Particular Stupidities (R&M File #5)

    TAKING A LIFE IS EASY. GETTING AWAY WITH IT CAN BE MURDER.

TAKING A LIFE IS EASY. GETTING AWAY WITH IT CAN BE MURDER.

At last! Some proper writing news to report.

This week I have sent Particular Stupidities (R&M File #5) off to the gentleman who proofreads my books. I wasn’t sorry to see it go. It’s been hanging around at home for a few weeks – or is it months? – while I’ve dithered over things, left it, gone back to it, read it again, left it, gone back to it, read it again ad nauseum. But I am happy with it. That’s the main thing. I really am happy with it.

This is my tenth book. With the other nine I have just released them with a bit of blogging and tweetiing and posting on Facebook – wiped their bums and hoped for the best. I’m determined to make more of an effort shouting about this one prior to its release. I need to DO something by way of promotion over and above the usual. Every week – make that every day – there are dozens of new books being released as well as back catalogues of older books that have been brought out as ebooks from the original print version. The competition to be noticed has never been fiercer.

I have not tried the pre-order option with Amazon, but this time I think I might. As I understand it, the advantage for authors with this scheme is that an interested reader can click on a button – job done – and then get the ebook automatically delivered on the day of release as opposed to trying to remember the publication date and forgetting all about it. This way authors don’t lose readers and downloads. When I tweet and blog and post on Facebook readers who notice and are interested will be able to click that pre-order button and forget about it until the day the book shows up on their Kindle. Everyone’s happy.

Something else that occurs to me – why didn’t I consider using the pre-order function before? Dunce.

*

I was contacted by a very nice lady last week to see if I would be interested in completing an online interview for a magazine that has an interest in writers living and working outside their home nations.

http://thedisplacednation.com/

Naturally, I agreed. I spent much of the weekend staring at the blank screen trying to answer the questions. It was the closest I’ve come to experiencing writer’s block. I had no idea that I knew so little about my writing process. It was a bit of an eye-opener.

Here are the questions. I have a couple of writing buddies. I wonder how they would have tackled these.

Which came first, story or location? 

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place? 

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food? 

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place? 

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting? 

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

*

So… what now? I remember reporting here recently that I was twenty-five thousand words into R&M#6 before I broke off for something I’ve forgotten. And then I started B&C #3 with an idea for an opening chapter. (I since took that up to ten-thousand words with a bit of a spurt. Another good start in the bank, I feel.) For now back to Romney and Marsh.

*

In B&C #3 David Booker laments the anti-social nature of jet-skis, which are permitted by local bylaws to spoil everything for everyone who wants to sit in peace and quiet and enjoy the view from Dymchurch seawall. As luck would have it, I was out with my son walking by the seaside in Istanbul last weekend when a couple of jet-skis came skimming noisily over the water in our general direction. They are an uncommon sight here. My son and I had been throwing stones at a football that was floating in the sea about twenty yards out. No one seemed to be claiming it. One of the jet-ski pilots saw the ball, diverted to it, stopped, fished it out of the sea, motored over to us and threw the ball to us with a smile. He thought we’d lost it. It was a good ball. And new. How kind that was.

Life is a bit strange sometimes.

Vanuatu, Vanuatu, wherefore art thou Vanuatu?

Is there anything sadder  than a caged bird?

Is there anything sadder than a caged bird?

Sunday evening it was with a start that I realised I hadn’t written a blog post last week. I’m still not sure why. (It might have something to do with getting steamed on Friday night and consequently misplacing Saturday.) OK nothing happened in my writer’s life but that’s never stopped me from turning out a thousand words of forgettable ramblings. So that I don’t miss this week’s deadline I’m writing this one early.

Summer seems to have arrived in Istanbul. It’s hot. I’m in T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops when I’m not working. (I could happily live my life in T-shirts, shorts and flip flops.) The Ministry for Education have issued their yearly decree excusing gentleman teachers from wearing neckties. (That’s not something I can subscribe to. Don’t get me wrong I LOATHE NECKTIES but to go into a classroom without one… well I’d feel almost naked. It’s a professional thing. Yawn.)

