Whitechapel Street Art

I’ve written before about my Jack The Ripper Tours in Whitechapel, London and even posted a few photos too. Today I arrived there with an hour to spare so decided to have a little look around as I often do … Continue reading

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Still Lost In The World Of Maps

It is over three years ago since I wrote the First of Two posts on maps.  In the meantime, they have been visited by tens of thousands of people which is pretty unbelievable.

So I thought it was high time to post another offering all related to maps.  I still enjoys maps as much as before and you may have noticed try to put them in my posts at every opportunity.

So without any further ado, here is the first one.  See if you can guess what it maps before reading the description.

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The map above if I remember correctly from 2 years or so ago when I first saved it for this very post, is a map of all successionist movements across the world.  These are people who want to form their own independent country distinct from the larger one which they are currently a part of.  Some of these are quite famous and well organised like the Catalans in Spain and others like large parts of Siberia are less well-known.

Road Deaths

The map above clearly illustrates those places with the most deadly roads.   I often tell my tourists that as horrendously busy as the road are in the U.K. they are about the safest in the world, even more so considering the population density.  I’m not sure if deaths on the roads of Libya include those from RPG launchers.

Natural Disasters

The map above displays which countries suffer the most from natural disasters.  The Middle-East might be dangerous for lots of regions but a big chunk of it is relatively safe from natural disasters.     Most of the African nations that are high risk are due to famines and diseases whereas Asia is much more prone to earthquakes though Bangladesh in particular suffers regularly from flooding.

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This map above shows the minimum annual leave that workers in full-time paid employment are required in law.  Workers in the United States and India could take up to 13 years to enjoy the same minimum number of holidays as those in the most generous nations.  I remember hearing from a friend that Iran at one point had well over 40 national holidays, most of them religious in nature, and it was hard to get a normal working week due to the annual leave requirements on top of the religious holidays.

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The map above shows the most marketable brand from each of the states of the United States.   A great way to show the different uses maps can have rather than the regular geographic ones.

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The map above shows up the risks of international terrorism per country.   I don’t know about you but I always wanted to visit Mongolia and it seems to be about the only place with no terrorism and no natural disasters.  Sure the roads aren’t great but who needs roads with all that open space?

9F8bEBq.jpgAbove is an Isochronic map from 1881.  This illustrates the journey time in days from the Royal Geographic HQ in London.  Interestingly it was easier to go from London to San Francisco than it was to reach central Turkey.   You can also see the bulges goring through Russia which is the effect of the Trans-Siberian Railway peeding up travel and communication.

SkzB3qUAnd finally the map above is a 2015 Isochronic map with travel times from London now measured in hours rather than days.   Personally, I think the 1881 methods of travel are more for me.

 

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The mystery man who died on Saddleworth Moor

To many people of a certain age Saddleworth Moor, which borders Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, is already one that is is tainted with memories of the murderous duo of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady who abducted, abused and murdered five children in the 1960’s before burying them in the vast, bleak moorland.  With some bodies being recovered in the 1980’s and, at least, one still laying undiscovered, Saddleworth Moor already has more than enough modern mystery.

 

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Saddleworth Moor (Photo by Parrot of Doom)

 

Each year around 240 unidentified bodies are discovered across Britain with around half of these eventually being identified.  Some of the more tricky ones are those that have been missing for many years or situations where only part of a body has been recovered.

Just over a month ago, the body of an elderly man was discovered on Saddleworth Moor but his identity and circumstances of why he came to die there still remains a mystery.

Police Officers quickly identified the smartly dressed man in CCTV footage from Ealing, West London, where he is believed to have started his journey on the morning of 11 December. He arrived in Manchester shortly after midday after taking a train from London Euston, then went to Greenfield, near Saddleworth, and visited the Clarence pub at 2 pm, where he asked the landlord how to get to the top of the 1,500ft (457m) Indian’s Head peak, above Dovestone reservoir.

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Do you know this dead man?

