Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year from Cookman Corner

 Well, that's it, then - another year over. Or rather, another astronomical cycle finished. I'm still not sure why it is assumed that things will miraculously change because the earth is beginning another perambulation. The  conservatives will still be money obsessed racists, landlords (some them) will still fleece their tenants, people will still turn to petty crime because they need money for food. And the various sections of society will continue to berate and blame the others.

I have recently experienced this on social media, where a fellow author I have known for some time (actually in Real Life, when we still did that) accused "your generation" of all the ills the Tory government had bestowed on us. It was incredibly and offensively personal and I was thoroughly shocked. I think by now my beliefs are fairly well known by my friends and followers, and I resent being tarred with the same brush as those who actually did vote the bastards into power. I know a lot people of my own advanced age, and none of us did, but of course, as my children tell me, social media - and real life friendship groups, come to that - are echo chambers. But this sort of mass blame strikes me as very similar to a racist attitude. And probably comes from those who assert, in a shocked voice "I'm not racist!" Yes, you know a couple of them, don't you?

And I'm still suffering from the inability of the publishing industry to stuff Mr Osman into the correct box - the one the rest of us traditional crime writers are in. As another fellow author said to me recently, "You've been doing exactly what he does for years." (He actually added "And Better" but I'd better not say that.) So as far as I'm concerned, this "New Year" is going to be nothing to write home about, just more, and probably worse, of the same.

I hope anyone reading this will feel more cheerful about things than I do, and if you're celebrating tonight, have a good one. If anyone is going to see those of my offspring who will be performing to "see the New Year in", you will have a good one, I can guarantee. And at some point in the next couple of months, this blog will undergo a transformation into a family report - you've guessed it - called Cookman Corner. Shameless promotion for all of us, of course. So see you then -OK?

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Crime writers - trials and tribulations, misnomers and oxymorons

 This week my doctor, trying to find out why I wasn't feeling quite the thing, discovered that my previously normal blood pressure had suddenly gone through the roof. The only other time this had happened wasn't when I was pregnant - four times, you may recall - but when, at the behest of my publisher of the time, I was attempting to write an erotic romance. I told her I couldn't do it, I didn't do romance at all, let alone the erotic stuff, but she was sure I could to enhance her successful erotic imprint. I started getting migraines. Bad ones. And guess what? High blood pressure. I didn't write the book.

This time, doctor and I concluded that the mix of medication I'm on didn't help and I was particularly stressed. More medication promised. Well, I'm not trying to write an erotic romance this time, but I am trying to write Libby Sarjeant Mystery number 26, to which I have previously referred in this blog. So far it has had two completely different incarnations and a third combining the two, and is proving the most difficult I've ever done. So - a lot of stress, especially as the damn thing's due to be delivered in December. 

And then, this morning I read a post on the BBC Culture website talking about - and to - Richard Osman and Cosy crime. I refuse to put the link here, as I am incensed. According to this journalist, Osman has "revived" the genre, which, according to him, had been virtually moribund since Agatha Christie. This shows an appalling lack of research, and I cannot do better then to quote two opinions from readers, one of whom is a journalist himself. 

Suzanne Barton said: I like what some of the people he talks about are saying about ‘cosy’ being a misnomer but he should definitely have spoken to some of the more experienced writers, rather than just the ‘celebrities’. The genre is not experiencing a ‘comeback’, it has always been there. There was a ‘golden age’ but Ngaio Marsh wrote up until the 70’s and was succeeded by the likes of Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, PD James and yourself so crime writing has been around constantly since the 1920’s and even before (Wilkie Collins, GK Chesterton)

In my opinion yours are some of the best of the current detective novels! I hope that people will read this sort of article but perhaps use it as a springboard to investigate what else is out there and realise that there are lots of hardworking, experienced writers who write brilliant novels, mostly far more developed and character driven than the celebrities turned writer!

And Nick Campbell wrote: I’m just amazed that journalists can be so blind to the phenomenon of celebrity writers. Truly this is so patronising toward both authors and readers. And half his article is just regurgitating another journalist’s article from the Torygraph. Lazy nonsense. It’s funny because the celebrity thing has done the rounds in children’s books for years without being properly examined and here we are again. And it’s not about the quality of those specific books, it’s just the laziness and banality when it comes to their being covered by journalists (and I include the BBC).

I don't think I can add anything better, do you? Thank you, Suzanne and Nick, for giving me permission to quote you.

Next - reviews. Now, I've had some lovely reviews, on and off Amazon, for the latest epic, many of which praise me (she said modestly) for my inclusion of current issues plaguing society of today. But one, although saying that she/he likes my books and has all of them, criticises me for the same thing, emphasising the fact that they are - and should remain - "cosy". The review finishes: 'In the next book, please Ms Cookman, no more messages?'

That floored me. The message referred to is, indirectly, the motive for the murder, and murder is not "Cosy". Every murder has a motive, and they are all all deeply unpleasant, whether personal or society-wide. They are certainly not "Cosy". The epithet has a lot to answer for. I started writing my books before the word migrated here from the USA - I just wrote "murder mysteries". A genre which, according to at least two well respected agents at the time, one of whom became a friend much later on, was in complete decline. It wasn't. I was already reading books written in the 80s and 90s, some of whose authors are mentioned by Suzanne, above, and now, of course, there are thousands - and that isn't an exaggeration. This is why reviews and ratings on Amazon are so important, even if we deplore the fact. It all adds to the visibility of the books, which, hopefully means people buy them and I can eat for another few months. Slight deviation from the main theme, here, sorry.

