Sunday, October 22, 2017

Write What You *Want* To Know Part II: Sailing in the Greek Islands

Zoë Sharp

The last few days I’ve been coming down from the buzz of Bouchercon in Toronto and getting back into the writing of the prequel to the Charlie Fox series. All this is being done from a lovely apartment I’ve borrowed via a friend of a friend up in the Washington Heights district of New York City.

But more about that next time.

I wanted to finish off the exploration of my trip from last month, around the Greek Islands. No, I didn’t travel to the areas that have a problem with the ongoing migrant crisis. It would no doubt have been a highly motivating experience, but heartbreaking at the same time.

I’m still trying to get a little more under the skin of the area, where sailing can go from flat calm waters one moment …

… to wild weather warnings the next. Just before I got out there, the people I joined experienced a mammoth hailstorm and had ended up dragging their anchor right out of a bay and into the main channel.

Mind you, we also began to drag when anchored in a very sheltered bay with little wind. Sitting in a little café on the quay having lunch, we began to realise that the boat was gradually getting further away than it had been. Never has a restaurant bill been paid so quickly.

The best way to ensure you’re not going anywhere is to take lines ashore. Doing this usually involves throwing a crew member (guess who?) over the side to swim them to a suitable making-off point. Much easier than messing around in a dinghy, providing there are no sea urchins lurking amid the rocks.

I remain fascinated with boat names, and how they came about. Take this one: Angela. Who is or was she?

Going ashore in different places so often means finding amazing derelict buildings. This one, with its intricate ironwork balcony, overlooked a beautiful harbour. You would have thought it was in a prime location and would therefore not have been left to run slowly to ruin. You have to wonder at the story behind the place.

And even more so at the interior, which had this little boat inside. Some considerable effort must have been expended to haul the boat up there and wriggle it inside through the narrow doorway. Question is, why?

Small business is rife in the islands, with just about anything available to purchase from the back of a pickup truck. In this case, the traditionally black-clad ladies were selling fish and vegetables.

The ingenuity continued in this harbour-front bar, where all the furniture had been made out of old pallets. Or, alternatively, it had been very expensively crafted to look as if it had been made out of old pallets. Don’t know how comfortable it was, as I didn’t stop. When you’re on a yacht you tend to be looking for the cafés with good Wi-Fi and plenty of power sockets to recharge your laptop.

All the tourists leave behind them a lot of litter, most of which seems to end up in landfill alongside the Lefkas canal. It was one of the few places we saw seagulls in any numbers.

Lefkas itself was a fascinating town, with some of the construction of the buildings similar to the Caribbean, with corrugated tin over a timber frame.

Once you get away from the main tourist areas, the houses line narrow paved streets of low-level housing, crammed in cheek-by-jowl with little room for outside space or gardens. It has the feel of an upmarket favela.

Elsewhere in the islands, green spaces are surprisingly abundant. Wild olive trees, some of them of advanced age, are everywhere.

And, of course, the ubiquitous island cats. They are numerous and beautiful.

Some of the cats have the tourists well worked out. This one was begging at our restaurant table. Cats are good hunters, and normally I’d let them take care of themselves rather than encourage them and see them chased away as a nuisance But he was so lame I took pity on him.

At the end of the trip, the boat was hauled onto the hard for the winter. If this yard is anything like the others I’ve spent time in, some of these boats will never move from one season to the next. You have to wonder what the story is of their owners.

A feature of most marinas is the book-swap shelf in the office. This one had all kinds of books in half a dozen different languages. I like to play ‘spot the author friends’ and managed one or two here.

Why is it that your last night always puts on a spectacular sunset to make the end of the trip seem so much more poignant than it might otherwise have been?

This week’s Word of the Week is not one that’s in very common use … as yet, but a part of me hopes it will be. It’s Harveyed, meaning to have been the victim of sexual harassment, particularly at the hands (or other parts for that matter) of someone in a position of professional power. Needless to say, it has been taken from a certain Mr Weinstein, who may well find his lasting legacy is a word in the language akin to boycott or lynch. As Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them.”

Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, October 25th at 6:30pm I’ll be at The Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007 with fellow author John Lawton. We’ll be talking about the inspiration behind our latest books, FOX HUNTER and FRIENDS AND TRAITORS, including what makes a spy, and how I got from the hazing of trainees at the Deep Cut army base to looted antiquities in the Middle East.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Once Upon A Time In A Far Away Land...

Storyteller by Ankar Grossvater


…there was a tragedy.

How many of you think the refugee crisis is over in Greece? By that I mean, how many of you think unseaworthy vessels, filled to multiple times their capacities with desperate families fleeing conflict zones, are no longer attempting dangerous crossings from Turkey to Greece’s eastern Aegean islands?

I ask that question because of a back and forth I’ve experienced several times since returning to America from Greece two weeks ago.  The exchange goes something like this:

“So, Jeffrey, do you have a new book coming out?”

“Yes, in January.”

“What’s it called?”

An Aegean April.”

“Where’s this one placed?”

“On the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos, close by the Turkish coast.”

 “What’s it about?”

“The refugee crisis.”

“I thought that was over.”

I thought that was over is a phase equally apropos to any number of continuing human tragedies plaguing our world should the amount of American press coverage each receives be the measure applied to their significance. 

I’ve come to accept that, in our Trump-driven news world, virtually no story gains traction if it is not somehow tied into his persona. If he’s not involved or commenting, the headline writers are not interested. 

Remember that photograph of three-year old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, on that Turkish beach in Bodrum? 

Two years have passed, refugees of all ages are still dying, and the impact of the ongoing ill-addressed situation is having insidious effects upon refugees and islanders alike.   For the human traffickers, and those who profit by them, it’s all about the money and maintaining control over the inventory. 
Yes, the tragedy continues, whether or not the American media cares to give it much attention.  Here’s a story from earlier this week in Athens’ newspaper of record, Ekathimerini telling it like it really is…to wit, far, far from over:
Tensions Rise on Aegean Islands as Migrants Continue to Arrive.”

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. 

A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning.

The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. 

The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850. 

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. 

Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” 

There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy. 

There are also rising tensions in makeshift migrant camps elsewhere in Greece.

Early on Thursday, in one of several occupied derelict buildings near the port of Patra, a 38-year-old Afghan man was hospitalized after being stabbed by four Pakistanis. The incident followed a recent knife attack on a 23-year-old Pakistani man by an Afghan in the city. 

According to sources, the attacks are part of an ongoing dispute between rival gangs seeking to control the human trafficking trade.

Moria Relocation Center, Lesvos

The difficult thing about writing novels set on the edge of societal change is you run the risk that between when you write the book and its publication, events will pass you by. For all those caught up in this tragedy, I’m sad to say that does not appear to be a risk for this book.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Pat Young, Guest Blogger and One To Watch

I am still in Canada, 'rv-ing' around and getting beeped at for not 'making the turn' when the road is clear. In the UK, we wait to be told to take the right...left? Whatever.

Jeff and Annamaria  may recall me asking them if they would look over a book written  by a Scot but set in the states. They both very generously agreed. The author, the subject of this blog, then went into meltdown at having such famous folk read her stuff.

However, things took a slightly different turn and  let's just say the book went hurtling up the charts  a little later. She tells the story below.

I first met Pat when I was doing a writers workshop. She was so talented I wanted to stab her there and then.  It was no surprise that she won a major prize and then got a publishing deal. Her story to publication though, is an interesting one.

While I have been nagging at her to blog, she has been sorting out the accents for the audio books. No easy feat with this narrative; think me, Jeff and Annamaria and you won't go far wrong.

Just one more thing. Pat says below that the woman has committed a crime and needs to get away. That is true. What Pat doesn't say is that the reader is willing her on every step of the way!

Here's Pat.