I have been busy. I’m still wondering (and worrying) why I can’t find anything to change in Particular Stupidities R&M#5. There are only two possible answers to that: 1) It’s as good as it can be. 2) It’s not but I can’t see why. Maybe just one more look.

I blogged a little while ago about writing a ‘thin’ R&M File. (That’s a short story.) Over the last week I’ve made significant changes to it in line with some comments I got from a reader’s feedback. (I know one person who’s going to groan when they read that. No names – M.) But it’s better for the changes. I think. Something else that needs a fortnight in the ‘manuscript drawer’ and then another look. (It’s getting pretty crowded in there.)

Yesterday, Monday, I was struck with an idea for the opening of Booker & Cash #3. And with the idea came a good title: Waifs and Strays. Despite other pressing writing commitments, I couldn’t resist running off three thousand words for the first chapter and I like it. It’s nice to have a start under the belt, something to pick up when the opportunity presents itself. It was also great to get in touch with Jo and David again. I miss them. I miss Acer too. But I have R&M#6 that I must get back to.

Bottom line: it’s R&M that sell. (Hardly anyone seems interested in Booker & Cash or Acer Sansom these days. [Oh God, that seems like such a melodramatic ejaculation of self-pity. It’s honestly not. I’m trying to be objective. And when I say hardly anyone seems interested what I’m referring to is numbers of monthly downloads. It’s a fact that those two series of mine do not currently warrant the investment of my valuable and limited writing time when one considers the potential returns. {Oh double-God, now listen to me! I’m planning my writing according to statistics and financial returns. Aaaaargh!!!!! I’m just off to punch myself in the face of few times and try to remember why I started writing in the first place.}])

But there is a good reason that I now have to consider these evils. Pretty soon I’m going to be writing for more than just because I enjoy it. More on that in a future post.

Now and again my WordPress stats throw up an interesting gobbet of information. Today my blog has been viewed from Vanuatu – another of those far flung territories that I’ve never heard of. And I bet that 99% of people who hear the name will have the same reaction as me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanuatu

The ground floor of the apartment building next door is occupied by a hairdressers. They have an African Grey parrot. Because the weather is fine the bird is outside in its cage during the day. I feel very sad when I see a caged bird. But there is nothing I can do about it. The bird in question makes a lot of noise. The noise is not unpleasant. It doesn’t screech. It continually mimics the calls of other exotic birds it must have had some significant contact with. (The noises don’t resemble anything I’ve heard in Istanbul.) It’s nice to have the window open behind me as I write. I hope the bird is not terribly unhappy.

On reflection, that final paragraph seems a bit allegorical. Am I a caged bird? Aren’t we all?

Caw caw…

R&M File #5 – A criminal study in aromatherapy.

PARTICULAR STUPIDITIES (Large)

My Vancouver jaunt is but a distant happy memory. My sleep patterns have returned to normal. My taste buds are in hibernation. I’m regular again. And my respiratory condition (known locally as Istanbul lung) is back.

This week I’ve knuckled down to some serious and intense work on Particular Stupidities R&M#5. I’m feeling confident that it hangs together well and that it is a worthy addition to the R&M Files. That’s really as much as I can ever hope for from new books in the series. I’ve been through it a couple of times and other than tightening up a sentence here and a paragraph there and fixing those English errors that I can see I don’t honestly know what else I can do with it. I’m a little concerned to be so… satisfied with it so quickly because usually I feel the need to go through my books at least five times before I’m approaching happy with them. It’s strangely worrisome that I feel good about it with so few run throughs.

Maybe I’ll leave it a week and read it again. Just to be sure.

I’ve been working on the blurb too:

The Particular Stupidities that blight Mankind litter this fifth Romney and Marsh File, which sees Dover CID taken to the outskirts of their jurisdiction, the edge of reason and the verge of self-destruction.

The sea and country air of the district has competition in this criminal study in aromatherapy. The pong of putrefied remains, the distillation of duplicity, the odour of opposition and the infusion of inanity combine to produce a pungent bouquet to clear the most congested of blocked nasal passages.

