The Beauty of the End

The Beauty of the End

Top 6 Psychological Thrillers

I hadn’t realised until I put this list together that the authors are all women! There are some brilliant books out there at the moment – fiction, yes, but be warned – the twisted, dysfunctional relationships portrayed are not far removed from real life. That, perhaps, is part of their appeal… It’s something these and many other women write about so well

  1. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Surprising, damaged characters, clever plot, twists I didn’t see coming.

  1. I Let You Go – Claire Mackintosh

I loved everything about this book – the believable characters, the emotional pull, a brilliantly twisty plot and phenomenal ending. Oh, and it’s brilliantly written too.

  1. The Book of You – Claire Kendal

A compelling read – so creepy and disturbing so that you have to keep reading until you know how it ends…

  1. Afterwards – Rosamund Lupton

I have read this so many times. The writing is beautiful, lyrical even. The story is moving, the emotions so real. It’s about ordinary people – and a terrible crime.

  1. Kind of Cruel – Sophie Hannah

This was the first book of Sophie’s books I read. I remember devouring it – I just had to find out what had happened.

  1. Killing Me Softly – Nicci French

Another page turner… Gripping and disturbing.

Credit: The Beauty of The End by Debbie Howells is published by Pan on 14th July.

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Blake and Avery and how their relationship has developed through two books.

I first had the idea for Jeremiah Blake, my inquiry agent (the prototype of the modern private eye) about 14 years ago. I was in the midst of a huge non-fiction tome about World War One, and writing a detective novel with a made-up plot seemed unbelievably alluring. I knew exactly where I wanted to put him: in London in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, when the chaotic, morally easy-going Georgian era gave way to the more uptight, energetic Victorian one, and when London became the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in the world.

The Printer's Coffin by MJ Carter

The Printer’s Coffin by MJ Carter

I knew from the start that my protagonist would be working class, self-educated, and clever, too clever not to see through the injustices and prejudices of his period, yet forced to kowtow to his social superiors in order to make a living.

It was a good nine years until I actually got round to writing my first mystery, The Strangler Vine. By then I’d decided that I wanted to write about the Thugs —the gangs of murderous bandits who haunted the roads of India in the 1820s and 30s, befriending, then strangling, unwary travelers. So the book had to be set in India which I reckoned was a good place for a sort of origins story. At the frontiers of the British Empire people from unconventional and modest backgrounds often found opportunity and reinvented themselves. I decided that Blake (he now had a name) had come from a lowlife criminal background and had been transported to India when very young by the East India Company. There he had been spotted by the Company’s intelligence department and trained up to be a spy.

Then I realised that not knowing anything about India might be a bit of a problem. I couldn’t be an omniscient narrator because I would never know enough. I couldn’t write from Blake’s perspective because I felt he needed to be mysterious and inscrutable. I couldn’t use an Indian character because again they’d know more than I ever could. I needed someone to tell the story who was new to India and a bit clueless: my ignorance could be his ignorance. Problem solved.

That was how Blake’s sidekick William Avery came about. He was a young provincial gentleman-turned-soldier, naïve, conventional and full of the prejudices of his class, but with a hidden, less straightforward side: a secret passion for books, an instinct for taking care of others, an eye for a telling detail.

The strange thing was that Avery’s voice, which started out as a response to a structural need, came to me at once: he seemed easy to write, maybe because he was so fallible and reminded me a bit of me. Blake came slower. Taciturn, cool, revealing very little about himself, but with a big hinterland that could only emerge slowly, I found it much harder to get him right.

The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter

The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter

I’d planned to kill Avery off at the end of The Strangler Vine, but as I wrote the book, I realized that I’d written a real, awkward and—I thought—touching relationship that I wanted to develop. I liked the notion of the older working-class man leading the younger posher subordinate—a relationship unusual and not altogether approved of in Victorian England. At the start Avery feels utterly humiliated by Blake and hates him. But gradually he begins reluctantly to admire him and ends by feeling intense loyalty to him. Blake, meanwhile, has convinced himself he needs no one, especially not a silly, innocent young officer. But his long suppressed humanity is brought out by Avery, whom he comes to recognize maybe ignorant and innocent but is utterly honest and loyal.

In the second book, The Printer’s Coffin, the two meet in London after three years apart. Avery still nurses a powerful admiration for and loyalty to Blake. I think he regards him as the older brother/father mentor he never had, though he disagrees with many of Blake’s views. He hopes they will pick up where they left off, but both have changed. Blake is cool and difficult, and even angrier and at odds with Victorian society. He is determined to keep the world at bay. Avery meanwhile has been traumatized by his experiences in the Afghan war, and his marriage has not been a success. Ironically, it seems to me, each one needs the other more than ever.

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The Pigeonhole – A Closer Look

On June 3, 2016, in Article, Books, by Milo

The Pigeonhole is a made-for-mobile digital book club. Its books are delivered in instalments straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on The Pigeonhole website or iOS app. Here, The Pigeonhole’s commissioning editor Sarah Ream talks about the challenges and joys of serialising a novel.

Though I never imagined I’d work in a tech start-up, I’m now a year into my role as commissioning editor at The Pigeonhole, a made-for-mobile digital book club. I started my career in traditional publishing, and when I took a job in 2008 as an editor of a poetry website, I assumed it would be a temporary break from print. Even back then, despite happily editing poetry online, I didn’t give digital books much thought – I only found out what a Kindle was years after I should have done, and I didn’t read a book on a smartphone until 2012. (For the record, it was a PDF of an ineffectual how-to-get-your-baby-to-sleep book; no nifty app involved. There was no nifty app to be had.)

When I began at The Pigeonhole, I naively thought that there wouldn’t be much contrast between print and digital publishing in terms of commissioning, developing and editing books. Surely it was just the end format that differed?

But I soon learnt that approaches differ from the outset when editing books for a mobile readership. The Pigeonhole strives to curate dynamic, real-time, collective reading experiences. Synchronising readers by drip-feeding them a book is key to this; we serialise all our books in instalments (which we call staves) that are delivered straight to our readers’ phones, tablets or laptops via our app or website. We let readers to talk to each other – and the author – via an in-text comments function, and we also pepper the text with mixed-media extra content (think interviews with the author, artwork, videos, links and playlists). So we don’t simply judge the success of a title on how many subscribers it attracts; we also care deeply about how readers interact with it.

