Archives January 2021

The Books Behind You

I’m sorry, Minister, isn’t that the ‘Kama Sutra’ on your bookshelf?’

I can only repeat. Our response to the pandemic has been measured, responsible and at all times – What? I’m talking about the pandemic. The Government’s outstanding – ’

And just next to it, Minister. ‘Politics for Dummies’ if I’m not mistaken…’

Like millions of others, I gave up listening to what they had to say months ago. All I do is look at the bookcase behind them. I can’t be the only one who tilts my head sideways. Or says, “Just rewind it will you, love? I’m sure that was the Roy of the Rovers annual.”

And then there are the pictures. I’m sorry, mate, you want us to trust your judgement? When you paid good money to hang what looks like a defecating rhino on your wall?

I’ve forgotten the name – BookBluff or something – but there’s a company down in cider country that supplies books for films and TV. Yards of books to stock the Downton Abbey library.

But in lockdown they’ve found new customers. Scientists, supposed academics and even – you will be rocked to your foundations – yes, even politicians. People whose bookcases may have previously revealed rather more than their owners wanted revealed on the six o’clock news – and which are now collapsing under the weight of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

I know, you’re reaching for the smelling salts.

No-one, surely, could possibly think that a politician – someone guiding us through this crisis – isn’t really that intelligent? That he has to buy books in an attempt to deceive us…

If you could just move your head to the left, Minister. Ah ha! ‘The Bluffer’s Guide to Economics…’’

Alright, you say, that’s 300 words of sarcasm. Easy to poke fun at other people. What’s on your bookshelf, mate? Go on, clever clogs, if you were on TV – an unlikely prospect – what would the nation see behind you?

My answer is a matter of public record. Every Wednesday I do a Facebook Live session. And there I sit. Not in front of Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare. Or earnest biographies of the great and good.

I’m going to read Theresa May’s biography, dear.’

Should I phone the Samaritans, darling?’

Nope, I’m not afraid to admit it. I sit in front of my wife’s gin shelf. Front and centre are the two new – so far untouched: curse you, Dry January – bottles she got for Christmas.

Award-winning Shortcross Gin from Northern Ireland. By the time you read this I sincerely hope I’m on first name terms with a wee glass…

Below the gin shelf? A vase. An empty bottle containing some botanicals. Waiting for my wife to make more… Well, I don’t need to spell it out.

And then we come to my books. And it has to be said that my books have taken a rather sombre turn since I started writing crime novels.

So here we go, time to ’fess up so the BBC can warn viewers in advance. Val McDermid on Forensics. The Dark Side of the Mind. Witsec – inside the federal witness protection program. And yes! Yes! I admit it. Forensic Psychology for Dummies…

But at least I’ve come clean. I haven’t rung a book company in panic. I haven’t hastily tidied up. I most certainly haven’t yelled for my wife. ‘Quick. I’m on the news in five minutes. Help me move these books on erectile dysfunction!’

Hey up, lass. Look at this bloke on t’telly. Haven’t seen him before. Oh aye (bends down, tilts head to one side). Looks like he drinks too much and fancies new ways o’ killing folk…’

I read a lot of detective stories but none have sucked me into another world like this one did. Love the witty, believable, natural dialogue.”

The River Runs Deep, the follow up to Salt in the Wounds, is now available on your Kindle

She’s Moving Home…

It’s a fine line. One minute I’m interfering, the next I don’t care.

Was it not ever thus?

She must have been about 12. For some reason I was working at home – in the days before it became a government diktat.

Beverley walked in through the front door, followed by the angelic children she’d collected from school. “Hello, boys,” I said. “How was your day?”

They grunted, walked past me and emptied the fridge.

No matter, here was my beloved daughter, just on the cusp of becoming a teenager.

“Hello, sweetheart,” I said. “How was your day?”

She stared at me. “Why don’t you just get out of my life? Why are you always interfering? Why do you keep asking stupid questions?”

She stormed upstairs. I looked helplessly at my wife. My ‘what did I do?’ expression.

“Hormones,” she mouthed at me.

Ah, I thought. I understand. Eleanor wants me to be cool, detached.

Fast forward 24 hours. The scene is played out once again.

“Hello, boys, how was your day?”

See above: grunt, fridge…

And my daughter. Remember. Cool, detached…

I smile. Nothing more.

