Thursday, 4 May 2023

Oscar Tremont's Pocket Watch

They say not to judge a book by its cover but I need you to do just that. If you liked the cover of my book, Oscar Tremont: Investigator of the Strange and Inexplicable (Oscar Tremont - Short Mysteries Book 1), please vote for it for the Cover of the Month contest on!

I’m getting closer to clinch the "Cover of the Month" contest on AllAuthor! Please take a short moment to vote for my book cover here:


Monday, 20 March 2023

Point of View

One of those topics that keeps cropping up whenever writers discuss the nuts and bolts of their craft is point of view. You, as a reader, may have a preference between first-person narrative and third-person omniscient or limited. Well, do you?

Before I start writing a story, I ask myself a number of questions and ultimately try to make a decision based on what I think will give the reader the best experience. For instance, I started writing my short mysteries involving Oscar Tremont, Investigator of the Strange and Inexplicable, in first person (there's a free example here) but soon changed to third, and it was a difficult decision. First-person narrative generally works well for the traditional detective short story. Look at Sherlock Holmes with Watson giving us an up-close-and-personal view of Holmes. When the POV is the protagonist's, it's even more powerful for demonstrating thought processes and internal battles that will hold the reader's attention. I ended up opting for third-person limited, however, because I wanted to jump between POVs in different scenes, and that obviously wouldn't work with a first-person narrative. The ability to show the reader in direct but shadowy glimpses what is going on behind the protagonist's was too tempting to resist.

The choice is ultimately based on the story and the author's priority for the reader, the personal depth the first-person narrative gives or the flexibility third gives. My post-apocalyptic work-in-progress is told in the first person in order to really draw the reader into the protagonist's personal experience and to force the reader to navigate a ruined landscape with unknown dangers, to wear the protagonists' tattered boots. It's an important decision to make...and a much easier one to make before you start a story. For a short story, it may not be the end of the world, but no one wants to go back and change the POV after writing a full draft of a novel! 

Do you have a preference? What are some of your favourite stories and which point of view did the author use? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 17 February 2023

Dive into The Deep End

Today is your lucky day! Below is a sneak peek at "The Deep End", my contribution to the next Black Beacon Books anthology, Tales from the Ruins. A reminder that the anthology will be released on the 25th of February but the Kindle version is available for pre-order today at just 99c instead of $3.99. I hope the first few paragraphs whet your appetite...