A rotting corpse is discovered in one of Kent’s old coal mining communities. In their search to uncover the identities of the victim and those responsible for the death and concealment of the body DI Romney and his team must confront and deal with issues of prejudice, bias, loyalty and betrayal (and that’s just amongst themselves).

Vancouver! Vancouver!

vancouver-bc-19

Talk about fresh air.

Ah, Vancouver. So good they should have named it twice and got old blue eyes to sing about it. Maybe I can make amends for the artistic neglect suffered by that fair, far-flung foreign field by composing and dedicating a short poem to it and its people:

Vancouver Vancouver

No Heimlich Manoeuvre

Could clear my airways so.

Vancouver Vancouver

No oeuvre in The Louvre

Can match thine landscapes, oh.

Vancouver Vancouver

No Hoover runs smoother

Than British Columbia’s flow.

Vancouver Vancouver

No shaker and mover

Has shaken and moved me like you.

(If nothing else you can see why I don’t write poetry. I think even Pam Ayres’ bile might rise at that.)

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, I spent last week mostly in North Vancouver. Vancouver’s in a region of Canada called British Columbia. The local vehicle licence plates refer to it as ‘Beautiful British Columbia’, and it is. It’s other things too. If I were half my age I’d be applying for working visas instead of writing this.

The Vancouver I saw is clean and neat and ordered and orderly and well-maintained and spacious and obviously loved and cared for by the people who live there. (Sound unfamiliar? Maybe you live where I do. In these things Istanbul is the antithesis of Vancouver.)

The people I encountered were about the friendliest and politest people I’ve ever come across. Pedestrians acknowledge each other and often say hi. (Until I got used to this I kept looking behind me to see who they were talking to.)

Drivers ALWAYS stopped and indicated that I should cross the road in front of their vehicles, even when I wasn’t using a designated crossing. I don’t carry a white stick or walk a Labrador. (Having lived in Istanbul for a few years I have learned to shy away from crossing roads with moving vehicles around. You just don’t do that sort of thing here unless you’re feeling suicidal or drunk.) Not once did I nearly get run over on the pavement by something on two wheels with an engine. And Vancouver’s pavements are wide and litter, faeces, parked motor vehicle and tripping hazard free.

The people who worked in the customer service industry were friendly and polite and smiley and helpful. And other customers waited their turn to be served. The elbow shaped bruises on my upper arms have almost completely disappeared.

Public transport was excellent: frequent, cheap and clean and (you probably won’t believe this) when passengers get off the bus they often call out their thanks to the driver. Thanks to the driver! Honestly, it’s like Walt Disney had one of Martin Luther King’s dreams and went into town planning.

The great outdoors is on the doorstep and in the winter the local mountains are havens for winter sports enthusiasts. I had some great hikes in stunning scenery, but to really get an idea of what the place has to offer, a twenty minute seaplane flight laid everything out perfectly – a buffet of British Columbian delights.

I stayed at a place called the Lonsdale Quay Hotel. The room and facilities were more than adequate. But the real bonus of this location was that the bottom two floors of the building are occupied by eateries and drinkeries of the organicky, home-producey, home-madey and bespokey style. Nothing franchised. I’ll name and reference three of them that I used almost on a daily business.

Sharkys Chophouse – https://twitter.com/SharkysHotMeals

The Soup Meister – https://twitter.com/thesoupmeister

The Green Leaf Brewery – https://www.facebook.com/GLbrewery

There were others: a brilliant bakers, a super smoothie maker and a bumper breakfast provider among them.

The hotel is situated right on the edge of the channel of water that divides Vancouver’s south and north shores. It’s a busy shipping channel, which reminded me a lot of Istanbul’s Bosphorus, except that I never saw one empty plastic bottle, discarded carrier bag or dead body floating in the water. I did see an otter, a heron and a couple of seals though (all alive and doing their thing). Much nicer.

Talking of nice and nicer, I’ve come away from Vancouver believing that there has to be a correlation between people’s behaviour towards one another and the physical characteristics of the cities they inhabit.