She storms upstairs. Pauses halfway. Fixes me with her killer stare. “That’s right! You ask the boys how their day was! You don’t ask me! Because you don’t care about me! You’ve never cared!”

I looked helplessly at my wife. Yes, I used that expression a lot over the next few years.

And you can guess her reply. “Hormones…”

Well, fast forward a dozen years. A baker’s dozen. Hormones? I have no idea, because now she lives 60 miles away with Could-be-Serious.

…And I may have to give the boy a new name. When you’re buying a house together, maybe it’s a little bit more than ‘could be serious.’

Yep, my little girl, who barely five minutes ago was giving her four year old brother a whack to keep him in line, is buying her first house.

Otley, in West Yorkshire, where – the wheel turns full circle – my grandfather was born.

Found the house, got the mortgage, had the survey done: it’s proceeding at a pace. And – all credit to her – the deposit paid from her own savings. I couldn’t be more proud.

I just need to show the right level of interest…

I texted her during house hunting.

How’s it going, love? Found anywhere yet?

She replied to my wife…

Will you tell Dad to stop interfering? Always asking questions.

(Apparently I hadn’t factored in how stressful it all was.)

And then they found a house…

Why hasn’t Dad sent a text to congratulate us yet? Doesn’t he care?

Rewind 13 years. Clearly I have learned nothing at all.

But it’s all good. It keeps me on my toes.

And it’s a lovely house. First house? You couldn’t ask for anything more – especially the kitchen/dining room. One of the bedrooms is a touch pink – well, very pink – but that’s not a problem.

I’ll lose my wife to a weekend’s decorating. But beer, football, pizza…

No, no, not a problem at all.

And, of course, another rite of passage ticked off for the ageing parents. Nursery, proper school, big school, first boyfriend, serious exams, off to uni…

They’re rites of passage for your children but they’re rites of passage for mum and dad as well. And now she’s buying a house. Does that mean we can turn her room into an office? Will I finally be able to gaze lovingly at that hand-made desk? Bookmarked on Etsy for at least three years…

I’m not sure my lovely daughter can raise an objection. What about my wife?

It might be time for a cup of tea in bed…

THE RIVER RUNS DEEP

Bad people do good things.

Good people do bad things.

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference…

The follow up to Salt in the Wounds is out now and available on Amazon

The Yorkshire Grunts

Many husbands – you may have noticed this yourself – can be irritating.

I’d like to say that I’m the exception. But you know me of old.

And my wife proof-reads these columns…

She’s long found me… ‘Challenging’ is a good word to use.

This week it was the turn of our old friend, the kitchen cupboard door.

“The cupboard door has come off again.”

“OK, I’m just finishing my book. I’m at 86,000 words.”

“The [word deleted] cupboard door has been hanging off since you were at 20,000 [oops, deleted again] words.”

In the old days I used to reason with her. Point out that Shakespeare never broke off from Hamlet to reach for his Phillips screwdriver. Surprisingly, that never went well…

Still, we’re getting a new kitchen as soon as you-know-what ends. I expect the cupboard doors will fix themselves.

But what really has her reaching for the nearest sharp/heavy/pointed (preferably all three) object is when I start speaking in tongues. Specifically Welsh, Scottish or the dialect she cheerfully refers to as ‘Yorkshire idiot.’

I think the children could be to blame. Alternatively it could be demonic possession.

We trundled off in the car on holiday. A cottage in the Borders. What could be more lovely? We’d stop for something to eat, we’d stop for someone to vomit and eventually we’d see a sign that said Scotland.

At which point I morphed into the lovechild of William Wallace and Rab C Nesbitt.

“Aye, we’ll soon be at the wee cottage. Aye, I’ll chase a haggis roond the garden the noo…”

The children loved it. My beloved was less impressed – especially if we’d been through the Tyne Tunnel and she’d spent half an hour sitting next to a deranged member of the Toon Army…

Wales? “I’m sorry, children, your father thinks he’s Ivor the Engine.”

Cornwall? No. There are certain parts of the country we never visited. Come to think of it I’ve never been to Liverpool or Brum with my wife either…

But there you are. No-one is going anywhere at the moment, so the accents round on Whose Line is it Anyway is a thing of the past.

If only…

The merest mention of West Yorkshire and I’m off. “Does tha’ want a cup o’ tea, our lass? ’Appen tha’ll be wanting t’biscuits for a spot o’ dunkin…”

This would be bad enough – but it’s combined with my advancing years. I can’t now get off the sofa/bend down/go upstairs without making a noise.