In conclusion, I just wish the term "Cosy" could be banned. Not just as a description of murder mysteries, where it is a complete oxymoron, but from the language. Yes, it is bloody "twee", but our books aren't. Even Osman himself said that in an interview I heard on my favourite radio station - not BBC, incidentally. And Osman hasn't "revived" the genre, it was alive and well before he dived in, with his original seven figure advance. If anything, he has overshadowed us, the rest of those hard working authors who write for a living and for the love of the books.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Looking back - and looking forward

 This is a blog post I wrote back in June 2020 - when we were in the thick of the the pandemic. As there were no comments recorded, I thought it would be safe to re-post it, if only to see how many people have seen and enjoyed those recommendations I made! Also, if there's anybody out there who doesn't know, book 24 in the Libby Sarjeant series is up for pre-order here, and you will see a nice Canva banner at the top of the blog, made for me by Toby at Headline. Now - off we go. Three years ago, I wrote this:

I am going to make a recommendation. I write, and enjoy reading, lighter detective fiction. As I have documented elsewhere, my love of this genre came from being allowed to run riot amid my parents' books, many of which I still have. These included Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series (and occasionally a Tecumseh Fox), John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson - Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale - and Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series. I re-read them all, and the Alleyn books from start to finish at least once every two years. On the way, there were other writers; Gladys Mitchell and Patricia Wentworth, to name two.

I was already a professional writer (features, PR, theatre) when I went back to school to do a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, a fairly new discipline at the time, and one I was already teaching at local authority level. Sadly, it didn't improve my knowledge of literature, which I had hoped, but it did introduce me to the woman who became my publisher. Again, well documented. We more-or-less started off together. As my final dissertation I submitted 20,000 words of a detective story which had first been conceived for the long departed World One Day Novel Cup. I had never seriously considered authorship as a career, although I had dabbled freely in the murky waters of Romance. Like many others, I had thought I could write a Mills and Boon romance, or Category Romance, as I learned to call them. Easy, I thought. Wrong!!! I came to realise how very, very clever these women, and the occasional man, were. I remained content to be friends with many of them, friendships I have maintained to this day. More of that later.

Meanwhile, as Hazel Cushion went on to become a fully fledged publisher, she asked me if there was any more of my dissertation, and if so, could she have it. And, could it be a series. Well, by this stage in my life I had expanded my reading habits and discovered, among other things, many writers writing in the same genre I had loved as a child. So there was a market for it, although received wisdom from the industry was, between much sucking of teeth, that there wasn't. We all know how that turned out.

And that market also extended to Television, exemplified by the hugely popular Midsomer Murders. I had read the original books - only seven of them - and even met Caroline Graham, the author, when we were both tutors on a Writers' Holiday. There have been other series in a similar vein, although none as long lasting. Father Brown might be heading the same way, but Rosemary and Thyme didn't last long. Shakespeare and Hathaway is a little more jokey/pastiche, but quite enjoyable if you suspend serious criticism. The Coroner didn't last long, either, although it should have done.

But I've found a new one! I suspect a lot of my readers discovered it before I did, but I'm terribly glad I did. It's been airing on UKTV Drama since 2017, and now I have all my streaming ducks in a row, I have been - I believe the term is "Binging" (!) - on it since the beginning of the series. It is a New Zealand small town detective series called The Brokenwood Mysteries, and has some very familiar elements. Lead detectives, of course, and recurring characters, often rather quirky ones. And very odd murder methods - remind you of anything? Anyway, that's my first recommendation.

My second refers to something more personal. You remember I mentioned retained friendships? Well, some of us go away "on retreat" each year, which I have written about before. Not this year, of course. Anyway, a few of them decided to release an anthology of shorts as a 2020 beach read. And to my surprise, they asked me to join them. Surprise, because they are all romance writers, and all have been, or still are, Mills and Boon authors. I really struggled with this, and failed miserably on the romance front, but I was edited by one of them, a particular friend, who brought me into line. 

What I didn't know then, of course, was that a lot of my struggles were due to. illness - now happily resolved. So to finish this mainly nostalgic ramble, here's the link to that lovely little book. 

So there you are! Happy watching and reading.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

News from Cookman Corner

 First of all, let me apologise for the lack of newsletters since March, or if you are only a reader of the blog, since last October! This is partially explained by the absence in the family home of younger daughter Phillipa, who has gone to live in London and abandoned me and my newsletters. She has, however, sent me a narrated (by her) video of how to do it, so I'm saved. Secondly, due to my own desire to have two books out this year, I had to write another book in three months. I did it, so this year readers will be delighted by Murder in Autumn published on September 7th, and Murder By Christmas, funnily enough, in December. At least, I hope they'll be delighted.

After the vicissitudes of the past three years, life has been slowly returning to normal - or what passes here at Cookman Corner for normal. One of the things I've done over the past few months - when not writing - is to read several of my own books. This is not for the sheer joy of reading them, it's to remind myself of what has happened in the lives of Libby Sarjeant and her friends, and of some of the characters who have passed through Steeple Martin and Nethergate. Otherwise, I find myself giving the same name to a villain in one book and a new best friend in another.

And now, while having a week or so to re-group, I'm thinking about the one after next, which should appear in summer 2024, with a working title of Murder in Midsummer. Of course, the publishers may think that title too close to something else we're all familiar with, but we'll see!

See you next time,