Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cara on Tuesday What I really want to know AmAl did you enjoy Hamilton? Zoe, was CrimeFest great and where's the report from out South African boys? Susan, when is the next trip to Nihon, and will Jeff look happier in Greece? Enquiring minds want to know. Meanwhile on Saturday at the Litquake office I did a workshop on Villains, the architect of your story. My approach took the view of the villain/esse and how s/he engineered the story and events before page 1. How the view from the 'bad' side set the wheels in motion and going into depth about motive and the unmet desires of the antagonist. Preparing for this helped me in framing my new story, does that happen to any of you? More questions now. Here is the Cafe le Zimmer next to the Theatre de Chatelet in Paris. During the war the Alsatian owners hid their wine in one of the caves belowground. Turns out there are three underground levels of caves. In one of which members of the Police, who were sympathetic to the Resistance, met, plotted and hid people. According to Cafe Zimmer, several years ago a man from Israel visited. He kept asking if he could see the cave where he was hidden during the war and the staff had no idea. Turns out his hiding place had been bricked up but...is their wine still in there? Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Annamaria on Monday

This title requires explanation.  It is not to describe current candidates for President of the United States, although in one case the pejorative term does apply.  I am using this word not as a condemnation, but as a literal description.  This is about people whose fathers were not lawfully married to their mothers.  First to my inspiration for writing on this topic.  It came from watching a movie and being addicted to the original cast album of a Broadway musical you might have heard of called "Hamilton."

Me and Emma, one week after opening night! Nonna scores big points!

Yes, I have seen “Hamilton.”  And I have done so I might add without paying a price that required mortgaging Manhattan real estate.  (Aside:  Last August, Ben Brantley began his New York Times review, “Yes, it really is that good.”  And goes on to say, “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show.  But ‘Hamilton,’ … might just about be worth it”).  The show begins, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman…”  I have happily listened to the cast sing that phrase many times in the past months.



Then last evening, while watching “Lawrence of Arabia,” I was reminded that T.E. Lawrence was also a bastard.  Which set me to musing about how important bastard children might have been in history.  It took a good night’s sleep for me to remember that I wrote a book about the fame of a bastard daughter: Evita Peron (nee Eva Ibarguren).   That hooked me on this subject. 

So I looked them up.  Here is a partial list of famous people whose parents never married.

K'ung-Fu-tzy, whom we call Confucius


Thomas Paine
Edith Piaf
Need I say?
Sir Alec
Billie Holiday



Steve Jobs, who by the way was the son of Syrian refugee from Homs!

Justin Bieber
It is interesting that four of these people grew up not to need a last name donated by their fathers: Evita, Leonardo, Fidel, and Oprah.  And one needs only the honorific he earned all by himself to be identified.  "Sir Alec" can only be one person.  No one one would ask Sir Alec who?

I have to add that in most cases, the fathers of these children took little or no interest in them.   It was their mothers who were left to raise and support them and live under the stigma of having borne them.  “Single mother” is a common phrase these days and no longer always carries with it the shame that plagued the mothers of almost all of the people you see here.   In researching Blood Tango, I learned that the young Evita—in the desolate town where she was born—could not walk to school without having people cross the street, to avoid walking on the same sidewalk with a bastarda. Many biographers of these people have theorized that it was their illegitimate status that drove these children born out of wedlock to the heights of their achievement.

Whatever it was, I am grateful for the existence of all of them.  Well, maybe not Justin Bieber.  But then again Alec Guiness all by himself more than makes up for that.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Still Calling Out My Name Redux: not many things crossed off the Bucket List

Roman columns at Jerash in Jordan
I hope you'll forgive me this week if I repost a blog from three years ago, as I'm at CrimeFest in Bristol (on which topic, more next time) and have an early morning panel! I will just say it's been marvellous to spend a little time with my blog-mates: the Michael StanleysCaro Ramsay, and former MiE blogger Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

This blog sprang to mind recently because I was told it is now increasingly difficult to gain access to the Rose City of Petra in Jordan, and that in some cases the site was closed to visitors.

Some of my highlights of this year have involved travel. Like many people I have a bucket list of places I really want to see. And if I remember 2013 for no other reason, it will be because I managed to tick one-and-a-half things off that list.


Yeah, I know, but stick with me on this.

In some ways, I dislike the term ‘bucket list’ because a list implies a certain dismissive quality. As though you step off the plane and say, “OK, that’s another one out of the way,” before turning around and climbing right back onto the plane again.

My idea of a bucket list is not just a place, but an experience.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was an experience. Watching the sun rise over the desert at Wadi Rum, or set over the Rose City of Petra was definitely an experience. The smell of fresh mint tea and cooked lamb, the distant sound of AK-fire.

