On Murder

Derek
September 23, 2015

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I’ve come, over the past week or so, to realise that the best murder mysteries are, ultimately, about serial killers.

Not, necessarily, the Gory Hannibal Lecter type of serial killers; even the classic Agatha Christies, for example, seem to work even better when the Nemesis has a couple of (or preferably three) victims.

The classic Murder mystery pits a sleuth against a murderer. There’s a first murder – a hook; something to attract the attention of both the sleuth and the reader. Normality has been upset; the natural order has been broken, and must be restored.

And if there’s one murder, and the detective can investigate and, eventually, unmask the killer, then it can be a good story. But what makes it a Great story is when the stakes are upped.

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A Slow Death Reviewed

Derek
September 18, 2015

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I have an admission to make: I love melancholy: that sense of ennui at the human condition, a despair at the inevitable entropy and ending of everything, and – bubbling just under it – the anger at man’s impotence in the face of a world that just won’t be set right.

Which is probably why I love Noir Crime, and definitely why I adored Max Drescher and “A Slow Death.” There are enough reviewers here giving out hints on the plot; suffice to say that it has more plot twists than the average mystery. Almost every time I thought I’d figured out where we were going, James Craig threw a curveball, and we were off on a direction I hadn’t foreseen. If Amazon gave out “Jaw Dropper” scores, this would be a “Four Jaws on the Floor” book.

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My New York

Derek
September 13, 2015

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The first time I went to New York was in 1993.

The Twin Towers still stood, monolithic orientation points that allowed the visitor to tell uptown from downtown.

The city – pre the Giuliani and Bloomberg sandblasting of its gritty façade – was the ultimate grown-up, deviant playground.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal teemed with strays, thugs, and shysters; the Chelsea Meatpacking district displayed its tranny hookers like a duchess sporting paste diamonds on a decaying décolletage; and Times Square held up huge signs saying “LIVE GIRLS XXX.”

I supposed, at the time, there was likely to be more of a market for Live Girls as opposed to the obvious alternatives, but – in hindsight – this may not always have been the case.

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How I Write – The Plot

Derek
September 10, 2015

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Writing fiction is not always hard.
It’s not always easy, either.
Oh, I know some people would love us all to believe the image of the tortured artist agonising for years over the right word – something between Proust and Joyce – whilst others would see all writers (but particularly those of genre fiction) as Hacks hammering out the same sub-standard guff for a gullible readership.
To be honest, neither of those approaches is entirely true.
I write Genre Fiction, most notably crime, and I am a firm believer that genre fiction rests or fails on the strength of the plot.
But I don’t believe that a great plot will make up for cardboard characters. You need both: the engaging, challenging plot that keeps the reader guessing and rooting for your hero, and a hero, secondary characters and a milieu that are rock solid believable, entertaining (yes, even the villains: True Evil, as has been said, is banal, but if a reader wants Banality, they can read the Chilcott report. If it ever comes out) and complex.
Plot, it’s been said, comes from Character, and I sort of get that: If you create “real” characters and then challenge them (The old “What’s the worst thing that could happen to this person?” question) then – by making the worst happen, and following on from that start – you can get an interesting story going.
My book “Death of a Diva” is a crime novel which focuses on a genial everyman. The fact that Danny Bird is gay is, largely incidental. He comes from a big London family, mixed by marriage as well as inclinations. He has friends from all the social strata, and a long standing relationship with a high-powered city lawyer.
So what’s the worst thing that could happen to him?

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Autumn Salsa

Derek
September 5, 2015
Just out of shot: Minced Herbs and Kander & Ebbs "The Visit OCR"
Just out of shot: Minced Herbs and Kander & Ebbs “The Visit OCR”

Some debate, recently, around when Autumn starts: Is it immediately after the end of August, or does the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness kick in the September Equinox (23rd, this year)?

For me, it feels like it started this week. It’s been the saddest summers ever for me, and my life has been changed by it. But it ended with news of an opportunity I’ve been waiting my whole life for. A publisher who not only wants – but loves- my book.

So I’m sort of shell shocked at the moment, but the moment I stepped outside on Tuesday morning to damp chill, the scent of decay hanging in the air, and a thin drizzle that could – if one were of a poetic mind – be imagined as mist hanging in the air, it’s been autumn.

But the summer – as far as the contents of my kitchen is concerned – isn’t over yet. So, to celebrate what’s left of the sunshine season, and welcome the coming time of cinnamon and nutmeg, of pumpkins (even here, on the other side of the Atlantic), and of baking slow roasting, and crisp red leaves underfoot I made Autumn Salsa.