I returned to Istanbul full of good intentions to be nicer to everyone, to smile at strangers, to say hi and after you and thank you (in Turkish) more often. It lasted as long as it took for me to try to get off the Metro with my suitcase. As soon as those doors opened I was stampeded, knocked to the floor and trampled on by travellers who weren’t interested in standing aside and waiting the seconds it would take for travellers to disembark first.

The only downside with the trip was the jet-lag. Fine going but my body clock was seriously skewed when I came home. I took the Halfling to the park the day after my return and fell asleep on a bench. I felt particularly bad about this because I’d left my son locked in a swing and while I was asleep it rained hard (fortunately my bench was sheltered under a broad-leafed tree). I woke up to the tapping of a policeman’s baton on the sole of my shoe. On the bright side, I’d made fifteen Lira in change in the baseball cap that had fallen off my head. (I hadn’t shaved for a week.)

*

For anyone who’s reading this because they want news of my writing, my apologies. My news is: I took my hard copy of R&M#5 with me to work on but I didn’t even finish reading it through once. In fact I didn’t even get half-way through it. It’s not that it’s bad but Vancouver kept me distracted and tired (especially that brewery with bar.) I might have got some work done on it in the evenings, but my daughter – the reason I was visiting North Vancouver – took one look at my hotel room with two queen sized beds facing a 42” plasma TV with a digital package and decided to move in for the week. (After seeing her digs I can understand why.) We stayed up every night watching crap on the food channel and loved it!

The Cuckoo’s Calling

_Cuckoo_139820cLast week I blogged about writing a Romney and Marsh File as a script for the stage. I’ve spent this week turning that script into a short story. It’s the first short story I’ve written. As last week, the breaking of new writing ground has been an interesting and enjoyable process. Perhaps they’ll be more short stories (I hope so) but I don’t have any ideas at the moment. I would like to add a collection of short stories to my writer’s portfolio. At this rate I should finish it around my seventieth birthday. (I can just hear my children’s sharp inhalations as they contemplate me lasting that long and denying them speedier access to their inheritance, such as it is.)

I won’t be blogging next week. I’ll be on holiday. I’m off to Canada to visit my daughter. She’s promised to take me hiking in the wilderness. I just hope she intends bringing me safely back. (Maybe it was a mistake to make her executor of my will and then to tell her that.)

It’s going to be a long old return flight. But I have plans to use the ‘dead’ time productively. The first draft of R&M#5 Particular Stupidities has been sitting in the bottom drawer for a few weeks – long enough for me to feel that the time is right to get it out and set to with the highlighters. So that’s what I envisage spending most of my fourteen hours each way in the air doing. Here’s hoping the travellers with screaming infants aren’t sitting within ten rows of me and that DVT isn’t something I actually suffer from on long haul flights. (Could kind of spoil things to touch down in Canada for a walking holiday only to be rushed off to hospital for an amputation or two. [Note to self: keep receipt for walking boots.])

When I return home I expect to be able to send it off to the gentleman who fixes my English mistakes. And then I’ll be back to R&M#6 Happy Families which was going rather well until I decided to put it on hold for the play script and accompanying short story. It’s good to know that when Particular Stupidities is off my hands I don’t have a blank page to look forward to but a good start to familiarise myself with.

*

A while ago it was suggested to me that Rope Enough (Romney & Marsh File#1) is the odd one out among the four currently published R&M Files – the bastard child, the cuckoo in the nest. I don’t disagree with this. I think, like the mother who stares wistfully at the child she’s never quite sure is hers (or her husband’s), I’ve always known that RE is different to its siblings. And the more of them I give birth to the further removed from the ‘R&M Files family’ RE becomes.

RE is not representative of the evolved concept of the R&M Files. (Notice that evolved. There was nothing planned about the R&M Files and I can think of one gent who drops by the blog from time to time who will smile wryly at that as he thinks and therein lies the root of the matter.)

