I’ve moved!

Posted 03/10/2013 By admin

I’ve moved blog addresses

The blog is now at



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Verse or Worse

Posted 08/06/2013 By admin

At a recent Brownies meeting (Brownies are junior Girl Guides) where I’m an apprentice leader, we armed the kids with clip-boards and question sheets so they could charge round asking questions of the grown ups in the room.  We steered clear of imponderables such as “What is the meaning of life?” (Besides, anyone who’s familiar with A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows it’s 42) and Hard Sums as this was meant to be for fun.

One of the questions was “Recite a poem”.  I must admit I fell back on Baa Baa Black Sheep but it did make me think about poetry, as such.  Now, in the privacy of my own home, I must admit to a bit of poetry.  When all the kids were reposing themselves and it was time to get up, I would, if the mood struck me, weigh in with a bit of Omar Kyhayyam:

Awake, for morning in the bowl of night,

Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight,

and Lo! (this is poetry. You can use words like Lo!) the hunter of the East has caught,

the Sultan’s turret in a noose of light.

It made me laugh and sometime made the kids laugh too.  It also led to some very odd looks when one of them would ask, in company, “Mum, what’s that poem you sometimes shout in the morning?” private declamation of verse being thought of as strange.

However, most of the time, I tend to talk in prose.  Unlike, I may say the characters in a Golden Age detective story, written in 1939, that I’ve just read.  The author had gone to Oxford and seemed determined to prove it. None of the characters seem to have a thought that someone else – a poet – hasn’t thought first.  Quotations pepper the text like birdseed and, should you miss them in the text, there’s quotations at the head of every chapter, too.  It’s all a bit much.

Did anyone ever really talk like this?  I like Lord Peter Wimsey but he’s is far too addicted to poetry.  If I was Charles Parker, his far too patient side-kick, I’d be tempted to put a green baize cover on the man.  Harriet Vane’s no good; she encourages him and, what’s more, breaks into poetry herself.   However, at least Lord Peter gets on with catching villains There’s also  – to come more or less up to date –  a dickens of a lot of poetry in Star Trek, The Next Generation. The trouble is with excessive verse, it that it can’t half sound patronizing.  Either that, or the writer isn’t convinced of the value of their material and wants to beef it up, to fool the reader into thinking that what they’re reading is Literature.

Agatha Christie very, very occasionally used poetry.   Very, very occasionally, but usually if Poirot is quoting something, such a familiar phrase, he mangles it, so instead of feeling “All at sea” he feels “All at the seaside” which is funny and makes us feel all friendly towards him. It wasn’t that she didn’t know any poems or couldn’t afford a dictionary of quotations. it’s just that, like salt in cooking, she knew enough to use it sparingly.

Good old Agatha Christie.




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Sherlock and Robert Goddard at Crimefest

Posted 05/06/2013 By admin

It was Crimefest at Bristol last weekend, an excuse for lots and lots of crime writers and readers to get together with each other.

One star of the show was definitely Robert Goddard, who’s a very funny man and a very polished – but genuine – speaker.  I did like the way he described writing a bit of historical fiction.  In certain types of historical mysteries, the hero or heroine can’t set foot outside the door without describing everything they see in meticulous detail.  So, for example, if they cross a market, there’s jugglers juggling, jesters jesting, bears being baited, dwarves dwarfing, to say nothing of all the stall holders shouting odd phrases in Medieval at each other.  Scatter a few more boils, skin diseases and people with more severed limbs than we’re used to, and you have the average Medieval market.

On the other hand, when the hero or heroine of a book set nowadays crosses a market, it’s just a market.  Now, of course you can go to town on a modern market, with its many-coloured canopies and stall holders bellowing about their amazing products and the smell of bacon frying and sausages sizzling, jostlers jostling and the flocks of hopeful pigeons but, unless there’s a reason to – that is the H or H is actually looking for someone or something – why would you? Sometimes, he said, a market is just a market.


The other star turn was by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Dr Who/Sherlock fame and I loved the way they described the genesis of Sherlock.  They’re both dyed in the wool Conan Doyle fans and, in many discussions on many train journeys up and down to Cardiff, Dr Who’ing together, (and yes, the character of The Doctor owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes) decided that their favourite screen incarnation of the Great Detective was Basil Rathbone.  Now, the thing about the Basil Rathbone films was that they weren’t set in Victorian London, with foggy streets and rattling hansoms, but made Holmes and Watson contemporary.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes was edgy, cool, energetic and up to date, a scientist and a man of action.  Also – and this has been sadly overlooked in many recent screen adaptations – great fun to be with.  Why not, they reasoned, bring him slap up to date so as to do real justice to the character?  So they did.

Sterling stuff.