The Monastery building at Petra

Wandering the Roman ruins at Jerash was the kind of experience that lingers, as was standing on a hilltop in northern Jordan looking out across both Syria and Israel at places named in the Bible, racing hell-for-leather across the shifting red sands of the Jordanian desert in knackered old Nissan Patrols (yup, they let me drive) on the way to stargaze at the Perseids meteor shower from our desert camp, and walking the walls of a mountain fortress built by the Knights Templar in the time of the Crusades.

Racing through the desert in elderly Nissan Patrols.

The half-a-one involves the Northern Lights. I wanted to see them from the magical landscape of Iceland. Sadly, although the landscape was certainly magical, the sky above it was not playing ball. But seeing the moon reflected in the midnight ice while we searched the heavens for a hint of green, that almost made up for it.

(And the following year, I did manage to catch a faint glimpse of the Northern Lights, as well as go snowmobiling on a glacier, float in the blue lagoon, and ride on Viking horses. The other ambitions, listed below, are still to be achieved. The difficulties in the Middle East remind me that I should not put them off much longer ...)

This has concentrated my mind on what else is on my bucket list—for want of a better term for it. At the moment—because these things are always evolving—this includes:

To watch another sunrise—this time over Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I want to put a hand on the tree roots that have enveloped these mystical ruins and feel the centuries unfurl beneath my fingers.

Part of the 500-acre temple complex at Angkor Wat

To feel the beat and passion of real flamenco guitar in its home in Seville in Andalusia, southern Spain, like this fabulous flamboyant piece Guajiras de Lucia by Paco de Lucia, considered one of the greatest flamenco guitarists.

To sail into harbour on the Amalfi coast. Arriving from the water gives you a totally different perspective on a new place. I’ve always wanted to see this area of the Italian coastline, but the idea of the crowds and the traffic involved in travelling there by conventional means does not appeal to me at all. Travelling by small yacht—one of those giant floating hotel cruise liners is my idea of hell—would be the perfect way to slip under the surface.

The Amalfi coastline in Italy.

Does exactly what it says on the sign ...
To ride the highest motorable pass in the Himalayas—the Khardung-La, which reaches 18,380 feet. I’ve even checked out the Enfield Bullets which seem to be the motorcycle of choice for this trip, and I can get both feet on the floor, although I’m sure that would be the least of my troubles.

These are just a few of the places and experiences on my wish-list.

So, where would you go? And, more importantly, why do you want to go there?

What is it about a particular place or experience that stirs your imagination?

This week’s Words of the Week are all about the senses:

Petrichor — the scent of rain on dry earth or the dust after rain has fallen.

Gymnophoria — the sensation that someone is mentally undressing you or that you are being viewed naked even though you are fully clothed.

Knismesis — light tickling, more often to arouse than to induce laughter.

Psithurism — the sound of rustling leaves or the wind in trees, a whispering sound.

Basorexia — the overwhelming urge to kiss.

Umami — a pleasant savoury taste—not sweet, sour, bitter or salty—found in meat, cheese and tomatoes.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I'm Home.


Today I'm playing hooky of sorts. I arrived yesterday on Mykonos and between jet-lag, and housekeeping chores, all you're getting from me this week is a photo shoot.  And not my best either. Perhaps that I can blame on the gray skies that seem to have settled over this part of the Greek Aegean until tomorrow.

For those of you hoping for something more substantial, here's a link to a piece I posted Thursday on my publisher's site (Poisoned Pen Press) titled, Building Blocks for Mystery Writers.

For all others, here goes.

We arrive at the airport.

Then it's off to across the street to shop for essentials.

Yes, all champagne.

Next morning, I'm off to see what's happening in the old town.

Not much it seems, the place looks empty.

Even the fish seem lost.

Where can all the tourists be?  The shops are waiting for them.

And the main parking area is packed.

Yes, there are signs of tourist life, but nothing like what I expected.

Time to check out the most popular spots.

The windmills and Little Venice are a bit busier, after all, it's a photographer's dream shot.  I wonder if the harbor is any busier?

After all, it's these gray-sky days that turn what would otherwise be beach time into the Mykonos version of Cafe Society in the tavernas lining the old harbor.

Just a little bit ahead will tell the tale.

Aha! Crowds.

 And friends.

Now to take off in my noble chariot...

Pick up my Princess--who refuses to be photographed while jet-lagged (but check out the fruit stand photo above), and head off to our favorite sea-side taverna for lunch.

The world is at peace again... at least this little part of it.