When deciding which titles to serialise, and how to serialise them, I give careful consideration to how a book will be read. It’s not just about whether the book is good or not – will serialisation actually benefit the text and its readers? Are there natural stave breaks or cliffhangers to build tension? Will the book spark discussion? Is the author keen to chat to readers? What extra content will best enhance the text? How long should the staves be and how often should readers receive them? Dickens’ readers may have been willing to wait for monthly instalments of The Pickwick Papers, but we’ve seen that daily staves – particularly for novels – are more likely to spur conversation and lead to higher completion rates than staves delivered weekly. Yet that doesn’t mean that readers only want swift, easy reads: we’ve had swathes of people committing a month to reading hefty titles such as Moby-Dick and Middlemarch in short daily instalments.

The Sacred Combe

The Sacred Combe

One of the thrills of my job is working with other publishers to serialise their books on our platform. It’s a fantastic way for them to find a new readership for their authors, breathe new life into a backlist title or boost the buzz around the launch of a print edition. We particularly love helping to launch debut authors, so we’re very excited about our upcoming serialisation of The Sacred Combe, Thomas Maloney’s first novel, which was published in hardcover by Scribe UK in May. The publishers’ pitch hooked me – the story centres around Samuel Browne, a young Londoner who, after his wife leaves him, finds a strange job advert tucked inside a volume of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and soon takes up a post in the library of a remote manor house, Combe Hall. There he is tasked with a seemingly hopeless and rather nebulous quest, and he begins to uncover the secrets and troubled family history of the Hall’s residents.

The novel is a gift of a book for The Pigeonhole. It divides elegantly into twelve, well-paced staves – each around twenty minutes’ worth of reading, with plenty of revealed mysteries and the odd cliffhanger. It also lends itself wonderfully to speculation and discussion. Jim Perrin has called the book ‘a bibliophile’s delight’, and it is, with gorgeous descriptions of old books and frequent nods to other literature. (The title itself is taken from John Fowles’ Daniel Martin.) When I first read the book, I noticed a number of these allusions and quotations – some obvious, others embedded more quietly, and I particularly loved the parallels with J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (a copy of it appears in the book, in fact). But I was sure I was missing other references, and I was excited by the idea of having multiple readers enjoying the book together, noting sections that reminded them of other books, discussing the twists and turns of the plot and having the author weighing in on their thoughts.

If the book was a gift, so was the author; within a day or two of meeting Thomas Maloney, he had sent me over a long list of suggested extras that were spot-on. Without giving too much away, they range from sketches through to snippets of birdsong, from photographs that inspired the setting to notes and links about paintings, books and poems alluded to in the text. As I suspected, there were plenty of allusions I hadn’t picked up on my first read. But we were careful not to be over-explanatory, and we didn’t aim to comprehensively annotate the book. Rather, we hope the extras will sound as echoing notes, drawing readers further in to the beguiling, beautiful world of The Sacred Combe – and encouraging them to talk about it with each other.

The 12-part Pigeonhole serialisation of The Sacred Combe begins on 2 June. Subscribe at www.thepigeonhole.com/books/the-sacred-combe for just £2.99. The first ten Pigeonhole readers to send us a link to their Goodreads review of the book after the serialisation will receive a Cocoa Runners gift box.

The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney is published by Scribe (£14.99).

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Where I work by Rachel Abbott

On February 27, 2016, in Article, Author, Books, Fiction, by Milo

I am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful parts of world – Alderney, in the Channel Islands – and in a stunning property, a restored Victorian fort. I only live in one part of it as it’s divided into a number of apartments, but it is unique and has great character.

Apart from the magnificent building, the views themselves are breathtaking, and my sitting room and bedroom both look out over a beautiful bay. I am able to watch the sea and all its moods, from a calm, limpid blue, to a maelstrom of white-crested waves crashing onto the rocks below my window.

Alderney Bay

Alderney Bay

I used to work in my sitting room, but then a room adjoining the apartment became available and we had it gutted and refurbished so it makes a fabulous office, separate from, but adjoining my home.

The image below shows the entrance to my apartment on the left, but the door straight ahead at the bottom of the stairs leads into my office. It couldn’t be more perfect.

The Courtyard

The Courtyard

Inside the office it’s a bit shambolic at the moment. There is just so much to do as we prepare for the launch of Kill Me Again. I would prefer to show a photo from the opposite end of the room, because then you would see all the lovely bookcases. But sadly you would also see all the cardboard boxes waiting to go to recycling, and the pile of stuff that has to be started once my book launch is complete. I tend to just keep copies of my own books in the office so they’re accessible if we need to send any out. And I have a full selection of all the foreign language translations too – I love seeing them on the shelves.

The Terrace

The Terrace

I have two homes – although I am in Alderney for most of the time, we also have a small farmhouse in the Le Marche region of Italy onto the courtyard.

For about two months of each year, I take myself off to Italy, where I continue to write, but usually on the terrace of our home there. My days in Italy are less strict. I still get up at around 7, but take more time over breakfast and often take a nap in a hammock after lunch. Despite working fewer hours when I’m there, I am actually very productive.

It’s peaceful, and life is slightly less frenetic than it is here in Alderney, where – despite its size – there is a huge amount going on. In Italy, we tend to go out for the occasional meal, or invite friends round, but for the most part we just relax and enjoy it. There seems to be something about sitting looking out at the view that inspires me to write, and it is there that I wrote my first novel – Only the Innocent – so it’s special from that point of view.

I consider myself to be very luck to have such lovely places to work, and I’m sure they contribute to any inspiration that I may have.

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Even the Dead by Benjamin Black

Even the Dead by Benjamin Black

When I began to write my Quirke stories, first as a television mini-series back around the year 2000—yes, Christine Falls, the first Quirke novel, was adapted from a script that was never going to be filmed—I did not realise how fortunate I was to be able to remember Dublin in the 1950s, and use it as a background. Indeed, the city is more than background, it’s one of the main characters in these books.

In the 1950s, the 8th of December, Feast day of the Immaculate Conception, no less, was a holy day and a public holiday, and the day when people from the country came to town to do their Christmas shopping. It also happened to be my birthday—I doubt mine was an immaculate conception—and every year on the 8th I was brought to Dublin from Wexford, my home town, as a birthday treat.