I sit here in the dark, stroking the head of my axe and looking through the only gap in the boards nailed across the windows of my thatched cottage, and I wonder how all this will play out.This is the third day we’ve spotted them searching hereabouts,and this afternoon marks the first time they’ve ventured along the street leading into our forsaken village. Dean is slumped in my wife’s patchwork armchair, and his snoring is strangely reassuring. His axe is lying on the floor, within easy reach, and there are two makeshift bows and two dozen arrows leaning against the wall at my feet. We could withstand a small attack and easily dispose of the bodies, but not an offensive launched by the whole clan. The sun has sunk low now. The blanket of night may be what saves us. 
In the meantime, all I can do is sit here and hope they don’t draw too near, and while I sit, I can’t help but recall the whole sorry affair. 
I was picking pumpkins when it began. I saw the battered Tesla trundle along the road. The two weary horses pulling what had originally been an electric vehicle capable of doing over a hundred and fifty miles per hour were bound to end up over a grill or in a stew before winter sank its claws in. The road lay a couple of hundred yards from my cottage and was hidden from view at intervals by trees, hedges, and the ruins of a farmhouse, but I could make out the forms of three or four men inside. I wondered why they hadn’t built a simple wooden cart if they were intent on moving around by other means than their own legs. But there was no mystery, was there? Before whatever had happened—before The Breakdown—just about everyone had been dead set on getting their hands on whatever the latest and most expensive crap available on the market was. That, of course, hadn’t changed. Now broken and useless, the Tesla was still as much a trophy as it had been when it was shiny and functional. That hadn’t changed, but something had—we now saw our fellow man without the trappings and fake smiles of the past. We now saw his true self—a mangy dog snarling over a brittle bone.
‘What are they up to?’ I found myself asking aloud.
The pumpkin in my hands didn’t answer and I looked around half-expecting the mere act of speaking to beckon Brooke back to me. It didn’t, of course. Nothing stirred in the brambles and bracken that swept up to the granite walls of my cottage—our cottage—the home I’d made with a wife who’d disappeared without a trace. And now—but that didn’t bear thinking about. Brooke had set off to collect mushrooms with Dean’s daughter, Taya. They’d left shortly after lunch. They ought to have been back with a basketful each long ago.
I looked at the pumpkin and stared west to where a washed-out orange sun was sinking behind the pines.
I didn’t like it. This wasn’t like her. She and Taya followed the rules the four of us had agreed upon together. They always stayed together. They never ventured too far—no further than the road.
The knot inside me tightened.
Birds chirped merrily in the weeping birch that grew by the well, across the potholed track from my cottage, but their song now sounded like mockery. Without Brooke, there was nothing of any beauty or worth for me in this ruined world. Without her, I wouldn’t have had the will to go on after it had become clear her mother had vanished for good. Five winters now since she’d gone—and the sixth was drawing relentlessly closer. 
I placed the pumpkin gently by my feet—feet clad in cherry red Docs that had withstood the downfall of society—because I was afraid I’d drop it. I could feel my grasp weakening. There were six pumpkins, two of modest size and four big ones. There would have been more—at least ten—but they had been stolen. Thieves came at night to snatch ripe fruit and vegetables, and even though I had a set-up with string and bells to warn me of their presence, they had soon worked out how to get around it. One night a few weeks ago, when I’d got up to relieve my bladder in the back garden, I surprised a thief stepping over the string encircling my potato patch. He carried a candle in his right hand and I could see he held a sack in the other—but there was also a garden fork leaning against his left shoulder. I was about to grab the axe I kept inside the cottage, by the back door, but he disappeared into the pine forest instead. If I fixed the fence and got myself a dog, keeping thieves away would be easier, but we didn’t need another mouth to feed, and there was a real risk the poor dog would end up roasted on a spit.
I fended the thieves off as best I could, but from time to time they struck it lucky. When you face starvation, you do whatever you can to survive, and six pumpkins was enough for us to stave off hunger for several weeks, along with a decent reserve of potatoes, courgettes, nuts—and mushrooms. Dean and I would trap pheasants, pigeons, and hunt the occasional boar to spoil ourselves.
‘Brooke!’ I called again, but birdsong was the only reply.
It would be dark soon, and waiting like this was no longer an option. Something was wrong.
I heard familiar footsteps.
‘I don’t like it either, Ewan. Not one bit.’
Dean came into view, walking along the track and passing the bramble hedge. The look on his face pulled the knot inside me even tighter.
‘It’s not just me then?’
He shook his head and I realised his mop of long hair seemed thinner and greyer every time I saw him. The keen look in his brown eyes never changed though. Dean, like me, was a survivor. Every one of the eight houses in our village had been occupied or kept as a holiday home before The Breakdown. All but two—Dean’s and mine—stood empty now. With one exception, the other residents had packed up and left, taking what they could in wheelbarrows and shopping trolleys, intent on finding a better world elsewhere. Deep down inside, I know they never found one. The exception was Jack Sinclair, who’d lost his wife before The Breakdown and his sons in one of the first clan battles that had taken place in the town square shortly after. Leaving home wasn’t on the cards for him, but neither was staying to scratch out an existence. After three days with no news, I’d paid him a visit and found him in his garden shed. He’d put his strongest length of rope to work one last time. 
‘It’s not like them,’ Dean said. ‘I looked in the old Burns cottage to see if they were boiling up some herbal tea.’ He frowned and looked me in the eye—a hard look I was unaccustomed to from him.
I broke his gaze and glanced at the sky. Twilight was setting in.
‘We have to get moving, Ewan.’ And while he spoke calmly, his tone was sinister—almost accusing—and I understood why. We were survivors. We lived for our girls. They depended on us, and we depended on them. But here I was, allowing the knot in my stomach to tighten while I pottered about picking pumpkins.
‘We need weapons,’ I found myself saying.
He nodded.
I took a hatchet and a claw hammer from the windowsill.
‘I’ve already walked the track through the pines. There are no edible mushrooms left but no sign of the girls either,’ Dean said darkly.
‘The road?’ I wondered. ‘They know not to cross it, but they often gather mushrooms along the ditch.’
I handed Dean the hatchet and hefted the hammer.
‘Let’s go,’ Dean said. 