"Readers often wonder where writers find their inspiration. ‘How did you get the idea for this book?’ is a question asked at almost every book launch or author interview I’ve ever attended. The responses vary enormously and sometimes the writer doesn’t even know the answer.

I can identify the exact moment in time when I was inspired to tell Lucie’s story. I didn’t know that her name would be Lucie or anything about her or what would happen to her. That came later, once I started writing, but the seed of a plot was planted in my brain one night in September when I was sat in front of the television.

It was the anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps every anniversary is marked with special programs on TV but I had never seen them. Three documentaries caught my attention. I watched them back to back.

One was about the dust that shrouded Manhattan after the Towers fell. It was the first time I’d seen images of people caught in the dust shower. I saw how they became completely unrecognisable. It was impossible, in some cases, to say whether a person was male or female, black or white, young or old. They were walking snowmen. No other way to describe them.

The second report was about a woman who pretended to be a survivor, although she was nowhere near New York State on September 11th 2001. This woman, for reasons known only to herself (and her psychiatrist) set up and became leader of a survivors’ group. She made herself so well-known that she stood by Barack Obama’s side at the unveiling of the 9/11 Memorial. No one thought to question her. She was accepted as being who she said she was.

The third programme focussed on crime. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, according to this documentary, many felonies, from the small to the very serious, went undetected, or at least, unreported. As far as the USA was concerned, there was no news, other than the tragedy that had occurred in Manhattan.

A person shrouded in dust beyond recognition, a woman pretending to be someone she was not and serious crime going unnoticed. The three came together and inspired a ‘What if?’ moment. For me that’s the start of every story and it was a great start to this one.

What if a young woman has committed a terrible crime?
What if she’s running away when she gets caught up in the dust storm?
What if such an awful tragedy gives her the chance to take on a new identity?

And so Till the Dust Settles was born.

I pitched the premise to a panel of experts at a conference and got the green light. A year later, at the same conference of the Scottish Association of Writers, Till the Dust Settles won two prizes. It was judged best novel 2015 and won the prestigious Constable Stag trophy, a beautiful silver creature who adorned my sideboard for a year. I also won representation by that marvellous literary agent and editor, Alan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates. Al was convinced Till the Dust Settles would be snapped up by one of the big London publishing houses and every editor to whom he sent it read the full manuscript and enjoyed it. However, a major problem emerged. Till the Dust Settles is set in the United States and the protagonist, Lucie, was American. I am not.
One editor loved the book. She thought its author, Pat Young was an American man. She was poised to buy, apparently. When she found out Pat Young is a middle-aged Scottish woman, it was no deal.
I was downhearted and felt the book needed changes. Al disagreed. ‘Thanks, I’ll take it from here,’ I said as we parted ways, amicably. I will always be grateful to Alan for all he taught me about the publishing world and for having such faith in the book.
Caro Ramsay, who was my first writing teacher, suggested I make Lucie Scottish, which gave me an immediate connection. I trust Caro, so I got on with a re-write and the rest, as they say …
In April 2017 I submitted to Bloodhound Books and within a week I was offered a contract. Till the Dust Settles was published three months later. The joy of seeing my 89 year old mother holding my book in her hands was all the reward I needed but there was more to come. Over one hundred people turned out to my launch and the love in the room was overwhelming. The book is currently being recorded for an audiobook. Readers are calling for a sequel. Bloodhound Books are delighted and the sequel to Till the Dust Settles will be published on March 1st 2018.
What pleases me most among the many heart-warming reviews, from both sides of the Atlantic, are those which comment on how sensitively I’ve handled such a difficult subject. That was my priority, from the moment I first watched those documentaries and thought, ‘What if?’  "

Pat Young Friday  20th October 2017
Guesting for Caro Ramsay

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chickens fly the coop

The chickens flew the coop in Paris. Poulets - a common term for the police and not pejorative  - have left the island of Ile de la Cité, departing their nest at 36 quai des Orfèvres. The Prefecture has been the police judiciare's home for aeons built on the former medieval chicken market, hence the name even today. The PJ is the direct successor of the Sûreté, which was founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq (a thief turned policeman) as the criminal investigative bureau of the Paris police. The Sûreté served later as an inspiration for Scotland Yard, the FBI and other departments of criminal investigation throughout the world. Here's a view from the roof...kind of hard to leave, non?

