Monday, 25 September 2023

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

 Write drunk, edit sober - Hemingway said or didn't really but the much repeated quote has long been attributed to the writer and it's a good story. It sums up the public image of ole Papa even if it is actually the opposite of the truth. Hemingway was indeed a man who liked, nay loved a drink but he wrote in the morning, and didn't start drinking until the afternoon . 

Still, when legend becomes fact print the legend.

Image, pop culture and exaggeration have done the business, built the myth and it's easy to visualise a slavering, red eyed, finger-stumbling, Scotch-scarred Hemingway at the keyboard.

Still, as I sit at my screen, three O'clock in the morning and raise a glass of Johnny Walker Black and mouth that salacious quote - 'Write Drunk, Edit Sober' - It is Hemingway I think of.

Cheers mate!

Tuesday, 5 September 2023


 Last night, lounging in front of the TV, aimlessly pushing buttons on the remote control I stumbled upon an episode of Murder She Wrote - this is not my usual type of show, though I have seen some episodes. Is there anyone who hasn't?  - but I watched it anyway. Drinking a smooth Penderyn malt, I just let the show run it's course. It's cozy style may be out of fashion - these days crime drama tend to be gritty, moody and introspective but there's a lot to be said for old school crime/mystery shows where the murder victims never bleed from gun or knife wounds, and fall to the ground without leaving an untidy mess.

12 seasons, 268 episodes and scores of murders - Cobot Cove, the fictional setting for the show, has a murder rate of 1,490 to the million which basically means that you are safer in a war zone than in the leafy New England town. The show was actually filmed in Mendocino, California and still today hordes of fans visit the area to walk the streets where Jessica Fletcher solved baffling crime after baffling crime. The show ended in 1996 but it remains a favorite of TV schedulers across the globe.

It may come as a shock to many to learn that the brilliant  Angela Lansbury was not the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher - originally the show runners approached Jean Stapleton, best known as Archie Bunker's long suffering wife, for the role. In fact the role had been created for the actress but she turned the producers down as she was going through a lot in her personal life having recently lost her husband. Looking for a replacement Angela Lansbury entered the scene - she had recently played Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in the movie, The Mirror Crack'd and this made her a natural choice since the role of Jessica Fletcher is basically a transatlantic Jane Marple in any case.

'When I read the first script, I was immediately taken by Jessica Fletcher,' Lansbury told People Magazine back in 1984. ' I felt the script could have been written for me.'

As twee as the show is it must be remembered that when it first aired in 1984 it was a bit left field - at that time most TV cop shows were filled with car chases, colourful shirts and gun fights but this show featured a star in her 60's who favoured intellect over brawn. Yeah, it's the TV version of easy listening, like a celluloid version of  James Last and his orchestra performing Iron Maiden but it's all good fun and there are some curious episodes out there - like the Magnum PI/Murder she Wrote crossover in which Jessica is on vacation in Hawaii and trying to prove Magnum (Tom Selleck) was framed for two murders he's a been accused of. Now, that's a fun evening for anyone who loves old 80's trashy television.

The show had always been a big hit for CBS but when its 12th season was moved from its traditional Sunday evening slot and broadcast on Thursdays, putting it in competition with NBC's Friends, the ratings took a nose dive and it was decided to pull the plug before a 13th season.

Four TV movies followed and the show has never really gone away  -  there are the re-runs but there are also a series of books, credited to J B Fletcher but written by a series of ghost writers, that are still going strong today.

Thursday, 31 August 2023

Check out a great crime Audiobook...written by Gary Dobbs, Narrated by Aubrey Parsons



Get it on Audible - free with a subscription.

The bestselling crime novel now in audio format and read by the talented Aubrey Parsons.


If you've not yet seen the Justified sequel, City Primeval then you may not want to read on because there's A BIG FAT SPOILER - coming up. Go watch the series and then come back. You have been warned.