Thursday, 16 February 2023

Why Mysteries and Crime Fiction Have A Lasting Impact

A guest post by Justin Murphy

Why do mysteries and crime fiction have a lasting impact? 

This can mean different things to different people. Such a story may be one thing from a reader's viewpoint and a whole separate matter from that of writer. This article aims to cover some shred of both. Outside of Romance, any genre tied to mystery, crime, or detective fiction have enjoyed the most enduring appeal with the widest audience. The most obvious answer is the fact everyone loves a puzzle. Going back to such investigators as Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot. Some enthusiasts love to figure out who committed the crime either alongside the detective or feel they can beat the sleuth and solve it beforehand. Sure enough, it may be fun for writers to plot these out. Even in visual media with such characters as Jessica Fletcher going through the motions on an episode of Murder, She Wrote. Whether it be from the viewpoint of the scribe who hammered out the story, or the viewer watching it.

Such things happen in everyday life, while perhaps not in our own, they do exist in someone’s. Such as how real-life detectives or cops investigate a case with criminals and victims involved. Much like true crime, its fictional counterparts still have people reading novels and short stories, watching weekly series made for TV Movies, and listening to podcasts. All because either there is something for the audience to relate to, or characters they identify with.

As mentioned above, the three main points of the genre’s triangle are criminals, investigators, and victims. The average reader knows the former always does harm (or something illegal) to the latter with the middle figure probing into it. Of course, there have been many variations where the detective doesn’t have a clue to the very end. Or may figure things out from the beginning with the audience following the chase until the perp is caught. Such as in one of the many TV Movies featuring Lieutenant Columbo. Others may involve the victim turning out to the criminal, or the police officer being the one who did it all along.

Of course, there are also such stories as heist capers or prison breaks, offering a more sympathetic view of the criminal’s exploits. Whether this subgenre is accurate is subject to debate, even though most find these entertaining and have brought in an audience. Such films as The Sting, The Ocean’s Eleven franchise, and Escape From Alcatraz have also proven this to be correct. In addition, there are mystery and detective tales veering into suspense thrillers. Possibly the most notable example is the Hannibal Lecter franchise with such entries as Red Dragon and The Silence of The Lambs. Showing the viewpoints of protagonists Will Graham and Clarice Starling. As well as those of Francis Dolarhyde, Buffalo Bill, and of course, The Cannibal himself. The motive with this latter story approach involves showcasing the viewpoints of both heroes and villains, if not more characters beyond this.

Though one can also differentiate between suspense and thriller as well. The goal for a suspense story is revealed above with the Hannibal Lecter series example. Yet they are also good demonstrations of thrillers, which is more exemplified with a story’s pacing. A pulse pounding story moving very fast, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. But again, everything comes back to the triangle of the criminal, detective, and victim. Possibly the true bedrock of any crime or mystery tale.