Despite warnings from the landlord, Mel Robinson, about treacherous weather conditions, the man left the pub and was spotted by witnesses walking up the hill at about 4.30pm. His body was found the next morning by a passing cyclist, lying face up on a boggy section of track off the main road. He was wearing slip-on shoes and had £130 in cash in his pockets, along with three train tickets, including a return ticket to London. He was carrying no documentation.

An initial post-mortem proved inconclusive and police are awaiting toxicology reports. A secondary autopsy is due next week.

For several weeks it thought that the dead man could have been one of the few survivors of a British European Airways flight which crashed into the Moor in 1949, killing 24 people.  However, the sole surviving member of that flight has now been traced.

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A crashed Dakota aircraft on Saddleworth Moor.

Police have now revealed the mystery victim was carrying an empty plastic container displaying Thyroxine Sodium, a medicine which is used to treat an under-active thyroid. But this is a drug which would give a person energy. So potentially, he could have taken it if he is walking.

Another possibility is that the dead man is Hugh Toner, from Newry, walked out of Craigavon Area Hospital in the early hours of Monday, 7 February 1994, dressed only in a vest and pyjama bottoms.

Despite an extensive search at the time, which included the use of police divers, no sign was ever found of him. His bank accounts were untouched and his family never heard from him again.

At this stage, however, it remains a mystery as to why a seemingly healthy elderly man from London would travel across the country, seemingly to die on an isolated moor. It is almost as incredible that after 6 weeks the identity and motives of the man remains a mystery.

 

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The Worriers Guide To Life

One of the most popular posts I ever wrote was a study of what it is like to be an Introvert.  A few days ago I came across a newspaper article about a collection of cartoons by a talented artist by the name of Gemma Correll.  Gemma has put together The Worriers Guide To Life which will appeal to many people, particularly those of the introverted nature.

A lot of her illustrations make me laugh and I can related to nearly all of them.  I’ve always been the same way, you can see what I was like just over 42 years ago….

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One of the signs of being an introvert is that you just don’t want people to be able to get hold of you very much.  It doesn’t particularly mean you are anti-social it’s just that you can get by very well on your own… in the old days self-reliance was about the best quality one could have.  These days in the interconnected world, we are all meant to love being at the beck and call of the entire world.

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I love the cartoon above.  I hate the telephone.  I used to work in an office where someone else also hate the phone and we’d both wait to the others left the room to call anyone.  Now I work from home and I don’t think I’ve initiated a call for 3 or 4 years.   Once or twice I’ve had to return a missed call but that’s about it.

Look at my phone below.  This photo tells you a lot.  Firstly that it is switched off.  Secondly that it is from the turn of the millennia.  Actually that’s not strictly true as my millennia phone got damaged in a bus crash in Malta in 2011.  However, I got issued a like-for-like free replacement.

 

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Can’t live without a smart phone, worried someone might try and get hold of you but can’t?  Couldn’t care less says I.  I remember when these phones first came out… they were marketed as not to use regularly or even have switched on but to have them in case of an emergency.    My phone does everything required of it, it sends and receives text messages.  It also just about sends and receives calls, well it receives them if for some reason I’ve checked my voicemail and forgotten to switch it back off.

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Oh my, who needs Unexpected Guests?  Maybe some people might like that sort of thing but my thoughts would firstly be why would anyone do that to me and secondly, why wouldn’t they polite enough to call me so I could avoid their house-call more easily.

Of course, just because the doorbell rings, it doesn’t mean one has to answer the door.  That would be a beginners error.  I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have hidden in the kitchen, under the stairs, beneath the dining table.  Depending where we are, or even what if anything is being worn we might camouflage ourselves on the carpet or behind a door frame.

Yes we like to see people but properly arranged.  Calling around unannounced means risks have to be taken like peeking through the net curtains from upstairs… do we turn the volume down on the tv or radio so they can’t hear us but what happens if they heard the tv and then realise we switched it off?   That is what unannounced guests do to the place.  The worst of course is when you are legitimately expecting someone and then by a fluke, someone else appears minutes beforehand.  That risks total stranger exposure.