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Feet, Teeth, Tornadoes… and an MA

Posted 27/05/2013 By admin

I’ve broken a bone in my foot and I’ve got an abscess (which isn’t make my heart grow any fonder) under my tooth.  (Before you ask, I fell off a pair of high heels; the tooth was just thrown in for good measure).  So that’s the fracture clinic this Wednesday and the dentist next week.  Ho hum. This is not engendering a sunny aspect on Life.  However….

What did engender the aforesaid sunny aspect.  What did do the trick, however, was daughter Elspeth getting a 2:1 MA in television and film studies at Glasgow Uni.  Fantastic!

The new Master of Arts and I went to see the new Star Trek film and here’s her blog about it.


Please take a look at it.  I think it’s really good, but then, I would, wouldn’t I?

There was also good news from my Harry Potter pal John Granger http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/  who lives, in his words, “about twenty minutes away” from where the truly awful tornado touched down in Oklahoma.  He and his wife spent some time in the storm cellar, but emerged unscathed.  Whew.

Another reason to be cheerful, despite teeth and feet, was the Publisher’s Weekly review of Blood From A Stone.  Here goes:

Blood from a Stone: A Jack Haldean Mystery, Dolores Gordon-Smith. Severn, $28.95, (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8263-9

Christie and Sayers fans will find Gordon-Smith’s seventh Jack Haldean whodunit set in post-WWI England (after 2012’s Trouble Brewing) a well-crafted throwback to the golden age of detection that pairs deduction with solid writing. Crime writer Haldean gets involved in solving the case of a gruesome murder aboard a train. A man who was stabbed to death had his head ripped off when someone positioned the corpse at an open window, apparently in an effort to stymie the police by delaying identification of the victim. Robbery was not the motive, given that the killer left behind a stash of valuable sapphires. The murder may be the work of a thief known as the Vicar, whose calling card (Simon Templar–like) is the drawing of a cross with a halo on top. The railway slaying may connect with Terence Napier, a man suspected of murdering his aunt. The author cleverly draws the various threads together in the series’ best entry to date.

And, of course, Crimefest in Bristol starts on Thursday. Yet another reason to be cheerful.

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Frankie’s Letter

Posted 12/05/2013 By admin

Breaking news!  Amazon has dropped the prince of Frankie’s Letter to £10.82! That’s a real bargain!

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What’s in a (detective’s) name?

Posted 12/05/2013 By admin

In Jennings Goes To School by Anthony Buckeridge, Jennings and his friend, Derbyshire, are trying to think of a name for the detective hero of the story they want to write:


“First of all,” said Derbyshire, licking his pencil, “we’ve got to think of a name for the detective.”

“It ought to be something out of the ordinary,” said Jennings.

“What about Mr Nehemiah Bultitude? Or Mr Theophilus Goodbody if you like.”

“Oh, don’t be daft,” said Jennings.  “You can’t have detectives called things like that.  Anyone called Theophilus Goodbody would have to be a clergyman; they always are.  And if a chap’s a farmer, his name’s always Hayseed or Barleycorn, or if he’s a schoolmaster he’s Dr Whackem or something like that.  You’ve only got to look in the library and you’ll see all Dicken’s characters have name that suit them, like Pecksniff and Cheeryble and Cruncher and they live at places called Eatanswill.”

“But what I can’t see,” objected Derbyshire, “is how anyone knows what they’re going to be like before they’re born.  According to that, if you’ve got a name like Fuzziwig you could never be as bald as a coot however hard you tried and if your name’s Marlinspike Mainbrace, f’instance, you’ve just got to be a sailor, even if you don’t want to be.”

“Well, what sort of name do you have to be born with so’s you can be a great detective?”

The work of research yielded the information that, unless your surname consisted of a single syllable and your parents had been generous enough to give you a two-syllabled first name, you could never hope to succeed in the world of crime-detection.  Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, Falcon Swift, Ferrers Locke – all the best detectives were most careful to have the correct number of syllables to their names.

“What about Egbert Snope?” suggested Derbyshire.  “That sticks to the rules all right.”

“Yes, but it doesn’t sound right,” objected Jennings.


And there you have it; the name has to sound right and if it has the right number of syllables, that’s an added bonus.  The two boys eventually come up with “Flixton Slick – Super Sleuth” a perfect 1950’s name for the sort of character they create (this is the era of Paul Temple).  Hercule Poriot breaks the rules, but not if he’s called M. Poriot, as he often is.  Jane Marple?  Yep.  Lord Peter Wimsey?  Almost, especially if you think of “Lord” as a first name. Frank and Joe Hardy?  On the money.  Some detectives are individualistic enough to have a two syllabled first name and a single syllabled surname, like Father Brown, Nero Wolfe and Phillip Trent, but Douglas Adam’s Dick Gently and Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes stick to the pattern, as does John Rebus.