Of course, there can be even deeper connections between these three archetypes. Two or more of them can be related. Such as how an investigator harkens back to a childhood where one parent harms or kills the other and it impacts their lives and the future path they take. Of course, there have also been stories where family members are on opposite sides of the law. Such as one member being a cop and forced to confront or turn in someone connected to their Mafia related brethren. These are only the tip of iceberg, but showcase how far inward crime, mystery, and detective stories may go. TV Series of this genre were always labeled, ’’case of the week’’, but such relationships beneath these tried and true dynamics show there can be a lot more than surface level pap.

Even further, is first person or third person the preferred viewpoint in a crime, mystery, or detective tale? Some readers and writers alike love the intimacy of how or why these characters are motivated, a short story or novel length confession allowing readers into their head, if not their heart and soul. The first-person approach is explored deeply in the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The former fictionalized his ordeals as a Pinkerton Detective and gave enthusiasts his worldview through creations such as The Continental Op and Sam Spade, some felt he brought a certain darkness to the murder cases he penned. Restoring it to the back alleys and showing them for the cynical and violent acts they were.

Raymond Chandler did this, but his background lined up more with poetry and newspaper reporting. He didn’t have Hammett’s background as an actual detective, but more than made up for it in the skills of writing and language. Some consider his command of such to be superior to the former, culminating in the novels he wrote depicting the character Phillip Marlowe. Despite being a tad derivative and never being an actual investigator himself, his reputation somewhat now stands above that of Dashiell Hammett, both of their works were adapted for film, television, and radio. The biggest exception to this is the latter’s final published novel, Playback. One still not adapted to any visual medium, despite originally written for Universal Pictures in 1949 as a screenplay.

No doubt readers also felt the same way as these authors, who may have tapped into some dark feelings their audience only knew on a subconscious level. Beneath any exteriors of Middle America or a white picket fence, authors such as Hammett and Chandler may have probed fears and anxieties these readers didn’t know they had. When opening their pulp magazines and detective novels, they couldn’t hide beneath a phony smile or the image of an All-American family, instead realizing such prejudice and apprehensions were real and others felt the same way. By turning each page, these people were safe and took comfort in the fact the outside world proved a dangerous place, if they weren’t in the middle of it. Maybe this is the greatest therapy of all, the unspoken and personal confessions between someone who writes a tale and one who reads it.

In contrast, stories in third person omniscient may be more of a social occurrence. Like the above example of suspense or thrillers offering two or more viewpoints, especially those of hero and villain. This gives the reader a much broader view of a story and invites the world in the way a first-person story can’t. Often, the reader learns of the crime before the detective does. So, the audience is getting a ringside seat to the main event. Not an unspoken personal dialogue between reader and author. Although more recent detective novels have also taken this approach with one of the Rizzoli and Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen, such as The Mephisto Club and The Glass Rainbow from the pen of author James Lee Burke. The former explores the viewpoint of one of the investigators and one belonging to a possible suspect, far away in Rome connected to murders in the Northeastern United States. The latter is seen through the eyes of Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux and his partner Clete Purcell with the catch his daughter is dating a person of interest in the case while said partner is also thought to be guilty, due to an earlier assault on one of the suspects. Despite not having the more intimate nature of first person, readers may still have dealt with someone far away from their current locale, or a father reading who is reminded of someone his daughter dated and may not approve of. This also applies to the authors writing these works, who derive certain details from their lives. Such as how the author and detective in the latter novel both share a daughter named Alafair. Thomas Harris, who wrote the Hannibal Lecter novels, shares his love of gourmet cuisine with the title character despite not being a cannibal or a serial killer.

On this level, readers can relate to the characters they read about. Most of us may never be engaged in these activities directly, but we still identify with such people and events. There are, no doubt, those of us who did something bad to someone else, allowing ourselves to see things through the eyes of a criminal. Of course, this can be true for people who’ve been on the receiving end of such treatment, enabling them to sympathize with the story’s victim. Indeed, someone always probes into said matters, providing them with commonalities to feel on par with the investigator. While many readers never end up in the same situations as these characters, their own lives sometimes place them on similar wavelengths. Again, it all comes down to the mystery, if not crime, genre’s general triangle.