It’s not myself who is like that.  One of the funniest things I remember is one time some unannounced guests were just popping by and my wife wanted to get some peace and quiet and so went up to have a shower.  After 20 minutes I thought something was fishy as my super hearing realised that the sound of the shower water I could hear from out in the garden was consistent and not in any way varying.  I went upstairs and found my wife sitting on the toilet, reading with the shower on.   I thought that was ingenious and didn’t let on at all, my wife enjoyed another good 20 minutes in the shower and came down strangely with very dry hair.

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I used to get the above quite a lot too.   If someone is laughing, looking in your direction or whispering to someone else then naturally I am the focus of attention… as I’m that good apparently.

 

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I am in two minds about the cartoon above.  On the one hand there is nothing worse than someone trying to make conversation when you just want to get on with the job at hand, whether that be packing your shopping at the supermarket or simply wanting to eat and get on with the meal… that thing we came all the way from our home to do.   But, I always try and make an effort and be friendly to those who have people-facing jobs as I know just how horrid many people can be.    When people ask me how I am, they don’t really want to know.  They are just being polite and when I reply everything is just fine when inside I’m anything but.

Personally I think it all started going wrong in the early 1990’s.  This is when BBC weathermen (and women) began trying to get a personality, be friendly, maybe even try and link the last item in the news to the weather.  “That radical new hair dryer looks blowy and just by chance northern England’s got some gales to look forward to tonight”.  I don’t care, the news is the news and the weather is the weather.  Stop trying to ingratiate yourself with the news people and the audience.   That goes double to sports reporters.   Ever since the weather people thought they should be our friends, the whole country has decided to become friendly, well it’s not British and it’s not right.  I’d go and live in America or Italy if I wanted that level of service.

And after all the times people have asked if the food is ok, have I ever said that it isn’t?  Of course I haven’t, I’m English.  I’m not going to make a scene.  That food can be freezing cold, burnt at the edges or entirely different from what I ordered but I’d rather eat it than say “excuse me”. You can read more of that dilemma with I’m Sorry I’m British.

 

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For the cartoon above, I’m actually quite like that for my books and for my tours.  Why would people like my tours?  Why do they give me 5-star reviews?   Are they mad!?!

Of course one of the answers is to recognise and reward yourself for achieving little goals through the day or the year.

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Yes I did!  I filed them in June, 7 months before the deadline and today payed what I had to pay.  Can you believe I sell so many books and tours I have to pay tax on them?  That’s like verging on being successful… totally uncalled if you ask me.

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Ok, that badge is for me tomorrow.  A nice gluten free chocolate brownie for doing all the washing and cleaning after the Airbnb guests check out… I’ll be working on publishing my new book too, V1 Vixen – A Vigilante Pulp Thriller.  Click on the image  below for more details!

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Changing The World, One Step At A Time

I’ve been extremely busy the last week or so which isn’t normally a reason not to blog post but that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.   I’ve been very busy with working on my V1 book and other real-life issues.  Additionally I was also approached to write for a new Facebook Page and website called The Underground Revolution which already has over 5,000 followers.  It is a site dedicated to social change, environmental issues and tackling corporate greed and politicial inequalities so if you like that sort thing then why no head on over and see me there!  For now though I’d thought I would share my first post here….

We all know that the world is a bit of a messed up place and we’re all here because we want to do our bit to help change things for the better. Sometimes this can involve big social movements or fundraising for disasters at home and overseas, but we shouldn’t wait to be pushed by some event.

We’ve all been in situations where we have reacted badly due to the actions of others, wheather people are deliberately negative or simply not caring about others, it’s hard not to let people trampling us on the subway or throwing trash in our yard from making us see and act in a bad way ourselves. However, good deeds are equally effective at changing not just our behavior but also influencing the others we encounter.