I vividly remember those trips. I would board the train with my mother in a freezing, pre-dawn hour—I can still smell the smoke from the engine, for this was in the days of steam trains—and wait sleepily for the pink light of morning to come creeping across the frost-white fields as we trundled northwards. We would alight at Westland Row station, and I would feel that I had arrived at the Gare du Nord.

Dublin in that time was dark, dank and Dickensian: it looked, and smelled, like a city of the 1850s rather than the 1950s. Yet I was thrilled by it: even yet, there are moments when a whiff of diesel fumes from the back-end of a double-decker bus will transport me straight back to those December days of long ago. We had no double-deckers in Wexford . . .

Of course, the magical city, as I imagined it to be, was entirely a façade, where a veneer of devout respectability covered all manner of crimes and misdemeanours that never got reported in the newspapers. While I was happily tucking into a Knickerbocker Glory ice cream in the Palm Beach Café on O’Connell Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, around the corner children were starving in some of the worst slums in Europe. For most Dubliners, the only relief from poverty—financial and spiritual—was alcohol. The place reeked of porter, cigarette smoke and horse dung. What more could one ask, setting out to write noir fiction?

Later on, in the 1960s, I lived with an aunt in her flat in a decaying Georgian pile in Upper Mount Street, one of the loveliest thoroughfares in the world, and still untouched by the hand of the developer. Quirke lives in that house, number 39, hard by St Andrew’s Church, known fondly as the Pepper Canister, and near the canal, the banks of which are his favourite haunt. When my novel The Sea was filmed, by coincidence the last day of shooting took place directly opposite number 39. Life has its eerie moments.

Even the Dead is published on the 28th January, 2016.

Visit Benjamin Black on his website at benjaminblackbooks.com

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PRIMITIVE FORENSICS

When my fictional 18th century coroner, Titus Cragg of Preston, investigates a suspicious death, he takes into account all the different kinds of evidence available to him, which means establishing the physical facts of a case and making deductions from those facts. When thinking like this, he is in effect practising an early form of what we call “forensic science”, in which he’s much encouraged by his modern young friend and informal assistant Dr Fidelis. But Cragg is a man of his time, in which hundreds of years of pre-scientific lore, of folk traditions and superstitions, also has to be reckoned with.

The Scrivener by Robin Blake

The Scrivener by Robin Blake

Enquiries by coroners in Cragg’s time were still governed to a considerable extent by popular belief in divine intervention. The old adage that “mordre wol out”, chillingly evoked by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, derives from the idea that murder was so abhorrent in the eyes of God that sooner or later he always exposed and punished the murderer. Long ago physical trials by water or fire had been ways of hurrying the process up: if the suspects floated, or were not burned, they were not guilty, and vice versa.  By the 18th century such procedures had long fallen out of use, but popular superstition remained a factor in any body of evidence.

Reports that a ghost had appeared to someone could be taken as proof that the dead person was haunting his murderer, just as Banquo’s ghost returns to accuse Macbeth. As psychological side-effects of guilt, such hallucinations may be plausible evidence, but another technique, the bleeding corpse trial, had rather less basis in reality. Here a suspect would be made to grip the hand of the body under inquest and, if this caused the corpse’s wounds to bleed anew, it was taken as the touch of the murderer.

Careful examination of the body, and the position it was found in, had always been essential to the coroner’s procedure. Sometimes this has a modern ring to it, as in the way wounds were precisely mapped and measured. The famous 1593 inquest into the violent death of the playwright Christopher Marlowe was very specific in finding “a mortal wound over the right eye of the depth of two inches and of the width of one inch”. However the coroner’s examination also took note of less tangible things, such as the expression on the victim’s face. Some believed this was a significant pointer towards the manner of death: a placid face would rule out a violent murder whereas a look of stark terror made it an open and shut case for homicide.

One forensic experiment, devised in the late 17th century, had a quasi-scientific basis. This was used to answer a question that had always been of special interest to coroners: whether the death of a new-born baby occurred before or after its birth. A piece of the infant’s lung was dropped into water. If it sank, that was taken as an indication that the lung had never been inflated; if it floated, it was taken that the baby had breathed before it died. This test remained in use for most of the 18th century.

Increasingly ideas in “natural philosophy”, based on observation and experiment of a kind beloved of Dr Fidelis, competed for credibility with a vast core of pre-existing beliefs and superstitions that had accumulated  over thousands of years. Coroners like Cragg were therefore working at the very cusp of change between traditional and scientific forensics. It is what makes them such interesting figures.

(Robin Blake’s The Scrivener, the third Cragg and Fidelis mystery, is published by Constable in the UK. In the United States it appears under the imprint of Minotaur Books with the variant title The Hidden Man.) Follow Robin Blake on Twitter and for more information on his books visit  robinblake.co.uk

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Year One. Serial killings by PD Viner

On September 29, 2014, in Article, Author, Books, by Milo

PD Viner, Crime writer: Year One. Serial killings.

In a few days my second novel (Summer of Ghosts, pub August 14th 2014) will be released and I am nervous. Is this going to be my Godfather II or Exorcist II?  (If you don’t know them – let me just tell you that Godfather II is arguably the best sequel ever. Exorcist II: the Heretic is not. It is so NOT).

Summer of Ghosts

Summer of Ghosts

Now a part of my nerves is the fact that the step-up from part-time writer, taking three years to finish a novel while I juggled work, childcare and the procrastination Olympics, to being a full-time writer (nine months writing time for a novel from scratch) is immense. But bigger than that is the question – have I pulled it off? You see Summer of Ghosts is the middle part of a trilogy (okay a trilogy of three novels, four novellas and a short story that may or may not turn into a graphic novel) and I have always thought that the second novel of a series was the tough one. It separates the wheat from the chaff – or at least the Pass the Dutchie one hit wonder (Musical Youth) from the multi-hit makers, with the goal being to have as many number ones as the The Beatles (John being Ian Rankin and Paul is PD James. I will leave you to debate your ideas for George and Ringo). A main character can hold one book. To hold a series – that is much tougher. Many writers work this trick by making each book a different case and eeking out details about their main detective. I haven’t gone down this path though – there is one case, the death of Dani Lancing, that stretches across all three books even though Summer of Ghosts is predominantly about two other crimes; the beautiful skin murders and the abduction and murder of Pia Light.