One reason RE not being representative of the writing of the rest of the series bothers me is that it’s not representative of the writing of the rest of the series. Another reason it bothers me is that it’s RE that I give away in the try-before-you-buy initiative on Amazon. It’s just possible that RE puts more readers off downloading the second in the series than encouraging them to go for more. And those that do (I don’t know) might just finish the second feeling that it wasn’t what they bargained for after the first. Mmmm… sometimes, like now, I wonder if I might be better off removing RE from Amazon and just kicking off the R&M Files with book two. Or maybe inserting a foreword to RE that covers what I’m struggling to get at here.

So what is different about RE? For a start it’s quite dark, it’s quite serious and it’s almost entirely without humour. That sentence alone is enough to set the book apart from the others and sums up the biggest difference between them. (Remember I have the advantage of being familiar with book #5, a good chunk of book #6 as well as a ten thousand word short story, so I have much more material to back up my assertions with.)

I didn’t discover the R&M Files’ identity until halfway through book two. I have commented before in this blog that it was in book two, Making a Killing, that it occurred to me to start introducing some of my own brand of humour. I started having fun with my characters and I enjoyed it. I’m not sure that I enjoyed writing Rope Enough. (There were just one or two incidental moments where something of my humour slipped out and I remember feeling I should keep a lid on it. I was writing a crime book after all and I don’t think I’d ever read crime novel that was written for laughs.) But I have enjoyed writing the others in the series. Enjoyed as in had a lot of fun and laughs. I see the R&M Files, the concept (post book#1), as light entertainment. Rope Enough is not that.

I can’t know exactly how many readers have been really put off by Romney’s character in RE but I know that there are at least some. I regret that I wasn’t more aware of what I was doing with him. That same person that called RE a cuckoo told me: you may think that Marsh was “unfairly” treated but Romney was your major “victim” in the first book. For anyone that doubts that here is a link to a Goodreads comment that’s worth a look. For the record I don’t resent the feedback. In fact I find it perversely both amusing and dispiriting. (Amusing because Romney provoked such a strong reaction, and in some ways that’s a good thing. Dispiriting because Romney provoked such a strong negative reaction, which encouraged the reader in question to not finish the book and ‘rant’.) The only person who is really hurt by putting off readers is me.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1040592578?book_show_action=true&page=1

Maybe that’s part of the risk for the novice writer, unless you are someone prepared to sit down and plan a series of books to avoid such eventualities, or an experienced writer. I’m not a planner and when I wrote RE I was very naive as a writer. And I didn’t know I was going to end up writing a series. And even if I had known I’m not sure I’d have been capable of doing things differently. I am very much a make it up as I go along type of writer. It’s the only thing that works for me.

So what? you might say: RE is different. And? The ‘so what?’ is one of the reasons I’ve titled this post The Cuckoo’s Calling. (The other reason is that ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘ is the title of the first crime book written by JKR Rowling and by linking this post to the search term I might get some crumbs from her table. Internet browsers who click the wrong button. Every little helps!) Apart from that try-before-you-buy reference above being a so what? when I wrote R&M#4, R&M#5, the start of R&M#6 and the short story, I heard Rope Enough calling out to me across the hundreds of thousands of words, like the call of summer’s cuckoo carrying on the still, balmy evening air across the flat fields and dykes of Romney Marsh. And, like summer’s cuckoo, I can’t understand a word it says, but I get the gist of the noise: here I am the black sheep of the family (cuckoos now sheep?) doing the R&M Files wrong.

Am I sounding like RE has been a bit of a cross to bear? It really hasn’t. And a lot of Amazon readers have liked it. But there’s this nagging compulsion to deal with (particularly) the Romney of RE by focussing on those same elements of his character that some readers didn’t like – the narcissism, the vanity, his views on women of a certain age (There is one passage in particular that I regret including and might one day remove, although with the number of downloads the book has had it’s really going to be stable door time.) – and doing something about them through, for example, the reactions of those he interacts with.

At times (particularly in the latter books) I’ve tried to use his behaviour to make him more of a figure of fun than someone to be taken seriously. Through the series he has evolved into someone that I hope the reader can laugh at for his pomposity, his erroneous thinking, his mistakes, the events that befall him. I want readers to be in on the anachronistic ‘joke’ that he is, to see him more through the eyes of DS Marsh, his patient and more (I hope) likeable sidekick, and her colleagues.