I first read Jennings Goes To School when I was about eight.  Thinking about Jack Haldean, it’s amazing how some things stay with you….




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The Guilty Rasher

Posted 06/05/2013 By admin

As I may have mentioned before, my aged parent (aka Dad) hit 90 last August and, like many another well-stricken in years, is prone to various ailments.  One such occurred on Saturday morning when he couldn’t get out of bed.  No drama, no crisis, he’s had this sort of thing before and needed antibiotics to buck him up again.  But, as it’s Saturday, his “real” doctor wasn’t there, so that meant a phone call to the emergency doctor at GoToDoc.

Fine.  The efficient young lady on the phone took down the detail and said someone would call me back. All I had to do was wait.

Fine.  All that doesn’t take long to write but it was now getting on for midday, I’d been up since about half seven and, what with one thing and another, hadn’t managed to get any breakfast.

Dad was reposing himself, so I decided to Take Steps.  One rummage in the fridge later and I had bacon, eggs and a couple of slices of bread.  Put those together with a frying-pan and breakfast (call it lunch if you’re looking at the clock) was in sight.

I should have remembered about that ruddy smoke alarm.  Dad even has a fridge magnet saying The Smoke Alarm’s Gone Off!  Dinner’s Ready!

It sounded like the day of judgement.

Dad woke up, said “?” and I jabbed a stick at the wretched thing to shut it off.

However, the smoke alarm had set off Dad’s monitoring device, a thing that looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon, which is linked to a warden service and it was making a dickens of a noise. Now how the Millennium Falcon works is that the warden at the other end telephones and checks what the problem is.

At that same moment, as I was all set to reassure the Warden, an extremely brisk woman from GoToDoc rang wanting to know all about Dad’s symptoms. She took me through a catechism of questions including “Has he any weight loss?” which, considering I’d said he was fine yesterday and the symptoms had come on that morning, seemed to require clairvoyance to order to answer properly.  She told me there was no need to worry – I knew that – with that underlying assumption that virtually all medical people seem to have, that, faced with a medical problem, the average member of the public goes off their trolley with anxiety whereas the medical profession cope. There would be, she said, a doctor calling within six hours.  Six hours? So that was Saturday down the pan, then, as I had to hang around to let the doctor in.

I stood by the Millennium Falcon for a bit longer, but no Warden rang, so I went back to my bacon and eggs, thoughtfully opening the back door to let the smoke (there wasn’t much) out.

At this point (I still hadn’t eaten anything) the two firemen in full gear, complete with oxygen tanks, came in the backdoor, calling, “Where’s the fire?”  Two more firemen came in the front door, everyone met in the kitchen and agreed there wasn’t a fire.

Then four policemen arrived and piled in to join the party, telling each other in loud voices that there wasn’t a fire.  Then the ambulance crew piled in, also telling one another there wasn’t a fire.  Apparently when the Millennium Falcon reports the smoke alarm’s gone off and no one answers the telephone (I was on the phone to the brisk woman talking about Dad’s weight loss or lack of it) everyone turns up to see what’s what.  I was half expected Air Sea Rescue to pop in.

I’m all for having men in uniform in the house, but I felt a bit of a pratt about the eggs and bacon.

To add to the fun, Dad’s regular carer and the Warden turned up.  They agreed there wasn’t a fire as well.

I explained about the smoke alarm and the phone call, everyone laughed merrily and departed, apart from the Paramedic from the ambulance.  “I might as well look at your father, as I’m here,” she said and I, thinking wistfully of the eggs and bacon I’d stuffed in the microwave, agreed.

He needs, I said helpfully, antibiotics.

She wasn’t overly thrilled by my offering a comment but, after a litany of questions, agreed that, yes, he did need antibiotics and, as the ambulance was there, they might as well take him up to hospital in it.

I’m not sure if the GoToDoc doctor would have suggested hospital.  I can’t help thinking they would have simply prescribed antibiotics as has happened in the past, but I wasn’t arguing.  That meant, of course, that instead of waiting the six hours for the doctor to call at the house, I now had the prospect of waiting all day in hospital. (Which is what happened.  It was eight hours later before I could go home).

“Do you,” said the paramedic as they piled Dad into the ambulance, want to travel with us?

“I’ll come in my own car,” I said.

After all that performance, there was no way I wasn’t eating those ruddy eggs and bacon.  But next time I’ll open the back door first.










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Mugglenet Academia Reloaded

Posted 29/04/2013 By admin

downloadAt half past two on Sunday morning, I wasn’t tucked up in bed, I wasn’t having sweet dreams and I wasn’t in my pyjamas under a cosy duvet.


No, I was in the sitting room talking to about 15,000 people.


Yeah, okay, they weren’t all in the sitting room. Not only is neither the sofa or the house that big (some people would have to stand in the hall and that’s not very hospitable)  I’d have to shout very loudly if they were, the dogs would probably sulk- the cats certainly would – and the neighbours would be liable to complain.