My first novel dealt with a single act of violence and how that causes a ripple that destroys many other lives around it. As Mark Billingham said, it was not about violence but what violence does to people. Well, with book two I wanted to look more closely at violence and the book is violent in an often distressingly casual way. It deals with characters who trade in violence and one character, Gulliver, who enjoys causing violence and pain. The book looks at violence in war too as some scenes occur in the bushwars and later civil wars of Zimbabwe. Into this world where life is cheap I parachute Tom Bevans (AKA The Sad Man) and the parents of the murdered girl, Patty and Jim Lancing to test their mettle. I also attempt, with Franco – a minor character in the opening novel, but now at the forefront of the narrative, to show a man who most see as black and white – but who is as subtle and nuanced as any man can be. The book is once again about moral ambiguities and moral imperatives and that is like walking a tightrope over Niagara falls. Have I got the balance right?

That has been difficult to judge as the pressure of writing two novellas and a novel in nine months (plus editors comments and copy edits etc) meant that I was working more in isolation than ever before. With my first novel I had been enrolled on a writing course and my fellow classmates and tutor gave me feedback every week. As a professional writer it is just me and a vat of espresso reflecting my dark, dark soul.

So I am nervous about the balance and tone but also for my new readers – have I given you enough overview (or worse, too much)? For my series I have attempted to write for an ensemble cast, and I did not want to start the second novel as if the catastrophic events of the first had not affected them all deeply.  But – and here is the tricky part – each book needs to stand alone, and be read without any pre-knowledge of what has gone before. So I have tried to set the scene with events from the first book being revealed in a therapy session. The idea is that if you have read the first one then it will remind the reader what happened and give them a nice thrill of association – but new readers get all they need without feeling like they have missed something (though of course I hope they will go back and want to read The Last Winter of Dani Lancing). Within the crime genre there are so many styles and sub cultures that I wanted, within one series, to look at many different forms of writing. The idea is that the landscape can shift under the feet of the characters and they can be thrown into really different experiences – but if I write true to those protagonists I can make each story different and exciting while remaining true to the series. The novellas also segue in style (and I urge you to check them out, especially as they are FREE to download from all good ebook stockists). The Sad Man is set in 1999 and is the case that makes Tom Bevans career and allows him to set up Operation Ares to investigate multiple victim sex/murder cases. The novella is a serial killer piece with a little Thomas-Harris-like-action. The second novella, The Ugly Man is set in the heatwave of 1976 and involves Patty Lancing on the track of a killer. It is the case that makes her reputation and is a big city journalist trying to crack a case in a close knit rural community. Next year there will be two more novellas – one a supernatural thriller and the other a deliverance-style cat and mouse chase as well as the final novel – a prison break. All feature Tom, Patty, Jim and Dani. So on September 1st I get to follow in the footsteps of the Krays and go to Lewes prison. I am looking forward to it. I am nervous – and I am proud – and I just need to keep writing.

PD Viner August 2014. For more information please follow Phil on Twitter (@philviner) or visit his website pdviner.com.

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Character development – the early years… 

Sign of the Cross: A Spike Sanguinetti Mystery

Sign of the Cross: A Spike Sanguinetti Mystery

I blame Kingsley Amis. In my early twenties, my favourite novel was ‘Lucky Jim’. Drunken escapades, silent fury towards the fools who fail to appreciate your worth – the classic book for the wannabe writer trapped in a career he doesn’t enjoy. People tell you to write what you know, but I decided to write what I liked. What would happen, I wondered blithely, if I blended the comic style of ‘Lucky Jim’ with the most exciting of genres, the crime-thriller?

Enormous success, I quickly concluded – probable membership of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, cult status in America, pallet-piles of books in Waterstones. Time to get cracking.

As a trained lawyer, I gave my protagonist the same profession; to give him access to exotic colonial skulduggery, I stuck him in Gibraltar. Balding, down on his luck, cursed by a propensity to drink to the point of oblivion, then lose a vital legal document, Spike Sanguinetti came into being. The novel started promisingly – lots of laughs, veiled hints that the plot was about to kick into thrilling action. But then things began to go awry. I needed excitement, danger, but the character I had created was too useless to handle it. Either he had to blunder accidentally towards victory (a la Big Lebowski), or transform himself suddenly into a savvy and courageous hero. The first route needed a deftness of touch I lacked; the second involved a level of implausibility fatal to the reader’s attention. I worried about it a bit, before deciding to press on and hope for the best.

So I sent the book out to agents; miraculously, one liked it enough to take it on. We had a stab at rewriting, but never quite got there. I asked the agent to send it out anyway (the confidence of youth); he did so, resulting in a cascade of rejection letters.

A little older, but not much wiser, I spotted a competition on the internet: the ‘Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award’. I entered the book, entitled ‘The Hollow Mountain’. The rules required entrants to post the first 5000 words online, then progress via public voting and professional judgments towards victory and a US publishing deal. The book moved through the early stages of the competition, then made it to the semi-final. My bruised ego received a temporary boost. Then came the rub – the need to submit the rest of the manuscript. History repeated itself and once again Spike’s adventures hit the dust.

An intense, late-night discussion with my wife (the years were rolling by) ensued. I needed to make a choice. Either keep the character and change the genre, or change the character and keep the genre. I went for the latter. Spike Sanguinetti needed to have the tools to survive in a world of murder, conspiracy and injustice. Rather than incompetent, he needed to be capable. Rather than bald and hungover, attractive and able to hold his drink. Aspects of his character remained – his career, his homeland, his aged and cantankerous father – but to bring him fully to life, I had to move him away from myself and employ a hitherto underused faculty: imagination.

The first Spike Sanguinetti book, ‘Shadow of the Rock’, was finally published some fifteen years after I’d first started to write about him. People stress the importance of character development on the page, but a character can be born, live and learn from his mistakes years before a book is even plotted, let alone written. The follow-up, ‘Sign of the Cross’, came out last year. And the title of the third novel? ‘Hollow Mountain’. Same name (minus the definite article), completely different book, but one that couldn’t exist without its curious comic predecessor.

 

© Thomas Mogford, 2014

If you’d like to learn more about the author then why not read more wise words on twitter @thomasmogford or visit his website thomasmogford.com.