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Every time I leave my house, I try to make a conscious effort to help at least one person. Sometimes there is just no-one around or no-one requiring assistance, but open your eyes a little and you become aware of entirely free ways to help make the world a kinder place and make it one we want to live in. Ask that older person if they need a hand with carrying the shopping. Help that person with mobility issues off the bus or up the steps. Don’t just give the homeless person some coins, instead give them something priceless and speak to them, see if you can help them practically. Even if you can’t then you’ll have made them feel like a person and part of society for a few minutes which I can assure you is priceless.
Don’t assume that everything is ok or that someone won’t want your help. As a young guy, sometimes it is easy to assume that an older person or indeed a young lady might not want my help. I can tell you, only once did I get turned down. Whether it is giving lifts home to strangers encumbered by grocery shopping or giving your place in the taxi line to someone who needs it more than you. It will not go unnoticed. The person you helped will be grateful and act accordingly and those who see your actions are more likely to be nicer too.

As an example, last week in the snow I got the bus into town. The bus was late and a lady in a wheelchair was obviously feeling the cold more than the rest of us as she couldn’t move her legs. A local resident came out and gave her a hot drink. I thought to myself what a nice thing to do that. Later on after doing my shopping, I saw some Junior Doctors protesting about unpopular legislative changes here in the U.K. They looked cold, had given up a days pay and all because they thought they were doing what was right to save the lives of their future patients. Quite a few people were supporting them or signing petitions but thinking back to the kindness shown earlier in the day, I went and bought all 20 protesters snacks to warm them up.

 

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Helping Those Who Help Us – Striking Junior Doctors, the bedrock of the NHS

It wasn’t just the fact that they got free food to keep them going, it was the fact that someone had taken time out to put these dedicated and selfless people before themselves that made them the happiest. Not only did I get hugs all round but I saw the looks on the faces of everyone nearby and I’m confident I set in motion a lot of good deeds as well as helping people. Of course, it wasn’t my idea but the resident who gave out the hot drink that deserves the real praise…. or maybe the doctor who treated her for slipping on the ice the day before.  That’s the thing about helping people, you never can tell quite how big an impact you will have on people.

 

And what if that person doesn’t want your help? It does happen sometimes. I remember being told by an obviously driven career woman that she didn’t need me to be nice to her by holding open the door. Do as I told her, and think if the worst happens then you are doing it to be nice and kind for yourself not for anyone else.

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National Anthems & Should We Pick A New One?

One of the few things that every country shares is that they all have a National Anthem.  A National Anthem generally evokes and memorialises the struggles and achievements of the people in the land or at least of the land itself.

I don’t know about you but I have my favourite national anthems and my own isn’t amongst them.  In fact, whilst some countries make a big deal of their national anthems with people or even school children encouraged to sing them with patriotic fervour at regular intervals and almost any opportunity.

In the U.K., we hardly ever play our national anthem and the idea that people might passionately sign theirs is probably thought by many here to be either threatening, odd or a little bit quaint.   That probably says a lot about us too!  In fact, I have never sung my national anthem and I don’t know anyone who has and my wife often tells me I shouldn’t joke about sports-people who are so obviously encountering strong emotions by singing their anthem, sometimes close to tears or with one hand clutching their heart.  I don’t even think at funerals or graduations have I been 10% so emotional,for good or for bad.

Part of that is of course that the British and especially the English don’t really do patriotism, we’re not proud of out birthland and to be so would be a little rude.  Part of it is also the fact that we have probably the worst national anthem in the world… except for perhaps some quirky Middle-Eastern anthems but they, at least, are good comedy value to western ears.

God Save The Queen / King may be about the oldest National Anthem but it says little about the nation except for we have a monarch and we hope that person lives a long life which I’d hope would be taken for granted for everyone.  It says nothing about our land, our people, our epic history and heritage or indeed our future.  What makes it worse is that it is now played at a very slow processional pace when hundreds or years ago it would have been sang at twice and almost three times the speed, rather like a football chant.

None of this impacts on our lives in anyway except when it comes to sporting events.   Our players and fans generally don’t know the words as we don’t sing anthems, the anthem is awful and so there is little in the way of a rallying call before an event.  As such there is now a motion going through Parliament to finally give England a national anthem (Scotland and Wales already have theirs).