That said, I don’t want him to become a farcical character. He is a policeman who strives for justice. He is incorruptible. He is loyal to his team. He does want to get the bad guys. It just so happens that sometimes he’s a bit of a dick. Well who isn’t in real life?

Bottom line: I don’t want readers to take DI Romney too seriously and in RE I didn’t do enough towards ensuring that, because I hadn’t worked it out for myself.

Springtime for Romney.

Opening night for Romney and Marsh the musical.

Opening night?

Some weeks I wonder what on earth I’m going to blog about in my writer’s diary. Other weeks, like this week, I have so many ideas for blog posts that I hardly know where to start.

I wasn’t planning on powering up the laptop tonight to write this week’s blog-post. I was going to wait until the weekend. I was going to wait because I’ve just finished a first good draft of a writing project and usually when I get to that landmark I open a bottle of wine and a family bag of crisps and watch crap on the telly all night. As a reward.

Should be considered a punishment. I was feeling quite jolly, quite buoyant. I had a couple of glasses of the local anti-freeze with dinner, turned on the telly, watched ten minutes of doom and gloom (the news) and decided that I was wasting my life.

So telly off, laptop on.

Last week I reported that I’d gone straight from R&M#5 into R&M#6. I was confident enough in my idea to have given R&M#6 a title. (I should come clean with my diary here. I started R&M#6 because I had a good underlying plot line that I wanted to get straight into after R&M#5. I even had the title of the book. A couple of thousand words in and the story had veered off at an obtuse angle, the title was no longer relevant and the story was evolving to be far removed from what I had envisaged. Old title New Age Graves. New title Happy Families.) Upside is I have an idea and a title for R&M#7. It’s going to be called New Age Graves.

Anyway, I got twenty-five thousand words into R&M#6, Happy Families, and I had another writing idea. And because I feel pretty confident about R&M#6 and where it’s going to go I treated myself to a week’s break to indulge myself in another project that really had me by the… interested.

I’ve being toying with this project idea for quite a while now. This week I tore into it and I’ve finished a first draft. It’s only nine thousand words but that might be enough….when the songs are included.

Yes, I typed ‘songs’.

This week I have written the first draft for Romney and Marsh……..the musical.

(Tumble-weed moment.)

I had this idea ages and ages ago that there was nothing I could think of that couldn’t be made funny by tacking the words ‘the musical’ on the end. I have loads of contemporary and historical examples that I’ve just typed and deleted because I don’t want to upset anyone by poking fun at meaningful present-day tragedies. Try it yourself. Take a modern day tragedy and give it a headline and then add ‘the musical’ on the end. Could be funny? Maybe it’s just me. I blame Mel Brooks.

Anyway, I had this idea for Romney and Marsh the musical. And this week I’ve written the script. I really enjoyed writing a play script. Like I say, it’s only nine thousand words. I read it through on the bus home tonight and timed it at fifty minutes. But that’s me reading every part and quickly. Add in ten songs and you’ve got an hour and a half easy. Plus an interval and an ice-cream. A few beers afterwards and supper.  All adds up to a good night out.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, musical??? Has he lost his mind? Complementing a series of police procedural novels with a musical? That genre doesn’t traditionally lend itself to song and dance routines. (That’s my whole point.) And what about the music side of things? No sweat. I’m also a song writer. I have written dozens of songs. I love writing songs. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are real show tunes.

Basically, what I’ve done this week is write a R&M short story around some of my songs. I bet I know what you’re thinking again. That’s a recipe for disaster. Maybe. But maybe not. I keep thinking of The Producers. Or rather the play within The Producers and how it worked (in the film) Anyone else remember Springtime For Hitler? It could work for R&M. What the hell, even if it doesn’t, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely this week and that’s what writing for fun should be all about: enjoyment.