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Mark Billingham - Boat to Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Boat to Bardsey

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

This is how THE DYING HOURS ends and pretty much where Tom Thorne’s latest outing, THE BONES BENEATH begins. Those who have already read the new book will know that the bad news is not so much a ‘what’ as a ‘who’ and is just about the worst news Thorne could receive. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous killer he has ever put away is ready to reveal the whereabouts of one of his earliest victims. The price Thorne must pay for rejoining the Murder Squad is that he must escort Nicklin to a remote location and bring back the body.

If the body is there to be found, of course.

The location in question was always going to be hugely important. I needed somewhere isolated, that would be hard to reach; somewhere a long way outside Thorne’s comfort zone that would perfectly suit some of the unpleasant things I had planned for him when he got there. After racking my brains for weeks, my wife suggested an island she had heard about growing up in North Wales. An island with a lighthouse which she had seen winking at her across Cardigan Bay as she stared out of her bedroom window. Using my wife’s Welsh connections (The Taffia, if you will) and her ability to speak the language, we secured a crossing in the depths of Winter, 2013. Within a few minutes of setting foot on Bardsey Island (Ennis Ynlli), I knew I had found the perfect place to set the book.

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

Mark Billingham on Bardsey Island

The island is a mile and a half long and a mile wide and I spent the day walking every inch of it. I explored the damp cottages, the uninviting stretches of beach, the rocks crowded with seals. I climbed the lighthouse and clambered into the caves. I took photos and I scribbled in a notebook…

For most of the year, Bardsey is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also a place of pilgrimage and said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent.

Bardsey is a tricky place on which to conduct a high-security police operation and is not exactly conducive to complex forensic investigations. There is no mains electricity or running water. Accommodation is basic at the best of times. It is a place where Thorne feels uncomfortable in every sense, well aware that the man he is escorting knows it very well; that a dangerous opponent has the advantage.

Mark Billingham - Lighthouse on Bardsey

Mark Billingham – Lighthouse on Bardsey

An isolated island that rings to the screams of seals when darkness falls. A killer who knows the territory and a copper out of his depth.

Bones beneath their feet…

Oh, and one another thing that make Bardsey Island the perfect place to set a mystery. The nearest CCTV camera is a long way away and there is mobile phone signal.

For a crime-writer, that is seriously good news.

The Bones Beneath is published in the UK on the 22nd May.

To find out more on Tom Thorne and Mark Billingham, please take the time to visit Mark’s website.

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The Problem With “Nice.” by James Hayman

On December 27, 2013, in Article, Author, by Milo
James Hayman

James Hayman

At the risk of appearing Scrooge-like in this season of Merry, Happy and Ho-Ho-Ho, I’d like to add my two cents to a kerfuffle over book reviews that’s been brewing both in the print media and on the Internet for the past month or so.

If you haven’t been following it, the brouhaha started when a popular website called BuzzFeed hired Issac Fitzgerald who used to work as the Publicity Director for Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s Publishing Company, to serve as the editor for its Books Section. Fitzgerald accepted the job because, as he says, “I was missing what I do best, which is talk about books online.”

However, Fitzgerald apparently only likes to talk about books positively, following what he calls The Bambi Rule:  “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say nothing (sic) at all.”  (Fitzgerald acknowledges that the line originally came from Thumper). While the Bambi Rule, whether mouthed first by a rabbit or a fawn, may a good one to follow when one is generating publicity for a book as Fitzgerald used to do but it’s not one legitimate critics or reviewers should be encouraged to follow.

The problem with “nice” is that few, if any, works of fiction are perfect and it is the job of competent reviewers to point what doesn’t work in a book as well as to lavish praise on what does. Reviews should do more than just try to convince people to read the books Fitzgerald or his reviewers fall in love with.

Whether we’re talking about crime fiction, literary fiction or non-fiction, legitimate reviewers should give us a sense of what the author intended and how well they achieved their goals. It should discuss in what ways the book didn’t work as well as the ways in which it did.  Reviews should also provide insights into both the style and quality of the writing.

If the reviewer does their job well, he or she can help people intelligently decide what they want to buy and read.  Just offering an unending stream of nice, as Fitzgerald suggests, isn’t criticism or analysis. At its best, it’s marketing and should be identified as such.  Most of the reader reviews on Amazon and B&N generally fall into this category.  At its worst it’s meaningless pap.

Predictably reaction in both online and traditional media was vociferous.   Both Maureen Dowd and Bob Garfield wrote stinging op-eds on Fitzgerald’s Bambi Rule in the New York Times. Garfield sarcastically ended his piece by noting:

“BuzzFeed’s heroic initiative will succeed even if it merely eradicates the depressing negativity that has for so long kept literary criticism from becoming a full-fledged economic sector, like agriculture, transport and erectile dysfunction.

It also brings us one step closer to my two lifelong dreams: first, a newspaper that delivers only good news; and second, diet bacon.”

While I agree with Dowd, Garfield and others who think Fitzgerald is doing readers a disservice, I have to say I also agree that some book reviews and reviewers are unnecessarily––if amusingly––nasty.  I’ve always loved Dorothy Parker’s oft-quoted line, “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

On a decidedly nastier note, Garfield’s column points out that  “The Hatchet Job of the Year Award” went to a reviewer named Camilla Long of the London Times who described a writer named Rachel Cusk’s  memoir of her marital breakup as “a needy, neurotic mandolin solo” written by “a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist.”

That kind of barbed and personal mud-slinging is both nasty and unnecessary. Legitimate constructive  criticism shouldn’t be.  Like any writer, I love getting good reviews and hate getting bad ones.  While I’ve never been the target of anything remotely as ugly as Ms. Long’s poison pen, I would still prefer getting a thoughtful negative review that points out legitimate flaws in my work to one that mindlessly praises it.  Constructive criticism can help me improve my writing and my books.  Empty praise serves no purpose other than to puff up my ego (which admittedly makes me feel good) and to flim-flam potential readers which doesn’t.

A good friend of mine, now in his eighties and a compulsive reader, once asked me how many years I thought I had left in my life.  I offered an optimistic number.  He then asked me to multiply that number by the number of books I usually read in a year.

Even if I made it to the ripe old age I predicted, I was shocked by how few books I’d have time to read before they carried me out.  Given the small number, I’ll continue to depend on good reviewers and thoughtful criticism to help me decide which ones to choose.