I was, and remain a huge fan of the original run of Justified which starred Timothy Olyphant and Walter Coggins, and I've very much enjoyed the limited mini- series City Primeval. The new series (said to be a one-off) is set some years after the events of Justified and sees an older Raylan Givens chasing down another gun crazed madman, but this time in Detroit.

It has a different feel to the original series, the grimy city setting sees to that, and it took some time for me to settle into the show, without yearning for the Kentucky setting of the original show and the beloved characters who populated that universe - mind you many of the great ones died in the original run - Dewey Crow remains a much missed character but of course Boyd Crowther put a bullet in his head in the final episode of the original series.But would we see Boyd again, or Eva? That question seemed to hang over City Primeval - remaining even after the series got into its stride and became something excellent in itself. The absence of Boyd, Raylan's nemesis, was glaringly felt and time and time again we were told that the character would not return - he was still incarcerated and he'd be a very old

man before and if he ever saw freedom again.

This time out the thorn in Raylan's side is Clement Mansell, played by Boyd Holbrook so we do sort of get a Boyd. And in fairness the actor chews up the screen in each and every scene he appears in. He's just as deadly as Boyd Crowther was - if anything he maybe a little more so because he comes off as far more sadistic - where Crowther always had a justification for his actions, as bad as they were, this guy simply seems to enjoy killing and it means nothing to him; just like swatting a fly. One second he guns down several guys and the next he's taking a drink or chowing down on an undercooked steak without a care in the world.

”There are only two kinds of guys out on the street chasing bad guys your age — the ones who got passed over for the ‘big chair,’ and the ones who just love it so much they’re going to have to be dragged off.”

City Primeval was a darn good series, a worthy tie in to the original series which is one of very few series that maintained a solid standard from beginning to end and when the sun set in City Primeval and we were left with a freshly retired Raylan Givens off on his boat with his daughter, played by his real life daughter, we got that fan pleasing epilogue. Right at the dying moments of the show we are back in Kentucky and there he is - Boyd Crowther. In a skillfully put together ending we see Boyd break out of prison and ride off into the sunset. The scene shifts once more and we see Rylan's phone ringing - that's about as open an ending as you can get.

Will Justified return or is this really the end? Either way it works - if it is the last time we see Raylan and Boyd then it works. Raylan's off enjoying his retirement, while Boyd continues to live his life in mexico. It all feels kind of satisfying, but both Olyphant and Coggins have said they would be up to revisiting the characters again so I wouldn't be surprised if there is indeed more to come, and that would truly be something to look forward to. Though it really is perfect as it stands and another comeback has the risk that it could sully what has been a truly excellent run, so I guess the creators have a difficult decision to make. I, for one though, would love to see more, see Boyd and Raylan once more going head to head.

Justified and City Primeval are based on Elmore Leonard's stories about the character Raylan Givens

Tuesday, 29 August 2023

Welsh Crime Writing - Taff Noir


Taff Noir and the Rise of Welsh Crime Fiction


Wales; once a medieval principality is proudly a country in its own right and although it shares a land border with England it is very much its own thing. 

It is complicated, though and it wasn't until 2011 that Wales was officially declared a country  when the International Organisation  for Standardisation said so -  though in truth Wales hasn't been a Principality since the 16th Century.

 So why did the ISO step in, when there was no real need since the Welsh have long considered Wales to be its own country? It started when the ISO defined Wales as a Principality in a newsletter, which prompted the Welsh politician, Leanne Wood to start a campaign to have its status changed. Yes, Welsh politicians, just like those all over the world chose their fights on the basis of it creating good press rather than what really matters.

Though it gets even more complicated - in the Thirteenth century the Princes of Gwynedd ruled most of North and West Wales. They were called Princes of Wales and had to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England. In 1216, at the council of Aberdyfi, the Welsh princes declared Llywelyn the Great to be their main leader, and this prompted the King of England to agree that Llywelyn's heirs would be known as the Prince of Wales. 

Then the Welsh had a level of independence from England but this ended in 1283 when Edward 1 conquered the principality, and after that Wales was split into two separate Principalities - Gwynedd in the North and Cardigan in the South and these were ruled by the English King. The rest of Wales was then ruled by the Marcher Lords.

