley proofs. This was the last input that the author made into the publishing process before the book was printed and sold to the public, the last chance that they had to correct mistakes (whether their own or those introduced by the typesetter) and the last chance they had to make any changes to the text. Back in those days, I thought that correcting galley proofs must be a rather exciting phase for the author. After all, this was the first glimpse that they had of seeing their own words actually set in the typeface of the finished book – the moment when the author gets an inkling of what their story is going to look like in print.

In this modern, electronic age, printed galley proofs are a thing of the past. Publishers now send out proofs as PDFs or as e-book files, but they still need correcting, of course – modern digital publishing hasn’t abolished typos yet, and the human eye is still the best technology to hunt them out. This past week I have been correcting the proof of the second of the Springer novels, A Fistful of Seaweed, and it has been an experience of mixed emotions.

First of all, it’s nice to see that my manuscript is now well on the way to becoming a real book. I mean, it actually looks like a book, with a proper title page and everything. On the other hand, it’s not so nice to find so many mistakes. I can cope with the little things – little slips of the fingers, slightly dodgy punctuation. They are to be expected and all can be corrected, easily enough. Some of the mistakes, however, must have been there in the original manuscript, despite the fact that I checked it so many times before submitting it. Perhaps I can be forgiven for writing ‘lead’ when I really meant ‘led’ but did I really write ‘severally’ when I really meant ‘severely’? Did I really use the word ‘place’ three times in the space of two sentences? How could I have written such clumsy sentences, and (more the point) why didn’t I notice any of this before?

So I go though the proof, line by line, noting every one of the little changes that need to be made. This takes more concentration than I was expecting, because I find myself getting caught up in the story (even though I know what’s going to happen) and I forget to check the things I’m supposed to be checking, like punctuation. Is everything quoted correctly? Are all the commas and full stops in the right places. Oh no, I’ve said ‘Mr Ackerman’ in one place and ‘Mr. Ackerman’ on the very next line. Why didn’t I spot that before?

You reach a point where you think: I must have found all the mistakes by now. But then you find another one. There can’t be any more, surely? But then there is another one. That must be the last, but you still have to carry on checking, just in case there’s another…

That’s the biggest problem of all: how do I know that I have found all the errors? I certainly spotted quite a few on the first pass, but I still found plenty on the second pass that I must have missed the first time round. Now on the third pass, I’m still finding mistakes. Is that it? Or are there even more?

Will I ever make this story perfect?

Which leads on to an even deeper philosophical question: Is there ever such a thing as a perfect piece of writing? One that can never be improved, whatever the author does to it?

That’s a question I think I will leave for others to answer.


Filed under A Fistful of Seaweed, Fiction, Publishing, Springer

Before They Were Famous

I’ve been thinking recently about crime in the theatre—no, not the price of tickets for West End shows, but the reasons why crime stories and ‘whodunits’ in general seem to be so well suited for adaptation to stage and screen. That made me cast my mind back to 1976, when I was a student in Birmingham, and went to see a revival of William Gillette’s version of Sherlock Holmes at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. William Gillette was an American who was one of the first actors to portray Sherlock Holmes either on stage or screen (in an early silent movie, now sadly lost). This is a publicity photograph of Gillette as Holmes from the first production (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Gillette was not quite the first to portray Holmes on stage—there were one or two ‘unofficial’ (i.e. pirated) versions of the stories dramatised before that—but he was the first to receive Arthur Conan Doyle’s blessing and support; although at that stage of his career, Conan Doyle was losing interest in Holmes and effectively allowed Gillette carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the character. It was Gillette who was most instrumental in developing the dramatic persona of Sherlock Holmes that is most familiar to us today, including the deerstalker hat and the curved pipe. Gillette wrote a new story for his stage play, based largely on A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, and it is Gillette who gave Holmes the line ‘Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow,’ which (in a later film version of the play) was transmogrified into the most famous Sherlock Holmes quotation that Conan Doyle never wrote.

Anyway, back to the version that I saw, way back in the seventies. It had a cast of young (and ‘youngish’) actors, many of them fresh from drama school. One or two had started to make a name for themselves in the theatre, and some had already had small parts in television, perhaps in soap operas or supporting characters in dramas, but there were certainly no ‘stars’ in the cast. It was very much your typical, provincial repertory company.

Now, the thing about watching a play with young, unknown actors in it is that (if they are any good) you can pretty much guarantee that they won’t remain unknown for long. Although I’ve been unable to trace many of the names in the cast, and have to assume that they left the profession for one reason or another, several of the actors are now very famous indeed. Not just the actor who plays Mike Tucker in long running radio serial The Archers, nor the actress who played Fitz’s long suffering wife in the excellent Cracker and a leading role in The Beiderbecke Affair and its sequels.