I suppose the ultimate problem with “nice” is that it smacks of the philosophy that impels adults to give every kid who participates in a race, even the one who finishes last, equal praise and maybe even a trophy. In literary criticism that simply won’t cut it.

Written by James Hayman, you can catch more from James on his website, on Facebook and twitter.

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The Reason I wrote The Istanbul Puzzle

By

Laurence O’Bryan

The Istanbul Puzzle

The Istanbul Puzzle

I have been fascinated by Istanbul since my first visit there in 1995. I had met the woman who became my wife, a Turkish fashion designer, in London and went to Istanbul to meet her family. I was struck when I went there not only by how friendly everyone was, but also by how prosperous the city was and by its stunning historical sites, on par in my view with anything in Rome or Cairo.

The Istanbul Puzzle, the opening novel in the Puzzle series I created after many visits to the city, features Hagia Sophia in many of its scenes. Hagia Sofia is the iconic symbol of Istanbul. It is also, without doubt, one of the most important and mysterious, yet largely unknown, buildings in the world.

Not only has it been in continuous use since the seventh century, it has also been the headquarters of both Sunni Islam, the seat of its last Caliphate, and before that the seat of a major Christian denomination, Orthodox Christianity.

Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum by the first President of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, in 1935. Imagine the impact of Mussolini turning the Vatican into a museum to assess the impact of Atatürk’s decision. The goal of many Islamists, almost eighty years later, is the reestablishment of the Sunni Caliphate, which was removed from Hagia Sophia by Atatürk.

The building was originally named after Sophia, Holy Wisdom, a Greek Orthodox concept that reaches back to a time before Christianity. Its present incarnation is largely the structure dedicated on the December 27th 537AD. This version, which you can still visit, was, for almost a thousand years, the largest church or cathedral in all Christendom.

Hagia Sophia has survived earthquakes, riots and war. The purpose of this article however is not to reiterate a litany of facts about Hagia Sophia, but to explore one of its greatest mysteries; what lies beneath it?

Hagia Sophia is the only building designed as a great church not to have extensive and well-explored underground areas, whether they be crypts, burial chambers or catacombs.

Both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, constructed at a similar time to the earliest incarnation of Hagia Sophia, in 326-330, and Old St. Peter’s in Rome, constructed 330-360, have original and extensive underground areas. The Church of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has multiple underground areas. St Peter’s in Rome includes the underground tomb of St Peter and the catacombs within its boundaries. A crypt is a common part of the design of a great church.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

St. Paul’s in London has a crypt. Notre Dame in Paris has a crypt. Seville cathedral in Spain has a crypt. I could go on.

The underground areas are the most sacred parts of these buildings. It seems odd to me that there are no underground areas that the public is aware of, aside from a few drainage tunnels, under Hagia Sophia.

One possible explanation, of course, is that the ground Hagia Sophia is built on is unsuitable for underground construction. But that argument is blown out of the water, literally, by the existence of the Basilica Cistern, 150m away from Hagia Sophia. The Basilica Cistern is one the largest and most extensive ancient underground sites in the world. It is a vast underground chamber of almost 10,000 square metres containing a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres high.

So did the famous designers of Hagia Sophia simply forget to design underground levels for Hagia Sophia? Or is there another explanation?

The Black Death was one of the most destructive epidemics ever to strike humanity. It raged in Europe around the year 1350AD. Constantinople was one of the largest cities on the European continent. It fell victim to the Black Death in 1347, probably due to maritime contacts with the Crimea, which was under siege then by the Mongols.

It is reported that over fifty per cent of the population of Constantinople died that year, including a son of the then Byzantine Emperor.

One of the first places to be used to bury victims, especially senior members of the clergy and the aristocracy would have been in any underground crypts in the Hagia Sophia complex. The complex included the hospital of Sampson, where some underground tunnels have been revealed within metres of Hagia Sophia.

I suggest that any original crypts under Hagia Sophia may have been used for the burial of prominent plague victims. Such crypts would then have been sealed up, for obvious reasons. But what happened next?

Hagia Sophia fell to the Ottoman Turks when the city around it, Constantinople, fell on the 29th of May 1453.

Mehmed the Conqueror’s Sufi instructor, Ak Semseddin was a physician as well as a mystic poet. Ak Semseddin preached the first Friday sermon at the former cathedral of Hagia Sophia after it was converted into a mosque. He would have understood the consequences of opening up the plague crypts under Hagia Sopha and would have been well placed to persuade Mehmed not to search too hard under the building.

A proper modern investigation, a geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar and the latest magnetometer equipment would likely reveal significant underground areas at Hagia Sophia. So far the Turkish authorities have not permitted such a project.

It is true that there has been some limited small-scale explorations under Hagia Sophia, a few narrow tunnels and cisterns have been discovered, but I believe it is time for the whole area to be properly explored and documented.

The publicity, and increase in tourists alone, would justify the costs. What is everyone afraid of? Hagia Sophia has been a museum for seventy five years.

Now is the time for a modern investigation of the likely underground areas at Hagia Sophia. We don’t know what they will find. But it is possible that there is something significant down there.

One rumour states that the Byzantine Imperial tombs under Hagia Sophia contain great treasures. Another states that the Devil is buried under there. Whatever the truth, this mystery is something that fascinated me since my first visit to the city. It also forms a key part of the mystery I created with The Istanbul Puzzle, the first novel in the Puzzle series.

 

The author of this piece, Laurence O’Bryan, had his first Puzzle series novel published in 2012. It is called The Istanbul Puzzle. His second, The Jerusalem Puzzle, was published in January 2013. His third, The Manhattan Puzzle, continuing the story, was published October 10, 2013. Follow Laurence on twitter for more.

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Michael Russell When I set out to write The City of Shadows, the first of a series of historical crime novels set in Ireland before and during the Second World War, the aim was first to tell a good tale, hopefully, but also to explore that time, to look at Ireland’s often compromised ‘neutrality’ and to ‘visit’ some other cities that played a role in the war. In The City of Shadows that city was German Danzig in 1935 (now Polish Gdańsk, a change that tells its own tale!) and now in the latest Stefan Gillespie story, The City of Strangers, it is New York, where Stefan finds the looming war in Europe already being fought in the streets.