It was the Act of Union in 1536 that actually made Wales a country again - though until September 1997, Wales was governed from Westminster by the UK government. It was a vote for devolution that sparked the creation of the Welsh Assembly, but Wales still has a Prince of Wales (that Charley blokey with the big ears)  and that title is given to the eldest son of the reigning English monarch. It is this last fact that creates the confusion with many still claiming that Wales is a Principality rather than a country. It still causes problems from time to time and in 2017 the English rugby coach, Eddie Jones sparked controversy by calling Wales a Principality.

 “They’re countries where rugby is the main sport and the support is absolutely fever pitch. And the results affect the country, in South Africa’s case, and in Wales’ case, the Principality.” Eddie Jones

Now that's all out of the way (sort of) let's get on with the real thrust of this article and that is the Welsh crime fiction movement. For a country of little more than three million people, Wales has a vibrant crime fiction movement. We've had Nordic noir and Tartan noir - so it the next big thing Taff noir? I'd like to lay claim to that phrase, Taff Noir - you heard it here first. So, is Taff Noir to be the next big thing? I do hope so, since I'm very much a part of the movement myself. Quick plug for my valleys set crime thriller, Down Among the Dead - available now. Listen to the Wind,  a second book featuring Chief Inspector Frank Parade will be published next year.

Wales - 870'ish miles of stunning coastline, from the industrial scars of the valleys to the breath-taking beauty of rural Wales the country has a plethora of fictional crime, and always has - Agatha Christie set her 1934 novel in the fictional Welsh town of Marchbolt. 

Though these days the real Wales features in a range of crime fiction, taff noir if you like. Take Henry Bingham for instance, who has penned a truly amazing series of crime thrillers  featuring the character of Detective Fiona Griffiths. Or there's the great Belinda Bauer  whose novel Rubbernecker used the A470 (The Welsh answer to Route 66), 180 odd miles of Welsh road to set up the premise of what is a truly stunning thriller. In fact all of Belinda's books are brilliant.

"Honestly, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be writing crime fiction in Wales. Author, Beverly Jones

The Welsh International Crime Festival ( Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival ) is now an annual thing, and then hopefully soon we will see Taff Noir (that phrase again) become a thing in the crime fiction world. Though, those who keep their ears to the corpse strewn ground have always known that Taff Noir is a thing - it's just never been as well publicised as say Tartan Noir or Nordic Noir. Let's hope all that is about to change.

The entire spread of Wales is covered by crime fiction - Dylan H Jones (Anglesey),  Rose Claverton (Cardiff), Gary M Dobbs (The South Wales Valleys), Simon McCleave (Snowdonia), John Williams (Cardiff), Alis Hawkins (the Teifi Valley) and the list goes on and on with many great writers and well realised locations to discover.

Ever since Hinterland appeared on TV, people have been getting more interested in looking for Welsh crime, and not just on their TVs,  Gail Williams, CWA

Wales had produced a lot of great crime writing and continues to do so -  and apologies for the many many writers not mentioned here, but the list of all of the excellent writers working in Taff Noir would  end up reading like one of those telephone directories that used to sit in everyone's hallway.

Suffice to say Wales is an amazingly picturesque country, with landscapes steeped in ancient myth, with valleys that still hold the scars of the industrial might that once held sway, with clear lakes that hide secrets a'murky beneath their pristine surface and inner city mean streets that even Chandler would think twice about sending his tarnished knight a'walking down.

Slow Horses and Dead Lions - Slough House series books one and two comparison to TV series


Over the last few weeks I've read the first two books in Mick Herron's deliciously moorish Slough House series - I didn't come to the books via the TV series, indeed it had somehow slipped under my rader. I discovered the books after  listening to some old episodes of Radio Four's Book Club and one episode (HERE) featured the author chatting with a studio audience about his books. I liked the author's style so much, particularly his modest humour and the audiences genuine love for the books that I had to check them out.