No, what I was up to in the wee small hours was podcasting on http://mugglenetacademia.libsyn.com/ or https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/mugglenet-academia/id523481044


The half two in the morning slot isn’t because of any fixed idea that authors and academics are naturally night owls, but simply to fit in with the way American time works in relation to British time.  So yawn and bring it on!


As you might have gathered, if you’ve kept up (and, naturally, you have kept up!) with D.Gordon-Smith’s various doings, I’m a real fan of Harry Potter and, much to my delight, this Sunday I was invited back to take part in the show celebrating the first anniversary of the Mugglenet Academia podcast.  There were all sorts of academics and professionals gathered together who had brought their expertise to cast their own particular light on the Harry Potter books, seen through the prism of their own particular subject.  There’s been law, philosophy, political science, folk tale structure and a shedload of other subjects.  Including, of course (this is me!) mystery writing.


So pour yourself a nice cup of tea or open a beer or have a glass of wine, go on over to Mugglenet Academia, put your feet up and enjoy some great chat.  What’s more, you can download it to listen to any time you like so you don’t have to wait up till gone two in the morning!


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Blood From A Stone

Posted 21/04/2013 By admin

I’m delighted to say that my new book, Jack’s seventh adventure, is out! If you look at the Books page on the website, you’ll see it in all its glory, but here’s a picture of the cover anyway.

Blood From A StoneThe core of the mystery concerns a mega-valuable string of sapphires (this is fiction; those sapphires can be as valuable as you like. A merely Quite Expensive string of sapphires isn’t nearly as much fun to write about!) Now it’s taken for granted that the heroes and villains of a mystery have a backstory, but I pondered (as you do) about sapphires, did some reading up and – hey! The sapphires had a backstory too.


The best sapphires come from Ceylon or, as it’s now called, Sri Lanka, and granted that sapphires are pretty well indestructible, I thought it would be pretty cool to make them historic gems. The Ancient Romans knew about sapphires, so why not make them Roman? Yes, that had possibilities. When I was thinking about the book, there was a lot in the news about the Anglo-Saxon hoard discovered in Staffordshire, so why not make them part of a Roman hoard? I didn’t want Jack to discover them – that wouldn’t work in the story – so I put the discovery back a couple of centuries and made the sapphires an Eighteenth Century find, which gave me some great background for Breagan Grange, the country house owned by the Leigh family I was busily creating. The word “hoard” wasn’t used in Georgian times to describe buried treasure, so I cast around and came up with the name “Breagan Bounty”, which seemed to fit.


Naturally when you get a string of sapphires as valuable as those in the Breagan Bounty, someone wants them…




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Apparating in Chester Cathedral

Posted 07/04/2013 By admin

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a Consistory Court.  I certainly hadn’t until last Wednesday, when daughter Jenny took me into Chester Cathedral and we saw one. Not any old Consistory Court, you understand, but the oldest surviving in England.  Here’s a photo of it.  It was established in 1541 and nothing seems to have changed much.   The court settles clergy disputes, but no one was disputing, so I was able to ask (without sounding too much like a numpty) “What’s that funny little chair doing, stuck out on the corner?”

The answer is that is wasn’t put there just for a laugh (although it must have made someone smile) but it’s where – get this – the apparitor or apparator.  He’s called the apparator because he serves the summons to witnesses to get them to appear.  Quite why he has to have a comic chair, I’m not sure, but there you go.

However, the word apparator immediately made me think of Harry Potter, of course, where one of the ways the wizards get from point to point is by apperating.

And why was Harry Potter at the forefront of my mind?  Because Elspeth was the student guest in the Harry Potter Podcast last week, talking about Harry Potter and history.  It’s on http://www.mugglenet.com/academia/podcast.shtml

Look, I know I’m Elspeth’s mother and yes, of course I’m biased, but I think she did brilliantly.  Listen for yourself and see what you think, but I was glowing with pride.

What you couldn’t see (as it was an audio and not a visual podcast) was the set-up.  It was tea-time in America which meant it was about one in the morning in Manchester and we had a bit of a problem.

We couldn’t broadcast from the dining room, because that’s got Granddad sleeping in it (long story, but he’s been living with us recently) and Granddad wouldn’t take kindly to his beloved grandchild bellowing about Harry Potter at one in the morning when he’s trying to have a nap.  That meant the adjacent sitting-room was out too and the internet is pants elsewhere downstairs.  So the bedroom was called in as a radio shack, which meant that Elsepth had pride of place and Lucy (who’s the biggest Harry Potter fan in the world: probably) and me tucked in round her, our place being to provide the Radio Star with red wine and scribbled notes and thumbs-up of congratulations.  Proud mum?  You bet.  It rocked!







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