Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The first of the feisty women – Modesty Blaise (created by Peter O'Donnell)

Modesty Blaise has been a heroine of mine for quite a few years. I first came across her as a young teenager. At that stage in my life most of the books I read came from the Public Library about half a mile from our house down the Oldpark Road. I used to walk there nearly every Saturday with my pile of recently read books under one arm, and return an hour or two later with a fresh batch to keep me going for another week.

On one of these excursions I came across a book called Dragon's Claw, which was about the adventures of a young woman called Modesty Blaise, whom I'd never heard of before. I took it home and read it with great enjoyment, and then searched vainly for more Modesty Blaise books, not only in the Library but in the local bookshops. Belfast was well provided with good bookshops in those days, but none of them stocked Modesty Blaise.

As time went on I gave up trying, although some episodes in the book remained burnt into my brain – Modesty rescuing Luke Fletcher, adrift in a rowing boat,  while sailing a yacht single handed in the Tasman Sea, and keeping him from falling out of his bunk during a fierce storm by lying beside him body to body; and her later escape from an island prison using hang gliders.

These were pictures still in my head years later when I began buying books through the Internet, and it suddenly occurred to me to check if any Modesty Blaise books were available there. I first of all bought one or two second hand, then discovered that they'd been republished not long before and were available at not too high a price. I put them on my wish list, was bought a lot more as presents, and kept adding to my collection. I'm now in the pleasant position of owning about two thirds of them, to read and enjoy re-reading; but with several which I still don't own and which I can look forward to as treats sometime before too long.

Some of them are also on Kindle, but at the usual high price of established publishers – very silly, isn't it?

Modesty Blaise grows as a character as the books continue to flow. Peter O'Donnell, the author, was a very clever man and an excellent writer. Willie Garvin, Modesty's friend and assistant, is an amazing character in himself, and there's a range of minor but recurring characters all interesting and full of life.

Modesty is an expert in unarmed combat. Her feet are particularly strong for kicking, and she and Willie practice together regularly. Willie is very expert with a knife, while Modesty prefers a gun, but more often uses a small hand held wooden weapon called a kongo.

But Willie is much more than a simple minded thug. He has no formal education, but picks up information readily and retains it. He knows the Book of Psalms off by heart and quotes it often. He takes great pleasure in stumping Modesty by using a word he's sure she won't have heard of, such as pandiculation or oenanthic. (Look them up for yourselves – I had to!) The game they play with these words requires Modesty in turn to use the word in conversation without having seemed to look it up in the meantime. If, like me, you love words, this all adds to the enjoyment.

But the main attraction of these books lies in the action. Modesty and Willie are both expert at coming up with ideas for a 'con' (I saw one of their ideas used in an episode of Hustle not long ago!), which adds to the interest, but their cleverness  in action and their physical skill (which gets them out of many a tight corner) are the high notes of the stories.

Modesty began life as a war orphan wandering from one Displaced Persons camp to another at the age of around seven – she can't remember further back, probably mercifully. She doesn't know her name or her accurate age. She befriends an elderly academic who gives her a name and teaches her what he can in lieu of a formal education, while she in turn looks out for him in all the practical ways necessarily for their survival.

She walks barefoot over the Middle East until her teenage years and eventually emerges in Tangiers, after the recent death of her elderly friend. There she works in a Casino, becomes a force to be reckoned with in the gang which runs it, and eventually takes over the gang  when its leader is murdered. Going from strength to strength, she runs a criminal organisation known as the Network; until at the age of twenty-six she retires with a sufficient fortune to live a life of leisure.

 Instead, she and Willie Garvin promptly get sucked into working for the British Secret Service by its chief Sir Gerald Tarrant – and this is where the first book, simply called Modesty Blaise, begins.

As must be clear by now, I love these books. In the eighties I wrote my first grown up book, a thriller written very much in the style of the times. When I got it out recently I decided that it had too much potential to be left mouldering in a drawer for another twenty years, but that it needed a thorough overhaul to bring it up to date.

And one of the main things I did was to change the rather wimpy heroine to someone much more like Modesty Blaise. I tried not to steal anything, but simply to create a strong woman who wouldn't let herself be pushed around and who was prepared to tackle any villains who came along – and the result was Angel in Flight, the first of my series of books about Angeline, or Angel, Murphy, the feisty Belfast girl.