Telling a good story and exploring ‘the times’ in ways that take you off the beaten track is what historical crime fiction is all about. And they were strange times, as British and German spies sat at adjacent table in Dublin bars, and Ireland’s odd neutrality was best summed up by the fact that German aircrew landing in Ireland were interned for the duration of the war, while Allied aircrew were given a pint and put on the train to Belfast! But creating the sense of those times is a bit like writing about a foreign country. It’s not big things that really tell you what it feels like to be there, it’s the small things. To find a sense of history, you need a real sense of place, whether that place is Dublin and the mountains of West Wicklow, the dark alleyways of Danzig, or the towers of New York.

Michael Russell 2And although Stefan Gillespie’s investigations take him far from home, it is always in the grey streets of Dublin and the green lanes of West Wicklow that the stories have their heart. A sense of place and a real sense of the past went hand in hand when I was writing, partly because the stories often involve, behind the bodies and the action that is the stuff of crime fiction, a search for memory and belonging, in an Ireland still struggling to find out, as a newly independent nation, exactly what kind of country it really wanted to be.

In both The City of Strangers and The City of Shadows, I wanted Dublin in the 1930s to be real, a place you could see and feel. A place you could even find your way around. The first book starts with a man walking along the Liffey at night. Close to the end, on another night, Stefan Gillespie walks down O’Connell Street and over the Liffey too. The city is everywhere in between. In The City of Strangers Stefan finds himself looking at the bloody evidence of a murder in Herbert Place. Later he walks through the city from Bewley’s in Grafton Street to the Four Courts Hotel that once stood by the river. Dublin and its surroundings play a major part in the books that is almost that of a character. Kingsbridge Station (now Heuston), Clanbrassil Street, Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park, the Shelbourne, Harold’s Cross, Corbawn Lane in suburban Shankill, the Gate Theatre, Neary’s in Chatham Street, Merrion Square, the CID offices at Dublin Castle, Dorset Street, the Four Courts, Henrietta Street. Already a long list, but it’s really much longer.

In the process of writing about these places I have taken pleasure in making sure that much of the time shops and pubs that are mentioned are the ones that were really there, using the extraordinary door-stop-size book that is Thom’s Directory of Ireland. It doesn’t matter to the story, but it matters to the spirit of the story. One of the things I quickly found about writing historical fiction is that you can’t play with the past the way you can with the present. Readers expect historical fiction to be, well, historical! If you’re going to ‘stretch’ that history you need to be sure the facts behind it all will stand up.

Michael Russell 3Part of what I have written about Dublin, as about West Wicklow and the hills above Baltinglass, is unashamedly a celebration of places that matter to me, places I love. But it was only really when I started writing my second book, The City of Strangers, that I realised that the strange familiarity I felt with the streets of Dublin in the first half of the twentieth century, went deeper than I had remembered. I realised that my own sense of ‘knowing’ those dark, often rainy, foggy streets, had been left in my head, generally forgotten for most of my life, by my grandmother. She was born in Moville at the very end of the nineteenth century and lived through both the War of Independence and the Civil War in Ireland, before emigrating to England in search of work in the late 1920s.

When I was very young she told me stories about Ireland, about Donegal and Armagh and about the years she worked in Dublin. They were stories that often involved ‘the echo of the Thompson gun’ and assassinations, Black and Tans and Volunteers, gruesome deaths and miraculous escapes, black streets it was dangerous to walk at night. There were few of my childhood friends in England whose grandparents’ stories could compete with the murder and mayhem of mine! But it was a long time ago, and they had slipped to the back of my mind, even when I found myself living in Ireland and raising my children there. But they hadn’t gone away. And when I walked the dark streets of old Dublin with Stefan Gillespie… well, I think my grandmother was probably there to show us the way.

I hope The City of Strangers is, above all, a tale to give readers who like ‘mystery’ and ‘history’ enjoyment. A body on an Irish beach; a brutal murder in middle-class Dublin; a man falling from thirty storeys from a Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park; a woman running for her life. But it is also a celebration of two great cities at a fascinating time in their history, Dublin and New York in 1939. New York was, of course, the third largest ‘Irish’ city in the world at that time, but then New York is another story…

Michael Russell

For More on Michael and his books please take the time to visit his website and follow him on twitter @forgottencities

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Defender

Defender

Written by Chris Allen, author of Defender and Hunter.

Growing up, I was always drawn to shows on TV and the big screen that were international in some way, whether it be a mixture of the cast or more specifically, an agency or groups working together on a global scale. I can’t explain why, although it could be because I have a diverse family heritage and grew up on stories of my Welsh grandfather and uncles – one of whom served on Russian trawlers in the Atlantic, or the uncle who was a US marine – both in WWII. These stories and many others stimulated a natural curiosity in me about the world out there, so I guess I was never going to grow up holding onto a local mindset. Considering I grew up in a sleepy riverside suburb in Perth during the 1970’s – it’s no wonder my youthful imagination was enticed further afield.

A couple of the shows I liked very early in life included The Thunderbirds, the whole International Rescue element really appealed to me; and later, the live action series called UFO – which was also created by Gerry Anderson (the creator of The Thunderbirds). UFO featured the international agency SHADO, with everyone aligned to fight the alien invaders! It’s inevitable that when I got older and started putting my thoughts towards creating something, it was going to be at its core international.

When I began writing, I knew my creation would inevitably be influenced by actual events that were occurring at the time and my particular take on how that might influence the context of my stories. I started writing drafts of Defender in the extended aftermath of Sept 11, 2001 – a time when I was in high demand professionally and probably needed a creative outlet. I didn’t want the context of my stories to be military in nature, so I steered away from the obvious choice – the UN and intervention forces – and looked more towards the actual criminal activity so often hidden behind idealistic rhetoric and excuses for terror.

Having decided upon that course of action, but still wanting to unite nation-states together in the grand narrative, I opted to have the UN Security Council approach Interpol so as to join those entities in a fictional sense, despite their quite disparate responsibilities in real life. I achieved this through the creation of Intrepid: Interpol’s black-ops Intelligence, Recovery, Protection and Infiltration Division – raised at the behest of the United Nations.