 The books, espionage thrillers with a twist since the main characters, an ensemble cast, are as far removed from James Bond as it's possible to be, even George Smiley is the height of glamour in comparison to the grimy gang that populate this world . The radio chat suggested that the books contained much humour as well as genuine thrills and feeling intrigued I took up my Kindle and downloaded the first book. That I immediately read the second and then watched both TV seasons that adapted the books is an indication that I very much enjoyed them. Oh yes indeed - I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series, as well as tuning into the wonderful TV series, Gary Oldman has never been better, whenever the third season arrives.

So what are the Slow Horses? Or rather who are the Slow Horses? Well, basically they are a team of British intelligence agents who for a variety of failures have found themselves relegated to the MI5's Slough House department - think of it as a school for losers, somewhere for incompetents to serve out their time until retirement, death or even both. Now you also need to know that Slough House is not in Slough but is called that because of a joke, apparently someone once said the department is so far from the action that it may as well be in Slough. So, that's basically it - the slow horses are a bunch of fuck ups, addicts and fools. Only they're not really - each character, from Jackson Lamb down are well rounded, realistic and just so lovable. Everyone loves an underdog.

The first novel and the TV series are very close to each other, though in truth the elongated climax of the TV version does improve on the book with the incredibly tense garage scene in which a kidnapped young man has to fill a van with petrol while his blood-soaked kidnappers hide inside the van. That scene is absolutely edge of the seat stuff but the book, although differing at the climax is just as thrilling and I do think the book offers a deeper understanding of the characters.

The second book, Dead Lions and the TV series differ a lot more and this book is undoubtedly the better of the two, but both are worth the effort. The plot of the book is if anything a little more fantastical than the TV version but it remains on the right side of credible thanks to the way the writer plots the story so that by the time we venture into JAMES BOND SAVING THE WORLD territory we are so invested that we go along with the story.

So TV series or books? Well, it must be remembered that they are two different mediums and what works in one may fall flat in the other, but I've always been a book guy and I am inclined to almost always favour the books, but the TV version is quite incredible in itself and Gary Oldman's portrayal of the odious and yet somehow endearing Jackson Lamb is a masterclass in characterisation. There's no need to chose when you can have both - each have their merits, and both are excellent.

A refreshing take on the espionage genre.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

The Last of Us

 It's my new favourite show - apparantly, it's based on a Playstation game but that was completely off my rader - I'm not a gamer so I've come to this fresh, with no pre-conceptions other than being told that it's a little like The Walking Dead. I suppose comparisons between the two are inevitable, but other than that fact that both shows contains zombies there are very few similarities.

The show opens with a TV talk show from the 1960's - guests on the show smoking cigarettes as they chat away about the possibilities of a fungus evolving to control humans rather than ants in a slowly warming world. And then we fast forward to the modern day where the worse case scenario has come to pass. With the world in ruins we are introduced to Joel (Pedro Pascal), and the opening of his arc is shocking and totally unexpcted, at least to those of us not familiar with the game - BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT -  When his daughter is killed early in the first episode we see and understand his loss of humanity and later when he is paired with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) we see some of that humanity return as he reluctantly accepts the responsibility of protecting her as he travels this post apocalyptic landscape.

Both leads are excellent with the best lines coming from Bella Ramey, while Pedro does his utmost to provide a brooding hero, who is often the straight man to the young girl's histrionics. I'm currently up to episode eight, there are ten in this first season, and already there have been a few offbeat classic episodes that I have no doubt will be remembered as classic TV. The third episode is a tender love story between two aged men, and sits largely outside of the main narrative of the story, but it's so well done and played out that it even connected with this grizzled old hetrosexual. It was quite beautiful and will provoke a tear in all but the hardest of hearts,

Following that detour of an episode it's been pretty much brutal, violence but not once has it lost it's core wonder - I'm very much enjoying this. Bring on episode nine and ten.

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

 Write drunk, edit sober - Hemingway said or didn't really but the much repeated quote has long been attributed to the writer and it'...