You don’t have to subscribe to the faith I have in this idea. I don’t demand that. But I’ll say this: if you read this blog you probably have enjoyed one or more of my books. So trust me on this. Trust me to know what can work. This can work. Romney and Marsh the musical can work.

There are other good things about this week’s work. I can turn the play script into a short story. Maybe enter it into a competition and up the profile of R&M by grabbing some attention elsewhere. I can tweak it into a radio play and send it to the BBC. Of course, if the musical becomes a Broadway hit then think of the effect on ebook sales of the series.

For those of my trusted and valued readers who are still thinking DON’T BE A FOOL! here is the opening. Let me know what you think. Seriously. Let me know. Please. Try to picture yourself in the cheap seats at your local theatre. And what do you think about the concept. But bear in mind – the R&M Files are, like their author, more interested in having some fun than being taken seriously. There are enough crime writers failing at that, even if they are doing rather well for themselves. Grrrrrr. (See next week’s blog-post.)

A Lamb for a Sheep

Romney and Marsh: ‘The Musical’

Act1:

Romney and Marsh are standing on Dover cliffs, staring out at the English Channel (audience). Behind them the curtain is closed. Their clothes are being blown by a fan (the breeze). The calling of seagulls and a distant ferry’s horn can be heard.   While Marsh sings the Romney and Marsh Theme Tune Romney is smoking. He is obviously relishing the panorama and the air.

Marsh finishes. Romney goes to flick his cigarette over the cliff but a look from Marsh stops him and he puts it out on the sole of his shoe. Then he places it in the cigarette packet and puts that in his pocket. A seagull squawks and shits on him. With some angry mumblings he wipes at it with his handkerchief.

Romney: So?

Marsh: So what, sir?

Romney: Have you worked it out yet?

Marsh: Sorry, you’ve lost me. Are you still thinking about four down? Cantankerous old git, ten letters ending with ‘n’.

Romney: What? No. Look around you. Where could you possibly hope to find the answer to that up here? Have you worked out why I’ve brought you to this spot?

Marsh: To admire the view?

Romney: Yes. But it’s more than that.

Marsh: Not thinking about jumping are you?

Romney: You know what, it does cross my mind now and again, usually when I reflect on the professional company I’m forced to keep.

Marsh: Thanks very much. Is your pocket meant to be on fire?

Romney: Jesus Christ!

Romney beats at his pocket, yanks out the cigarette packet and stamps on it to put the ‘fire’ out.

Marsh: Just another example of smoking being bad for your health.

Romney: How disappointingly predictable. This is Dover: the final frontier. These are the cliffs of the south-east of England. Their age old mission: to resist the invasion of strange new worlds, to repel new life and new civilisations, to boldly stop foreigners going where too many foreigners have gone before.

Marsh: So apart from xenophobia, this is about history then?

Romney: What isn’t?

Marsh: Star Trek. That’s about the future.

Romney: If you think Star Trek is about the future then you just don’t get what Lucas was doing.

Marsh: George Lucas was Star Wars, sir.

Romney: Whatever. Those things are all the same.

Marsh: Is this a British pride thing?

Romney: You make it sound like a racist organisation.

Marsh: I think it’s fine to be proud, so long as that’s as far as it goes.

Romney: Are you not proud to be British?

Marsh: Not always. Not often, actually.

Romney: I can understand that. But I’m proud to be policing the front line at the chalk face.

Marsh: Make up your mind, sir. A minute ago this was the final frontier, now it’s the front line.

Romney: What I’m trying to communicate and what you seem to be struggling to grasp is that I’m proud of my town and its place in history. I’m proud to be counting.

Marsh: As in numbers?

Romney: As in contribution, Sergeant.

Marsh: Right. Got it. Me too. Now we’ve got that sorted, can we, please, go back to the station? I’ve got the paper equivalent of Kilimanjaro on my desk. And it looks like rain.

Romney: When you’ve lived in Dover as long as I have you get to recognise the signs for imminent downpours.

Marsh: So heavy black clouds sailing in faster than a French fleet and lower than a squadron of German bombers isn’t something that concerns you when you’re all exposed up here, no umbrella and the car half a mile away?