“What’s it made of?” my Friend C asked.
“Stuff.”

I called it Autumn Salsa cos so much of what you’d normally put in a salsa is a bit ‘off’ now. But there are a lot of cherry tomatoes that still have a heck of a sweet and sharp punch around.

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Why I Write

Derek
September 2, 2015

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I come from a story telling people.

The Irish – the Celts – didn’t retain their personalities, their cultures, for as long as they did by simply painting themselves blue and waving their arses at invaders*. They did it by telling stories; by turning the everyday into the magical; by transforming victory into ecstasy and failure into an almost-victory.

They did it by rewriting the everyday into, as Joyce** might have put it, somethingmorethanwasreallythere***.

 

I come from a story telling family.

The first time my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family he got stories. Some of the stories were told to stave off the silence; to swerve the discomfort. Some were told to make us laugh – because laughter is when my family is at its best. Some stories were there to normalise the situation or to explain who we were, where we were, why we were; but they were all stories.

Because I come from a story telling family.

My father reads voraciously, and with a deliberate lack of snobbery. He’s read  Dumas countless times,  loves Dickens, and worked his way through many of the classics, but he’s also, often, asked for Jackie Collins in his Christmas stocking (the novels of, not the racy author herself) and he’s at his happiest with Golden Age British crime writers like Gerald Vernon Edgar Wallace, or Agatha Christie.

My mother – when I was growing up – didn’t read much. But she told stories. More than that; she lived stories. Going to the Grocers with her; watching her challenge the Butcher as to why the Mince yesterday was less than ideal; making the Christmas cake; learning a dance routine to “Me & My Shadow”. They were stories filled with excitement, danger, camaraderie, and the basic cliff hanging suspense that all good stories contain.

You listened to these stories and wondered whether the Butcher had slipped her an extra kidney by way of recompense, or been gifted with a raised nose and banishment to the B-List of purveyors for his cheapness.

And she did all of this with a sense of humour that was wicked, surreal, cynical and brilliant.

Whilst I may have acquired my love of books from my father, I learned my love of what-happens-next stories from my mother.

And my baby brother, while I stayed indoors reading books, and dreaming of being smart enough to be able to tell stories that people would want to listen to, went out into the world, met people, talked to them, came home, and talked to us about his life his friends and his understanding of the world.

Because I come from a story telling family.

So my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family, and waited for the silence, the staring, the muttered recriminations and the anger.

Instead, he got his worst nightmare.

He got stories that wove out, into, and over each other; that faded into a mist, stopped abruptly, vanished and were replaced by reminiscences of the time a bullock ran up our city street, then digressed to “The State of Sandra Bullock,” before passing on to the fact that the escaped cow happened the summer that my brother and I had been using discarded fluorescent lighting tubes as Light Sabres (don’t try this, kids; no, really, don’t…) and blended into an observation that I’d always been the family story teller, which left him stunned and close to terrified.

This – his state of overwhelm at the tidal wave of stories coming his way – left me bemused. Because, as I may have mentioned before…

I come from a family that have never – as long as I have known them – done anything other than tell stories.

Because all stories are about love (or its absence). And the people I choose to talk to, to sit with, all have something in common.

Can you guess what it is?

Love. 

I come from a culture and a family that – I am both wonderfully lucky and proud to admit – tells stories. We do this to make sense of then, now and tomorrow; to make laughter the prevailing mood; to take sadness and alchemise it into something more beautiful and powerful than it was ever expected to be; to get, gain, and deserve attention; to warm, enthral, reward enervate and challenge each other.

The only thing that matters, I believe, is who loves you, and who you love. And I’m stealing a concept from Armistead Maupin when I point out that family is both the Family you are born into, and the Family you acquire as you go through the tale of life. And I have been lucky to be part of many brilliant families who tell many wonderful stories.

Because the truth is, I don’t really write: I tell stories. And I tell stories because I come from a story telling family.

Welcome to the family.

 

*Though even Henry Sidney was known to comment on the pert, indigo derrieres of the locals. “Lyke a coupul of Feeral Cats in a sacke made from th’ Serge de Nimes,” he reported to Elizabeth I in 1540.

**James, not Grenfell, who was – clearly – English, as evidenced by her obsession with ensuring children behaved correctly.

***Little known fact: James Joyce invented the Hashtag Sentence.