And now the second of the Angel Murphy Thrillers, Angel in Belfast, is out. I can promise at least two more which I've been thinking about – but who knows where it will stop? Thank you, Peter O'Donnell and Modesty Blaise, for your inspiration. Apparently the Modesty Blaise books, which sprang out of a popular strip cartoon, have sold in their millions. Wouldn't it be nice if the same thing happened to Angel Murphy?

You can buy my books at these links:

Belfast Girls 

Danger Danger

Angel in Flight: the First Angel Murphy Thriller

The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus

Lady Molly And The Snapper

And finally, my new release, Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy Thriller about the feisty young Belfast girl!

Why not try them?

Goodbye and God Bless! See you soon!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

A New Kid on the Block – Crime Writer Juliet Madison

Juliet Madison – new to the crime scene.

This time round, my post is about a new discovery, crime writer Juliet Madison. I recently came across her book Second Chances and thought well of it. The hero is DI Frank Lyle, and the plot, which of course I can't give away, is original in the extreme. I think Juliet, who has written many books in a different genre, has found her niche here. The book falls into the 'Noir' category. I don't mind a bit of this, although I don't like the writers who take it to extremes. Second Chances didn't take me over my self drawn line; and I found it both gripping and enjoyable. 

Juliet suggested that I interview her, which isn't, as regular readers of this blog know, my normal style. However, here goes! 

So, today I’m talking to Juliet B Madison about her newly published crime thriller Second Chances and her detective DI Frank Lyle.

Gerry:   Welcome to my blog, Juliet. I know you were interviewed recently by Tricia Drammeh for the Authors to Watch blog so I’ll try not to cover the same ground.

Juliet:   No problem if we do, because some things bear repeating.

Gerry:    So, tell us something about your detective DI Frank Lyle.

Juliet:   Frank is in his late thirties at the start of Second Chances. He has a ten year old son, James, by his ex wife, Sarah, who left him because she got fed up coming second to the job. She is very bitter about this so she does her best to make his life difficult, but they do start to get on better during the course of the story. She wants Frank back –  but readers will have to wait and see what happens on that score!

I wanted Frank to be dedicated to his job but, unlike a lot of fictional cops, he does try not to break the rules too often. He has a real respect for his police colleagues and people in general.

Gerry:   I've enjoyed reading your book, and reading about Frank. He's an interesting person.

Juliet:   Well, I think he is. I’m rather in love with him myself! DI Frank Lyle is six foot tall with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. But he is wary of commitment since his wife left him for someone else, and he doesn’t appear to think he’s gorgeous, he certainly doesn’t make out he is God’s gift or anything like that.

Gerry:   What do you think is the most difficult lesson Frank has to learn in Second Chances?

Juliet:   I can’t really answer that completely without giving away a major spoiler, but he learns about the pain of loss, both professionally and personally.

Gerry:   Did you do a lot of research for Second Chances?

Juliet:   Well, I quizzed older people about their memories of 1982 as I was only 7 then. 

I have learnt a lot over the years through reading crime novels and watching TV crime dramas. I had to do some research into inquests and coroner’s verdicts and I had a very good reference book to guide me through writing about the post-mortem (autopsy). I didn’t copy anything, just used it as a guide and applied it to my victim and the story.

My friend, Katrina Bowlin-Mackenzie edited the book and kept asking me about British things so i decided to include a reference section in the back. The scenes related to Diabetes and Ketoacidosis (very high blood glucose) come from nearly 34 years experience of living with the condition.

Gerry:   I believe you're working on a second DI Lyle book at present. Do you intend to make this a series?

Juliet:   I hope so. I have a few ideas for the plot of the next one which I have started writing. I'll go on with it when I feel ready, but I want to see how this one fares first.

Gerry:   Where can people get their own copy of Second Chances?

Juliet:   You can download the Kindle version from Amazon.

You can only get the paperback version from Lulu at present but it should be on Amazon soon

I also have a DI Lyle Facebook page, where you can get an Authorgraph

Gerry: Thanks for talking to me, Juliet. I wish you all the very best with Second Chances.