Here’s the full cast list from my programme:


Curious how the actor who played Holmes later became famous for playing villains in Hollywood movies, and the actor playing Moriarty went on to play another famous detective on television. But at least I can say ‘I remember seeing them before they were famous…’


Filed under Adaptation, Drama

The Struggles of a Serial Novelist

Once, I fondly believed that writing a series of books would mean that I would write one book, publish it, then forget all about it so that I could settle down to write the second.

Strangely enough, it hasn’t worked out like that at all.

The first Springer book, Five and a Half Tons, is published and in the bookshops. It’s received some wonderful reviews, and has also been nominated for the CWA John Creasey Dagger for Best First Novel. It’s in the lap of the gods whether or not it gets shortlisted, and even if it doesn’t there may be interviews to deal with, promotional events to get involved with, so on and so forth…

The second book, A Fistful of Seaweed, has been delivered to my publisher and editing will start soon—I need to wait my turn until he’s finished with some of the other highly talented authors that are currently published by Holland House Books. At the moment, the schedule is to publish some time in the second half of 2014.

The third book (it has a working title that may change before publication, so I won’t share it here) was, I thought, finished too—all but crossing a few ‘tees’ and dotting a few ‘eyes’. I did need to make a few small changes, however—based on the fact that I decided (rather late in the day) to set the novel in January 1963, which was one of the worst winters in the UK for decades. However, those few small changes avalanched (pun intended) into much bigger changes and at the moment I am re-writing the ending. Completely re-writing the ending, in the sense that I have deleted more than ten thousand words from the original manuscript and I am starting over with a completely blank page. The identity of the perpetrator won’t change (although that is not completely guaranteed) but how he is unmasked is still a mystery to me, let alone Springer. As I write this I have left Springer trudging around in ankle-deep snow, looking for a piece of wire from which to fashion an improvised lock-pick. When I’ve finished writing this I really ought to go back and give him a hand.

The fourth book in the series already exists too, largely as a collection of scenes and episodes that loosely hang together around the themes of shady dealings in the world of Indian restaurants and secretive, high stakes poker games. At some point all this needs to be put together to form something like a coherent story (or what passes for coherent in Springer’s world). It also needs a solution to the mystery, because although I have a crime and several suspects, just at the moment I have even less idea than Springer who the actual villain is.

To cap it all, last night I was lying awake thinking about the opening of a new Springer story, one which (if all goes to plan) should be the fifth book in the sequence. I could tell you all about it, but too many spoilers in one blog post is not good for the digestion. Let’s just say this one is Springer’s answer to the classic locked room mystery.

Nor will I mention the fact that I have two other novels at the Work in Progress stage, too. Neither of them are anything to do with Springer, but I do tinker with them from time to time and one of them is definitely threatening to dominate my attention, if I allowed it to do so.

So how many different novels am I having to deal with now? Er… Hang on a minute: I seem to have run out of fingers…


Filed under A Fistful of Seaweed, Fiction, Five and a Half Tons, Springer

Being Published

Being a published novelist has bought some new experiences for me.

When I was an unpublished writer, I lived in a bubble, writing (mostly) for my own pleasure and satisfaction. That’s not to say that I didn’t have that dream in the back of my mind that one day I would be published and my books would be reviewed in the national press – it was just less important than the writing itself. For most of the time, I did not share my writing with anyone, not even friends or family. It was a hobby, of sorts, simply a way to satisfy the creative side of my personality. To improve my skills, I joined a writers’ group, and occasionally attended creative writing courses. When I became internet-savvy, I even posted sample chapters on a writers’ website for evaluation by the other members of the site. I did receive some feedback – although the feedback from those sources was generally a particular ‘writerly’ sort of feedback: technical advice about sentence construction and character development and plot devices. The writers giving their opinion frequently said that they liked my stories, but that was within the context of a writer giving a professional judgement on a piece of work, not a reader who read the book purely for pleasure.

Now that I am published, my book is available for the reading public to buy and read. People who are complete strangers to me, people who I have never met (nor am ever likely to meet) have picked up or downloaded my book and read it simply because they wanted to be entertained. None of them are under any obligation to provide me with feedback, if they don’t want to. For all I know, some of them may have absolutely hated it – although if they did, I will probably never find out. But I know that some readers have definitely enjoyed my book because they have been kind enough to post reviews on the internet saying so.

Now, I am not the sort of person who likes to blow his own trumpet, but I have to say that all the reviews for Five and a Half Tons posted so far are very positive. A few have had reservations, naturally, but I expected that. There are reviews on both amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. There are also reviews on Marlene Lee’s blog, Reader’s Favorite and Our Book Reviews Online. Gerry, the reviewer at Our Book Reviews Online, has even picked Five and A Half Tons as one of his books of the year! Big thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to write and post a review.

If anyone who has read Five and a Half Tons would like to write a review of their own, on Amazon or Goodreads, I would love to read what you thought of it.


Filed under Book Reviews, Five and a Half Tons, Springer