 An angel guarding the roof of Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame two blocks away.

One of the infamous doorways into the Prefecture. In its modern form, the Parisian PJ was created by a decree by Celestin Hennion, the then préfet de police and father of the elite mobile police units called Brigades du Tigre. Unique for their time, they were created with the support of Georges Clémenceau, who was nicknamed "le tigre" - the Tiger.
The PJ has of late September moved to the Batignolles neighborhood, in a new building shared with the Tribunal de grande instance, Paris's main tribunal (which has moved also from it's former adjoining Court complex on the island). However, for years this move has been criticized because of its cost and the historic status of the 36 which holds the hearts of those who worked there. It's been immortalised in Simenon's books of Inspector Maigret, and so many films.
Built in the 1870's, worse for wear, with it's steeped worn stairways grooved over time, tiny offices and smoke patina'd walls, officers were jammed into offices and cubicles, the attic held scene of crime garments where the blood dried, you found the labs in the basement - where they tested for counterfeit money, the vaulted room of cabinets withfiles upon files of fingerprint cards. Even units overspilling in modulars on the old cobbled courtyards.
The police moved pretty much lock stock and smoking barrel to new quarters. Only leaving the RAID group - big men in black - to
remain at 36 quai des Orfèvres. RAID's the elite Police Special Forces unit of the French National Police.
 Here's the RAID brigade having coffee next door to the grand Tribunal. I think they got to stay because big guys like these who do Counter-Terrorism work and Hostage recovery situations like to rule their own bit of the roost.
Plus, the old Prefecture is in the heart of Paris and RAID teams need to access quickly. You can see the arrondissement with a 1 which is smack dab in the centre. At the very edges of the 17th arrondissement is the Batignolles location and new 'nest' -
Map of Paris with it's 20 arrondissements.
“This was a move that had to happen, the building has never been adapted to our work," said Claude Cancès, a former director. "When we were on the third or fourth floor, one had the impression of being in an old rusted ocean liner. But, it was a mythical place, all the officers dreamed of working one day at the Crim’. In a little more than 100 years, the building saw a lot of Paris pass between its walls, among them the biggest criminals in France. Serial killers Dr. Petiot, Guy Georges and Thierry Paulin have climbed the famous 148 steps.
"It's the end of an era," said Jean-Claude Mules retired head of Brigade Criminelle who oversaw the Princess Diana investigation. "That was my life, so much of it, and part of my's gone." He'd attended the leaving fête, but hadn't been to the new HQ yet...why? I haven't been invited. He let out an old man's sigh. Maybe he doesn't want to visit. So far the news about the new 'nest' has been sparse and guarded. Patrick, who I hung out with in a Saint Germain café last November is a Brigade Criminelle inspector and says he's so busy getting used to the place.
Seventeen hundred people work there and there are only three elevators. An incident happened and it took the brigade too long to get to central Paris with traffic. Of course, there was the usual complaint...a member of the brigade had fumed  - no cars were available and they were stuck out in the new Prefecture.
Geographically it's at the edge by ring road in northwest Paris designed by a famous architect. One officer said, "The new building is modern, but it has no soul. It looks like a hospital. “
What do you think?
But let's time travel back to November when I visited 36 quai des Orfèvres on Ile de la Cité and the chickens were in the nest.
Here's another view from the roof
Here's a glimpse underground with the former cells - the DEPOT,  police booking desk, and souriciere the ancient tunnel leading from the cells to the Tribunal.

What will happen with 36 quai des Orfèvres? It's prime real estate, full of history and no doubt, ghosts.
Cara - Tuesday