Romney: Certainly not. Take it from me – if we leave now we’ve got plenty of time to get back in the warm and dry.

Thunder and lightning. The stage is plunged into darkness. Curtains open. When the lights come on Romney and Marsh are hurrying into one of the neglected and weather-battered WWII anti-aircraft gun-emplacements that dot the cliff top. The concrete and brick structure is now only a crumbling shell, covered in graffiti, littered with rubbish and overgrown with plants that have sprouted from its cracks and crevices.

Marsh: You were saying, sir.

Romney: Weather is not an exact science – ask Michael Fish. We’ll be all right in here for a minute. At least it’s dry. Deluge like that can’t last long.

Marsh: I hope you’re right. I’ve got court in the morning to prepare for and did I mention my paperwork?

Romney: You’re repeating yourself. Foster versus the Crown will be like Grimes’ cake-chute when there are biscuits being passed around – open and shut. Like the biscuits, Foster hasn’t got a prayer.

Romney is looking out of the wide open aperture at the front of the building at the storm raging over the sea. Marsh is exploring the interior, kicking things as she peers into the darkest recesses of the old ruin.

Romney: I’d mind where I was treading if I were you. These old gun emplacements get used for everything from public conveniences to opium dens to lovers’ bolt-hole to vagrants’ doss house. If you’re not treading on condoms, or in human faeces, you’re tripping over syringes and tramps. I remember one time when I was up here in the summer, must have been two, three years ago…

Marsh: Sir.

Romney: I walked in on this pair of pensioners. He had his trousers round his ankles and she was…

Marsh: Sir!

Romney: What?

Marsh: Come here. Marsh has her key-ring torch working.

Romney walks over to where Marsh is investigating a pile of material on the floor. The corner is dark. Romney uses his lighter to illuminate things further.

Romney: Oh dear. Poor old Jacque.

Marsh: You know him?

Romney: Yes. One our celebrity bums. And I don’t mean in a Hello way. Poor old sod. French. Been here for years. What a way to go.

Romney sings The Man with the Special Brew Eyes.

Marsh: Looks like he’s been stabbed.

Romney: Eh?! Where?

Marsh: It’s seems recent. The blood’s fresh.

Romney hurries back over.

Romney: Bloody hell. That changes things. He is dead, I suppose? Have you checked his vital signs?

Marsh: No. I thought you could.

Romney: I’m not touching the old flea-bag. What if he needs the kiss of life?

Marsh: Then one of us will have to give it, sir, and seeing as you know him…

Romney: You must be joking if you think I’m getting up close and personal with that stinking old soak.

Marsh: What happened to poor old Jacque?

Romney: That’s when he was dead.

Marsh huffs and feels for a pulse.

Marsh: I can’t feel anything.

Romney: Call it in and step away, Sergeant, or you’ll be off forensics’ Christmas card list if he croaks. Let’s leave it to the professionals. We shouldn’t interfere.

Before Marsh can make the call there is the noise of a commotion as a man and woman burst in to a timely flash of lightning and clap of thunder. Man and woman scream when they see Romney and Marsh there.

(Just the idea, I say the very idea, of DI Romney bursting into song creases me up.)

In the beginning was the blank page and the words were with me. (Tidy 1:1)

 

r&m6

The blank screen does not daunt me. 

The plots and characters taunt me.

The late nights they do gaunt me.

As my ambitions haunt me.

I’m breaking my writing cycle. Acer, David and Jo are going to enjoy a little more gardening leave because as can be seen from the screen shot, I’m diving straight into R&M#6.

In my short writing career I have enjoyed rotating my series through the year. I’ve liked knocking out a R&M then an Acer then a B&C and back to R&M. That variety has been something to enjoy. Like my children, I love spending time with each of my characters equally. And there are other writing projects that I would like the luxury of time and income to get stuck into. But, to quote one of my life’s role models, I feel the force is strong with this one.

Particular Stupidities R&M#5 is now printed off (I think I’ve burnt out the home printer). Next I’ll get it fitted with one of those spiral spines and set to work with the highlighter pens.

In the meantime…