Beverley was knitting. “I need something to help me relax.” Something that involved teeny-tiny knitting needles. “Don’t worry, they’ll still go up your nose,” she said encouragingly.

But what you don’t want when your trying to relax is a Yorkshire idiot giving a running commentary as he turns the fire on…

“Tha’ wants t’fire on? By gum n’ it’s a long way down, tha’ knows.”

“Would you just – ” [go away is a loose translation] “ – with your Yorkshire grunts.”

“What did you just say?”

“I don’t know. I told you to be quiet.”

“No, the exact words.”

“Go away with your Yorkshire grunts.”

Well, not quite the exact phrase, but close enough.

And what a magnificent phrase as well. The Yorkshire Grunts.

It is – very obviously – a euphemism. Halfway through January and it is already Euphemism of the Year.

“Don’t eat too many eggs,” my Gran was fond of saying. “They’ll bind you. You don’t want to be costive.”

And that’s clearly what ‘the Yorkshire Grunts’ is a euphemism for. My wife – unwittingly – has launched a new phrase into the English language.

“Where’s Dad? Haven’t seen him for a while.”

“Aye well. ’Appen he’s locked away in t’privvy. Not enough fruit and veg. Bad case o’ t’Yorkshire Grunts…’

Fabulous! Had me gripped from start to finish. Reminded me of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne. Excellent, can’t wait to read the second book.”

Salt in the Wounds is available on Amazon. The follow up, The River Runs Deep, can be pre-ordered now and will be published on January 31st

The Dad’s Gambit

My eldest son reached forward. Picked up the chess piece. “Pawn to e4,” he said.

A classic opening.

I countered with one of the lesser known chess moves. But one I’ve been working on for years. I’ve perfected it. I am – at least as far as this move goes – a Grandmaster.

I reached forward. Picked up my glass. “Wine to mouth 1,” I said.

I pushed a pawn forward. “The Sicilian,” I confidently declared.

Two moves later and Dan had taken it. “Sicilian? I think you’ve confused it with the pizza, Dad.”

What happened this Christmas? My boys played chess.

Wind back the clock and they disappeared to their bedrooms, linked laptops and slaughtered aliens.

This year? Chess is the new Halo.

The black bishops are the evil spawn from the outer Galaxy.

They trooped into the dining room, decided who was white – and spent an hour in silent contemplation.

They had an unofficial mini-league. Dan, Alex and Lizzie. You-know-what meant she couldn’t go home for Christmas. So here she was: 10,500 miles from her mum and dad and checkmating my youngest son.

“What’s that?” Alex said. “Twelve all?”

“I think I’m winning 13-12.”

And there you have it. Shared interests? Shared sense of humour? Forget ’em. Want your relationship to succeed? You need the same chess rating.

I didn’t get involved in the Christmas games. Largely because I spent most of Christmas washing up, peeling potatoes or exhausted on the sofa. I wandered in occasionally, noted that Dan generally seemed to be winning and wandered out.

And then Alex and Lizzie betrayed me. They braved Nicola’s border guards and went back to Edinburgh.

“Do you want to play chess after dinner, Dad?”

Yes.

And no.

Obviously I want to play chess with my son. But Dan’s doing a PhD. One that features equations. Equations that feature lots of Σ’s and those big, squiggly F’s.

So I wasn’t optimistic. The bookmakers were offering long odds on my survival.

And chess isn’t my game. I’m not sure it’s any writer’s game.

The wrong type of brain. Faulty wiring.

Creative, not analytical.

My brain especially. Definitely faulty wiring. But not the faulty wiring that Messrs Fischer and Spassky had.

I’d like to tell you that the game was close. That my ruthless execution of the Queen’s Gambit left him helpless. Floundering.

That after an hour of an intense battle between two intellectual titans we shook hands – whoops, bumped elbows – on a draw.

I’d like to tell you that. In truth it was the Chinese People’s Army against a primitive tribe who’d barely mastered the bow and arrow.

And it only got worse when he went back to Leeds.

Our games moved online.

See above. Faulty wiring. Inability to concentrate. And when you can’t concentrate, online is not a good place to be.

You’ve taken my Queen! I wailed into the chat box.

Yes, you moved your knight, he typed back.