Having had both military and law enforcement experience and a wide network of friends and colleagues reflecting similar career streams, it hasn’t been a stretch to embed fact within my fiction. The characters I’ve created and am developing for future volumes are all in some way the literary embodiment of those same people with whom I’ve shared professional experiences over past years, and many are a composite of people I’ve served and worked with. The agents are international in flavour – from the Austrian ex-GSG9 character The Key, to the former US Navy Seal Dave Sutherland, to the New Zealand born Chief of Intrepid himself, General Davenport. Of course, Alex Morgan reflects my own heritage in that he’s born of a Welsh father and Australian mother, with service across a number of Commonwealth armies.

My observations of how these various agencies work is that they can both help and hinder co-operation, often with best efforts frustrated by the corruption of misinformation and bureaucracy (my pet hates). I can draw on my own interactions with agencies as much as observations I’ve made or even stories relayed to me by others, combined with my own experiences in the field. At the core of it all, nothing begins without some form of dialogue. The scene must be set and the operational parameters must be established before the agents embark upon their missions. So, I try to provide the reader with some sense of either the orders process – as in General Davenport tasking his agents (Defender), or the process of defining jurisdictional  boundaries – as in sorting out ‘who will do what when’ type issues before the agents deploy (Hunter).

When the time comes to create each fictional story, I will draw on an overarching real life issue, such as human trafficking in Avenger – war criminals in Hunter – or gunrunning in Defender, and interlace the fictional plot with real experiences in a way that should, hopefully, enhance the adventure for the reader. I guess they call it writing escapist thrillers for realists. I’m not interested in creating the doomsday catastrophe stories where the world is going to end via destruction on a mass scale, nor am I going to target one particular race or faith through my writing. History consistently shows us that the world is a lot more complicated than that.

So while an agency like Intrepid wouldn’t happen in real life, where the UN sets the agenda for Interpol – all for the greater good – well, that is the entire point. Intrepid is supposed to be escapist, it’s supposed to be fictional and ultimately, it’s supposed to be cool.

About the author:

Before penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out end-2013 and a film franchise underway. Chris dreams of one day spending extended periods of time enjoying an English country cottage in Surrey, preferably one in walking distance from the local pub.

Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies from his youth at www.intrepidallen.com/blog. Or you can say g’day on Facebook at facebook.com/intrepidallen.

You can buy Defender from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback (free worldwide postage) formats, likewise Hunter in Kindle and Paperback formats.

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Olympics for all?

On August 7, 2012, in Article, Olympics, by Richard Pierce

Olympics for all? ……By Richard Pierce

London 2012

London 2012

I’ve not always loved sport. As a fat child, I viewed it with a certain amount of disdain, I think, regarding reading alone in my bedroom as a much more important pastime than getting sweaty or even wasting time watching other people get sweaty for no good reason. And then, as I grew a little older, though not thinner, my dad started to let me stay up late on European football nights, and I grew to love that time we spent together watching what looked to me like old men suddenly growing young and twinkle-toed and doing things with a ball that I could never have dreamed of doing. That’s when sport became a thing of beauty to me.

By 1972, I was totally given up to the watching of sport, and lapped up the Sapporo Winter Olympics, and then the Munich Olympics – and was totally and utterly distraught by the massacre there, having by this time also moved on in my reading to the Greek classics. In 1974, just before we left Germany to move back to England, I was asked by a friend of my father’s to go to watch Scotland play Brazil in the World Cup at the Frankfurt Waldstadion. Time has blurred many of the images from that day, but one thing I recall clearly is Billy Bremner, with his white wristbands on, missing a sitter from about 3 yards out, putting it a foot wide of the Brazilian post, with the keeper nowhere.

Wind forwards almost 40 years, and here we are, in an Olympic year, the Olympics in the UK for the first time in my life time, and me thinner and more active than I was when I was 14, and as obsessed by watching and playing sport as I ever was.

I’ve been lucky enough to be at three Olympic events so far, all of them poles apart as far as the watching environment’s concerned. The first, Olympic Ladies Football in Coventry (free tickets thanks to the local primary school, high up in the windy North Stand); the second Ladies’ table tennis in the cheap (but excellent) seats in the Excel; the third a hospitality area right by the finishing line at Eton Dorney for the rowing, with free food and drink (and this last one thanks to the enduring generosity of one of my oldest and dearest friends).

At some point at Eton Dorney, I sat down with my glass of fizz and started to wonder about the intellectual integrity, not just of me sat there supping fizz, but of the Olympic Games as a whole. And I don’t mean to start banging on about politics or corruption or doping here. My mind was focused on something different altogether, leaving rational thinking about economics to one side. I don’t do rational very well.

My interpretation of the Olympics has always been that they were started by the ancient Greeks to replace war, to stop from happening again the tragedies and losses of the Trojan War, to allow the peoples of Greece to live in peace with each other, and having their named champions fight bloodless games in the name of their states in the shadow of Mount Olympus. That these were games played by the people for the people, that anyone who wanted to watch could watch, that anyone who wanted to take part would be considered, and the best chosen from those who vied for a place.

Extend that now into modern times, and the ideal is all but destroyed. We live in times of war; we have lived with almost continuous wars since the end of the 19th century. This is a bloody age we live in, with conflict worldwide, with threats of conflict where no conflict is now. And we also live in a greedy world, a place where everyone is motivated by selfish gains, not by selfless pursuit, where gamesmanship commonplace on and off the field, and where those in poverty are placed under even greater strain by those who live in luxury.

These thoughts naturally confused me, and still do, especially in that privileged position at Eton Dorney. However, they didn’t stop me from wondering how the Olympics could have been made accessible to all, how a mechanism could be devised by which attendance at every Olympic event could have been made free of charge, how governments should, in a true Olympian spirit, make financial contributions towards this mechanism, directly depriving their machines of war of the oxygen of money and aggression. These funds could be generated by supertaxes on the super-rich and on the banks. Spectators would take part in ballots to see who could go to watch and where. There would be no competing for where the Olympics would be held, because we would have a rota hundreds of years ahead determined by referendums held worldwide. And this, naturally, as a precursor to yet another one of my Utopian dreams – a world government, one world currency, and one global system of taxation.

Is it really too much to ask and to hope for that we should return to true amateurism when it comes to taking part in the Games, whether competing or watching? Is it too much to dream of that the true darkness of the human spirit could be suppressed for a fortnight every four years to allow the beauty of sporting efforts and achievements to shine through? I wish it weren’t.

Richard Pierce is the author of Dead Men & can be found on twitter.

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