Juliet: It’s been good to be here, Gerry.

And before I sign off for today, may I mention my own books?

Belfast Girls 

Danger Danger

Angel in Flight: the First Angel Murphy Thriller

The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus

Lady Molly And The Snapper

And finally, my new release, Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy Thriller about the feisty young Belfast girl!

Why not try them?

Goodbye and God Bless! See you soon!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Saint and Leslie Chartertis

The Saint

For various reasons – a long drawn out bout of bronchitis which knocked me offline for a couple of months, followed by the serious need to finish and publish my latest book Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy Thriller – I haven't written this blog for several months.

What seems like a very long time ago (okay – it was February!) I said that my next  'Old Favourites' post would be about the Saint. Leslie Charteris, the author of the amazingly best selling Saint books (I don't have up to date records, but one of my old paperbacks, last republished in 1964, tells me the number was over 22 million then, and counting!) is a very undervalued man. I love his books, and so, obviously, do millions of others. He was a clever man (educated at Oxford) and a clever writer, and he invented a character who will live as long as people enjoy reading.

I had read a few of the later Saint short stories in various magazines before I really began to make his acquaintance. This happened because I'd been taken by a former boyfriend to visit an elderly, retired man– as a sort of good work. The thought was, that he was probably lonely and would enjoy being visited. Well, he did appear to like our company.

This man seemed to me to have the ideal life style. He lived alone, and spent his time visiting the local library, reading the books he'd picked up there, and then going back for more. What bliss! He liked to talk to me about the books he was reading, and on one occasion he pressed upon me a couple of Saint books he wanted to give away (to leave space in his small bungalow for others). I wasn't specially keen on the Saint at that time, but I accepted the books in order not to hurt his feelings.

In fact I quite enjoyed them, and over the years I picked up more than a few second hand, until I had a good representative collection of them.

But it's only in the last dozen years, when I began to order the earlier books from Amazon (also second hand), that my enthusiasm took off.

Here is a character whose roots go back to Robin Hood. More recently, he descends from Raffles (who is mentioned in several of the Saint books) and Bulldog Drummond. He is the archetypal highwayman, pirate or buccaneer. The epitome of the adventurer, the swashbuckling hero, beloved by every schoolboy – and, may I point out, by every schoolgirl!

And as for his influence, that goes on down through James Bond, Modesty Blaise and Lara Croft to my own Angel Murphy!

Amazingly enough, although the Saint has frequently been portrayed on TV and in film, no one has ever come close to really representing the character as he was written. I suppose Roger Moore came closest. But he didn't really look the part – and he was too lacking in that je ne sais quoi, that impudent daringwhich epitomises the Saint. Roger Moore played him as too nice. I suppose I'm asking for the impossible. But maybe Martin Kemp?

Recently I watched some of the early black and white Saint films on iPlayer and enjoyed them, but again, none of the actors came near to being the Saint. George Sanders certainly got the character across – but, for goodness sake, Simon's slim leanness is empathised over and over again! Not GeorgeSanders!

But one thing I can thank these black and white films for was the opportunity to watch The Saint Meets The Tiger – the very first Saint full length story. (Alas, the book is out of print now, and is only available second hand for telephone numbers. Much as I'd love to read it, not at several hundred pounds!)

Because it's the very early Saint books which kindled my enthusiasm.

The Last Hero is a brilliant book in every way. So is The Avenging Saint, Enter the Saint, Featuring the Saint and The Saint's Getaway. In these, Simon emerges as a man with vision and ideals, not afraid to fight for the justice he believes in. A man 'born with the sound of trumpets in his ears.'

Leslie Charteris writes in a fine, impressive style. And here may I digress to say that, although I sort of admire Hemingway (my favourite of his books is The Sun Also Rises) I believe he – or actually his admirers – have done an amazing amount of damage to writers of English. The clean, sparse style has something to be said for it, okay. But surely we are missing so much by writing off the more elaborate, poetic style of writing? It's like the difference between the Classic style of architecture and the elaborate Byzantine style. Personally I like both. And why not?