Even with the impact of visual media, one can’t deny similar identification with characters. Going even deeper into film noir with Phillip Marlowe entering and facing a dark situation in The Maltese Falcon. The same with 1970’s era counterpart, Jake Gittes in the film Chinatown not only facing a reality like that but also watching the girl’s murder in the end. A reversal of the genre’s typical trope of the detective always ending up with the love interest by the time the credits roll. Like readers, moviegoers relate to these on some level. People who step into a situation they would prefer not to be in. There are also those who may have lost someone they love in the most tragic way and couldn’t do anything to prevent it. Whether it be the person causing the ordeal, one investigating or witnessing such, and the individual who fell victim to this. The murder or crime draws them in, but it’s not necessarily what one relates to. It’s the personal connection. Gittes observing the shooting of Evelyn Mulwray can remind them of a romantic breakup, if not the fear of losing a lover, spouse, or even a child.

This is the key ingredient to the success of these stories. Regardless of whether the tale is a simple puzzle the reader yearns to solve before reaching the end. Or a more complex affair with fictional people one can relate to. There proves to be no way around it, authors and their readers come back to it every single time no matter what the variation is. Such has been the case ever since the earliest mysteries or detective yarns told in One Thousand and One Nights, alongside those parallel and contrasting cultures during ancient or medieval eras. These dynamics were, no doubt, also present when Edgar Allan Poe devised the modern detective story. Whether it be a lighthearted cozy or some dark trip into the world of noir embodied by the investigation of a hardboiled detective, these above themes resonate and are eternal. While Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth is more linked to works of science fiction and fantasy with the dynamics of crime, mystery, and detective fiction being triangular, their concepts are circular. Those who write and read all these stories always return, if the fictional accounts are well told. Authors and their audiences are born into this world and, sooner or later, pass away. Repeating the same cycle of the works they either create or enjoy, leaving the legacies and examples for other generations to do the same. No matter what form it takes, maybe this is what makes life and storytelling so beautiful. After all, both share a beginning, middle, and end.

Find Justin on Amazon.


Wednesday, 25 January 2023

From the State of Queensland to the Duchy of Brittany

One question I'm often asked (obviously by readers who haven't read my work yet) is whether I prefer to set my stories in places I know or in places I've never set foot. It's an interesting question, and one that deserves a full here goes.

As an Australian now living in Brittany, I find myself setting most of my fiction these day - almost instinctively - around my new home. That's quite a dramatic change considering the differences between the state of Queensland and the ancient Duchy of Brittany. The move from my home in Brisbane to my wife's in Brittany was made for a number of reasons, and none of them have anything to do with my writing, not directly in any case. Nonetheless, Brittany leaves an indelible mark on my writing, and I like to think that one day, my writing will leave its mark on Brittany. Within easy walking distance of my village, there are marshes, a mediaeval mound once used as a lookout, and an abandoned windmill. A short drive away, you'll find dolmens, the ruins of a castle, a sea cave inhabited by a korrigan, and German bunkers built during see all this, find me on Instagram! There are misty mornings over the marshland here and stormy nights with waves crashing against the granite coast. You'll not be surprised to know all this provides endless inspiration (or awen to stick with the Celtic theme) for a writer of mystery, suspense, and horror. Added to this is the fact that for me as a writer, it's important to actually go and sit in the place a story is set, at least very now and then. One of my unpublished short mysteries featuring Oscar Tremont is set in a nearby river port (La Roche-Bernard) and the picturesque setting plays an important role in the plot.

So there you go. Not every story I'm working on and plan to write is set in Brittany, but most of them are, and when you read them you'll know there's nothing arbitrary about the setting. I'll be taking you on a guided tour of this ancient land, with its dramatic landscapes, its history, its legends, its superstitions, and you might even learn a word of two of its language too! Kenavo!

     The fortified city of Guérande (Gwenrann) in Brittany.