I’ve always been a big fan of the French national anthem.  Surely it is the most rousing and patriotic anthem in the world.  It makes us all proud to be French…. but then I read the words yesterday and even in the anthem world of battles, victories and glory, the French anthem is a little bit over the top.  It is all about war, burning, death, invasions.  A brilliant tune but not the sort of one that I can imagine anyone here singing.

Another one of my favourites has always been the German anthem.  It’s a great tune, easy to sing and sounds very German.  However, the problem with any anthem is that it tries to make the people of that nation think they are better than everyone else just on the total bit of luck of where they were born.   However it is is an undeniably beautiful piece of music.

Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world,
when, for protection and defense,
it always stands brotherly together .
From the Meuse to the Memel,
From the Adige to the Belt,
|: Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world!

The South African national anthem is a great one, it has verses in numerous languages in an attempt to foster a national identity.  It helps of course that so many South Africans have great singing voices.  I can listen to this one often and think it is wonderful.

I was always a big fan of the Soviet National Anthem, it always sounded wonderfully Russian and possibly the best thing to come out of the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century.  Interestingly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia adopted a new anthem, without any words.  It proved unpopular and even after a competition to find some rousing verbal accompaniment it was not to be and was replaced by the old Soviet National Anthem which both illustrated that by Soviet it was really Russian and also that it being brought back by Putin in the year 2000 was one of the early indicators of where his heart lies.  Still, that doesn’t change anything on how rousing the old Soviet Anthem is?  It’s enough to get me waving my red flag out for the comrades.   But then I remember some of the awful Middle-Eastern renditions in recent times of this anthem.  If you want a giggle then listen to this one in Egypt.

My wife is from Romania and it’s a fair bet that most people reading this won’t have heard the Romanian National Anthem before unless perhaps they enjoy gymnastics at The Olympic Games.  It’s another patriotic song and ticks all the boxes of what a traditional Anthem should say, especially in Europe and is about war, the overthrow of tyranny and showing the world what Romanian blood is made of and says a lot of the tough history it has been through in recent years.

I’ve always been rather partial to the Canadian national anthem.  It seems to get over to me of what Canada is about, in a nice non-threatening way.  It is of course so often overshadowed by the American National Anthem.   The Star Spangled Banner only became the national anthem there after having a number of earlier anthems, one of which was even sung to the tune of God Save The Queen.    It’s definitely a rousing song and it can sound really great.  Unfortunately, it can sound really awful, this is usually due to the trend of getting current “stars” to sing it and rather than stick to the tried and trusted standard, they all go off and do their own thing and often that thing really grates on me.  Obviously, I’m not alone in this belief as you can hear 10 epic fails right here.  My word, I could sing it with much better and I’m not American or a singer.   The thought of anyone mangling our awful God Save The Queen in such a manner might liven things up but it would be awful and it should be borne in mind when deciding on a future English anthem.

I’ve always been a fan of the Scottish and Welsh anthems, they are both very stirring and wonderful to listen to.  Aren’t they great?   England though has never had an anthem and always been lumbered with God Save The Queen which is actually the anthem to the United Kingdom, not England.

One possibility is Land of Hope & Glory, always a popular anthem particularly associated with the Last Night of The Proms.  However it is a little bombastic and that might not be what we are looking for… or maybe it’s just we are looking for after centuries of God Save Our Queen.   You can see and hear it here.   Another popular choice would be I Vow To Thee My Country, famously highly rated by Sir Winston Church and Princess Diana.  It’s always been one the I like too and in an ideal world, it may be my choice too.  Have a listen and like the German or South African anthems, you don’t have to be a local to appreciate it… performed here by the wonderfully talented Katherine Jenkins.

Probably the most popular choice would be Jerusalem.  In fact, it was sung at our wedding. It has the advantage of not being triumphalist or superior, having a rousing but also emotional appeal and, of course, being a song that everyone in England can sing.

 

It is often thought that Jerusalem is a hymn, though it never was intended to be so and in some ways is a satire on the idea of nationalism itself.  Though it makes reference to the idea that Jesus may have visited these islands, the theme of Jerusalem is not in anyway related to the Holy Land but rather to make our country a better place, a paradise on Earth or as would have been said when the hymn was created soon after WW1, a Land Fit For Heroes.