Leslie Charteris is not afraid to be romantic, to portray love as an ideal, to give his hero the sort of feelings, the desire for justice, the desire to right wrongs, which motivated the Knights of the Round Table. Simon says, in The Last Hero, that the last thing he wants is to be delivered from 'battle, murder and sudden death,' for these are the spice of life. He is brave, witty and intelligent, and his adventures show him demonstrating all these characteristics.

Like Modesty Blaise's Willie Garvin, he uses a knife rather than a gun, A knife which he calls Anna and which he wears hidden up one sleeve. This allows him more than once to cut his ropes when the villain has tied him up. However, Chatreris doesn't let this ploy grow stale. Comes a day – quite early on in the Saga – in Enter the Saint, when he is tied up too firmly to get hold of the knife. And then it's left to his wits to save him – which they do.

In these early books Simon is surrounded by some excellent minor characters, and their reality adds a lot to the pleasure. There is Patricia Holm, whom Simon loves, and who is not the typical girlfriend of the time. Bulldog Drummond has a girlfriend (later wife) called Phyllis, who allows him to pat her on the head and say, 'Go to bed, little girl. This is my business!' before dealing with the villains. Patricia would never have let this happen. Simon tells us, in The Avenging Saint, one of the reasons why he loves her. Speaking about Sonia, another girl whom he had found attractive, but who let him get caught by hesitating to shoot at the right moment, he says, 'Pat wouldn't have missed that chance.'

Then there's Roger Conway, the Saint's best friend and lieutenant, whose catch phrase is, 'You can always leave these little things to me,' whether it's rescuing Simon from inevitable death or simply trailing one of the villains. (Simon's own catch phrase at this stage is 'As the actress said to the bishop.' Lines such as, 'I'm always willing to oblige you, as the actress said to the bishop.' Later he dropped this. I suppose by then Charteris thought it was overworked.)

And there's Norman Kent, who also hears the sound of trumpets in his ears at the end of The Last Hero, and lays down his life for the peace of the world. In these early books, the first world war, which was still too close in the recent past to be forgotten, and the threat of the next, loom large.

(I don't know why I keep calling these guys 'the villains.' Charteris's own name for them is 'the ungodly' – a much better way of saying the same thing.)

Alas, as the books move on, Simon's helpers are one by one married or killed off. For a while he has Hoppy Uniatz, not a character I ever took to, and then in the later stories he works on his own. A pity, I think. Patricia Holm fades out, too. I suppose Charteris wanted to keep Simon foot loose and fancy free. Also a pity.

The  earlier books are mostly full length, but after the establishment of The Saint Magazine, Charteris wrote a short story for this every month, and these were collected up into books. Some of them were excellent, but writing to a formula never makes for the best work.

In his middle period, Charteris let his delight in style, in playing with words, run riot. In Call For The Saint, for instance, published in 1948, when dealing with a boxing match in The Masked Angel, he uses no less than three expressions for boxing matches or the boxing ring within a few pages  –  'the soiree of sock,' the 'mitt minuet,' 'the punch podium.' If he'd been writing now, I wonder if he'd have called his boxer hero 'the Lord of the Ring'? He also makes Simon respond to a cliche with the comment, 'To corn a phrase.' You either love this or hate it. Count me in with the lovers!

Later on, Charteris dropped this style and showed us that he could produce the clean, crisp type of writing as well as anyone. He had, it seems, been widely and destructively criticised for his middle period writing by those who set themselves up as experts, who have little or no sense of humour, and who have no delight in playing with words.  What a shame!

I love Leslie Charteris's Saint, and I'm not ashamed to say so!

Meanwhile, if you haven't seen any of my own books, they're growing in number. Starting with Belfast Girls,

the next is Danger Danger,

And then Angel in Flight, my first Angel Murphy Thriller.

I've also had The Seanachie, a collection of short stories, published

and Lady Molly and The Snapper, a young people's book,

before coming up to modern times with the publication of my second Angel Murphy book Angel in Belfast, just the other day.

Why not try some of them, if you haven't already done so? You never know! You might like them!

My next post (which will appear rather more quickly than this one did!) will feature a new discovery, Juliet Madison, and her crime book Second Chances: A DI Frank Lyle mystery. So there's something to look forward to!

Goodbye for now, and God Bless!

Links for my books: