Saturday, 31 March 2018

Rebus fan

I'm a Rebus fan. Not an Ian Rankin fan, but a Rebus fan. Mostly that's because I see Kenn Stott and the actress who plays Siobhan Clarke as I read the pages. I always think she looks far too gentle to be a police detective, and she always surprises me. I found this  piece on Ian Rankin's website and hope he won't mind if I put it on here as a sort of promo for him. It is a lovely reminder of how he started. It is also a wonderful description of the character, which is useful for me. I have a number of Rankin's books on my shelves. I even have some in paperback and one or two in Kindle. Duplication. Sigh. It shouldn't happen to an ex-librarian, should it?

Here's the excerpt:

It’s happened. An idea for a novel that started as one situation and has blossomed into a whole plot. I’ve not written any of it yet, but it’s all there in my head from page one to circa page 250’ (Ian writing in his diary 19th March 1985)

The character of Detective John Rebus – complete with estranged wife, young daughter and fragile sanity – seemed to spring fully formed from young English Literature graduate Ian Rankin as he sat in his bedsit in Arden Street, Edinburgh in March 1985. The book’s title Knots & Crosses came first, with the detective’s name coming out of that ‘picture puzzle’ of knotted rope and matchstick crosses of the title. Oxford had ‘Morse’ – a code, so Edinburgh would have ‘Rebus’ – a puzzle.

Knots & Crosses was not intended to grow into a series. In the first draft Rebus died at the end: but during the editing process Rankin decided to give him a reprieve. This was just as well, as when sales of standalone novels Watchman and Westwind were slow, his publisher suggested he revive the detective, who reappeared in Hide & Seek.

The word ‘curmudgeon’ could have been invented for Rebus. The flawed but humane detective we first meet in Knots & Crosses when he’s aged 40 is pretty much the character we see even in the most recent books when Rebus flirts with retirement before returning to the police force when the rules change. Rebus is a professional misanthrope made more cynical by the job he does. He delights in flouting authority; he smokes and drinks; he doesn’t play by the rules. He is the ultimate maverick cop who prefers ‘old-school’ graft to new-fangled modern-day policing methods. He’s a flawed, pessimistic, multi-layered character, a troubled, brooding soul and a cynical loner who can find no solace in faith, who’s obsessed with work, and happiest when propping up the bar of his favourite pub, The Oxford Bar, a glass of IPA in his hand.

The older Rebus has a bit more flesh on the bones – both literally and metaphorically; he is a little more disillusioned, and fighting a few more demons – and not quoting quite so much Walt Whitman or Dostoevsky.

The Rebus novels are written in real time, so Rebus ages along with each book. As the series progresses we learn more about him. Born in 1947, Rebus grew up in Cardenden, Fife, with his brother Michael, the sons of a stage hypnotist and grandsons of a Polish immigrant. Rebus left school at aged 15 to join the army whilst his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Rebus served in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, before being selected for the SAS in 1971 where he excelled in training but he left the army shortly afterwards, which brought on a nervous breakdown. Following lobbying from the army, Rebus joined the Lothian and Borders Police in 1973. Rebus has been married, but divorced sometime in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Rhona, and his daughter, Samantha, appear frequently in the early novels.

We first meet Rebus in 1987 in Knots & Crosses when he is a Detective Sergeant working on the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, a serial killer who had been abducting and strangling young girls. He is based at the (fictional) Waverley Road police station where he receives anonymous letters containing knotted rope and matchstick crosses…

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

We're doomed

I read that there are novels branded as “up lit” by publishers. Upbeat novels of kindness and compassion are making their mark on bestseller lists. I hadn’t heard of them until today, but it seems they have been around for around two years or so.

Novels filled with tenderness, companionship and nostalgia are said by some to be nothing more than wish fulfilment: reading of the society people wish we had rather than the devastation, cruelty and hardship of the world we do have. Comfort reading in other words; possibly a match for comfort eating which may be a cause of so much obesity these days.

“Up lit” is maybe a way of trying to fix what is broken in our fragmenting society. When everything is dark readers have often turned to fiction as an escape. Once escapist fiction was crime, romance and science fiction; now it seems to be novels of kindness that infiltrate the bestseller lists because they offer hope. Maybe the "do-gooders" of the world hope some of the goodness will rub off on society in general, but I doubt it. Society in general doesn't read, it watches film and tv and the internet. What does it get there? Violence, much of it mindless, diversive interviews as channels vie for ratings and often, viciousness in social media.

 "We're doomed, laddie," as the character in Dad's Army used to cry.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Further thoughts on Kindle Create

One of the things that worried me about Kindle Create was how it was actually published, because nowhere in the KC software was there any mention of book covers. I was wary of pressing the Publish button in case I did something that would screw up the whole project.
After I read the cryptic sentence for the tenth time, a light bulb moment occurred: the software transfers the ms into a specific file that can then be loaded into the Kindle  Direct Publishing package that I've used before.

Once I realised that it was easy, but I wish they had made it more clear!

Final checks to be made, price to be decided, blurb polished and keywords decided. Then I can final press the Publish button.

This is my cover. Depending how swiftly KDP works, publication day will be Sunday, or perhaps, if they're a little slow, Monday 19th March 2018.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


The new software from Amazon that allows publication of an e-book is called Kindle Create. I've been exploring it with a view to publishing my next book, which is due in a few days. I'd love to give an official date of publication, but sod's law says I won't stick to it, so I'll just say it is very close.

 At first glance the software seems beautfully simple, and in many ways, it is.

There is a choice of four themes to suit different genres - Classic, Amour, etc.  They aren't exactly startling, but it means the software will modify the entire text for you to that style. It will seek out paragraphs, breaks, headings etc and deal with them for you, according to the style you've chosen. You can be certain they will all be consistent. 
The software will do the Table of Contents for you, too. 
If you have any links, the software will hold them but once you try to modify them they vanish.

My needs are simple as I have no illustrations, graphics or lists to incorporate. It is a plain novel, and the software seems to suit me well so far. One draw back I've noted is that though you can edit the text in Kindle Create, it - obviously when you think about it - doesn't make the change in your original Word document, so you could end up with no final copy of your ms. 
If I had made all my editing changes on the Word document, I would have been further on by now. I had about three goes at editing on Kindle Create before the penny fnally dropped. Now I'm back to doing a final, final, final edit on Word, so in a sense I've wasted all the time I spent each time making the style changes. Next time I'll know better!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Historical fact and historical fiction

There are two or three very well-known authors I can think of (and many more whose names don’t spring to mind right now!) who write what I call historical biographies. 

They select a known person from history and write as if they were them, or knew them; in other words, they write dialogue for them, tell us their thoughts, their emotions as well as the major points of their lives. This is fine, and I read a lot of them. But writing fiction about well-known  and well documented figures and events is one thing; writing about characters who once existed about whom little is known is problematical.

Readers ask me if the main character in my book Alba is Mine is really MacBeth. Well, the answer is partly yes and partly no; MacBeth started it all. Or rather, Shakespeare did when he made him a short reign villain when in actual fact he reigned successfully for seventeen years. 

I wanted to know more, but could regrettably find very little about the real MacBeth. Dunnett researched him for five years before she wrote King Hereafter and as a successful historical novelist she had access to all sorts of information sources that I, with nothing to my name, did not. So I contented myself with imagining a time period and its culture, clothes, poetry and weapons, added one or two historical characters and then leapt off into the realms of pure fiction, by which I mean I simply imagined everything.

Knowing how much was my imagination, I couldn’t bring myself to call my hero MacBeth, so I called him Finlay mac Ruaidhri, which wasn’t so far removed from the name most family trees gave his step-father. Dunnett’s conclusion was that MacBeth and Earl Thorfinn were one and the same person; Thorfinn was his Orkney name, and MacBeth his Christian name, but I made Thorfinn and Finlay half-brothers sharing the same mother. Since I was writing fiction I shamelessly telescoped events so that the book covers less than a year in the life of my hero – but it is a very eventful year!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Early Dublin, Dubhlinn, Dyflinn

Dublin grew up over a 1,000 years ago at the lowest crossing point on the Liffey. The river was wide, shallow, endured high tides reaching far inland as well as flash flooding, and the river mouth was plagued with shifting sandbars. People began to settle on the east-west ridge south of the Liffey in two communities. First to establish itself was Ath Cliath, a trading settlement and then the partly ecclesiastical centre named Dubhlinn for the black pool above which it stood; both were certainly present before the early seventh century though no one can say for sure exactly when the settlements first appeared.

The annals say the Vikings arrived in AD 841 and settled at Dubhlinn, and gave the name their own twist, rendering it as Dyflinn and one or two other variants which very much depended on the spelling powers of the recorder. They moved toward Ath Cliath by AD 900 possibly because the four major highways (defined as a road on which two chariots could pass one another) converged on the town, which would certainly have enhanced Viking trade. The name Ath Cliath means “a ford of hurdle-work,” so presumably it was also right on the crossing point. The river was said to be 300 metres wide at high tide with the ford only passable at low tide and then by a walkway constructed of slippery saplings woven into a mesh and fixed on piles of some kind.

The ninth century Viking longphort (a naval encampment) became a tenth century dun or castle. Across the River Poddle which sweeps around the base of Dyflinn, stood the assembly place called the Thingmot, anglicised as Thingmount, a flat-topped mound where Norse assemblies were held. Nearby are the burial mounds of the Scandinavian kings, known in Old Norse as haugr or haugar and believed to form the basis of the medieval name Hogges or Hoggen green. (I’m rather inclined to believe the name might have something to do with pigs, but what do I know?)

Three hundred metres to the north-east stands the Long Stone, which commemorates either the first landing place, or the re-taking of Dyflinn after one of the Hiberno-Norse battles, or both. One map shows the Long Stone on a small island but as a bridge was built, the quays were dug out, silting up of the river changed the shoreline; the Long Stone appeared to move inland. Amlaib or Olafr Cuaran, father of Sitric Silkenbeard, is given credit for colonising Dyflinn and building the defensive embankments along Wood Quay against the warring Irish. Sitric continued the expansion of the town.