Well I wasn’t concentrating

That’s not my fault, Dad

You took so long to make your move that I checked the football scores

So I checked the scores again. No change…

“I’d threaten his Queen if I had any pieces left,” I complained to my lovely wife. “I managed one cunning plan. Skewered his castle – ”

“And then you sat on your laurels.”

Yes. And drank some more wine.

“I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll offer him a draw. What could be a fairer result between father and son? A magnanimous draw, both players acknowledging the other’s skill and prowess?”

I reached for my mouse. Double-clicked the ‘offer draw’ button.

Dan’s response was simple and to the point. He checkmated me…

Michael Brady had my interest from the first chapter. By the fifth I had a crush. Salt in the Wounds is an exciting story, played out in a location almost as engaging as the book’s characters. Can’t wait for the second book…”

The second book, The River Runs Deep, will be published on January 31st. You can pre-order it by clicking the link.

Welcome to the B&B

My wife has often been wrong. On countless occasions. Sometimes spectacularly wrong.

There was that time when…

And then there was…

And…

Yes, well. None of them exactly spring to mind just now. But I know I’m right.

And never, ever, was she more wrong than a week before Christmas.

Wide of the mark? Cow’s bottom, mate. Banjo. Couldn’t hit.

“We need some more eggs,” she said.

“For Goodness’ sake. There are two trays of eggs. That’s 72 eggs.”

“I bought another dozen,” she said.

“So we’ve 84 eggs in the house. That’ll last us until Easter.”

She patiently explained that Alex and Lizzie had eggs for breakfast every morning. That the Beloved Daughter and Could-be-Serious would do the same when they arrived. That baking needed a lot of eggs. That Yorkshire puddings for eight people demanded a seemingly infinite number of eggs…

“You’re still wrong,” I said. “There’s no way we’ll need that many eggs. What do you think we’re doing? Running a B&B?”

As it turned out…

Cue the music. Something gentle: pastoral. Maybe a brass band playing the Hovis theme?

It’s the soundtrack to one of my fantasies. A B&B in the Yorkshire Dales. Three rooms – six people at the most. Just enough to keep the cash flow flowing.

And there I am! I’ve cooked them a full English – ‘Proper champion. Best bacon and eggs I’ve ever had’ – they’ve paid their bills and left with a smile. And now look! I’m striding along the Pennine Way in the spring sunshine. A ten mile loop before I’m back to do the evening meal for the next set of six…

You know what?

I don’t have that fantasy any more…

They were all here over Christmas. Tested, masked, kept socially distant from Grandma. But here. Our three children, all with a plus one. Plus ones which ranged from buying-a-house-next-year to taking-it-slowly-to-begin-with. But – at various stages over Christmas – all here.

And for two days, the B&B was full.

Three rooms, six people.

Hell’s bells, where did I start?

Having a shower ridiculously early in the morning, that’s where.

And then the staff went to work. Cooking, cleaning, taxi to and from the railway station…

As they’d say in t’Dales, ‘It were never ending tha’ knows.’

Thank the Lord we had some help. Three key members of staff. On duty 24/7. Never complaining and always ready to help. Even better, the dishwasher, the washing machine and the tumble dryer didn’t even want paying.

“Could you peel some potatoes for dinner?” my beloved the landlady asked.

“No problem.”

“More than that,” she said 20 minutes later.

“More?”

“Yes. There’s football on TV but I know you don’t want to watch it.”

Fair’s fair. ‘Is there anything I can do to help’ was a much-heard phrase. But it’s your house, your children, your responsibility. Dan’s girlfriend is here for the first time. An’ t’lass is from t’South. ’Appen she needs impressing. Maybe just peel a few more spuds…

But finally we had the house to ourselves. “I’m exhausted,” I said. “But we must have taken a pretty penny. All those guests, all those nights. It must be close to a thousand pounds. Maybe more?”

But you know exactly how much Mum & Dad’s B&B took over Christmas.

Hang on though…

They’ve gone. House to ourselves. That can only mean one thing…

“We’re finally alone,” I murmured seductively, sliding my arm round my beloved as she scrubbed a pie dish. “What about some torrid sex?”

She flicked dirty water over her shoulder and hit me square in the eye.

“Does that mean you’d rather have a cup of tea?”

She didn’t need to answer…

Fabulous! Had me gripped from start to finish. Reminded me of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne.”

Salt in the Wounds is now available on Amazon.

The sequel, The River Runs Deep can be pre-ordered now and will be published on January 31st