So my choice would happily be either Jerusalem or I Vow To Thee My Country.  I think in the modern world, a truly confident and secure country should be able to be proud of itself without any reference to wars or the idea of being better than anyone else.

Whilst God Save The Queen would still be used at political and national events, in the future England could have its own long overdue national anthem which is something even King George in the 1930’s was all in favour of.

Let’s hope when a decision is made, it turns out better than the poll in Spain which had a vote to put words to their wordless national anthem only for no-winner to be deemed good enough and the vote then ignored.

Which is your favourite national anthem, aside from your own of course?   Which of the prospective three English anthems do you like best?

 

 

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Official Book Promo Video for V1 – Vixen (The best live action book trailer ever!!)

Writing is by necessity a generally lonely profession.  You don’t get that many outgoing authors but the introverted writer is almost a stereotype.  I’m quite happy writing by myself if I don’t have anything else to do then I can generally be found on my computer from about 6 am until 7 pm or later.  Often I don’t even put the radio on, let alone watch any television.   I have thought of writing my next book in a more public place but the act of writing itself still really requires solitude and not watching, listening or talking to anyone in your immediate vicinity.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that my first book(s) made up an epic historical romantic adventure series collectively entitled The Timeless Trilogy.  It took a long time to write those and I wanted more books to my name than three or four epic trilogies before the end of my life.  So I decided to write some history and other factual books that I found very quick to write but also offered a different style of writing and one that I hoped would help complete my apprenticeship as a writer.

I found it interesting I could write a complete history of WW1, perhaps the most complicated historical topic in 2 or 3 months and yet it take me 2 or 3 years for each novel.  When I say interesting, I mean annoying!   I always firmly believed I wanted to write everything and not get stuck in a genre rut but around a year ago I had a yearning to write another novel or indeed series of novels.  However, I knew that I couldn’t spend 7 years writing another trilogy and would only write a novel if I thought it could be a big success and if I could have lots of fun doing so.

V1 Vixen - Part 1 in the V Trilogy

V1 Vixen – Part 1 in the V Trilogy

I had the idea of writing a contemporary novel which required minimal research and wasn’t in anyway epic.  I always liked vigilante stories and films, not one that is excessively violent.  In the 1920’s-50’s, there was a very popular type of publishing known as Pulp.  It could be science-fiction or it could police and crime related or even superhero.  The film, “Pulp Fiction” is generally inspired by the term but it isn’t by itself indicative of what Pulp should be.  Wikipedia defines it as

directly involves characters living bleak existences to accomplish a goal with odds against them, pulp noir often portrays a grittier, one-man army. Typically, the main character has no distinguishing abilities, but can hold ground against seemingly impossible odds. Pulp noir locations are often seedy, run-down and  degradated urban landscapes, where the lack of law, morals and even the proliferation of crime and drugs are common themes. Another common trend in pulp noir is the glorification and/or demonization of its urban locations.

The Pulp aspect comes from the fact that the books and magazines were printed on low-quality pulp paper.   These types of publications fell out of favour due to paper shortages after WW2 but are now of course very popular in film and literature as the genre has taken off.

Anyway to have something different, I wanted a heroine to be the star of the book and to make it, even more, special, I pictured the heroine being British Asian.  I thought that would make it interesting and maybe make people challenge their pre-conceptions from both white and Asian communities.  Plus, of course, living in London provides an almost limitless range or settings, characters and situations.

Luckily for me, one of my friends, Ru,  generally matched my idea of what my leading lady should look like and when she asked me what I was writing on, she asked that I make her the protagonist.  This also gave us the opportunity to mess around with ideas and photo shoots for book covers and promotions (her husband is a very talented photographer who created a dozen potential book covers) and it was such a fun time that I ended up writing the entire book in much less than a year, whilst still writing my poetry and horrible tortures book whilst doing so.

My friend kept my morale up and she has found herself in some way immortalised in a novel, well a trilogy.  In many ways it was a collaboration, yes I did all the writing but things would have been very different if I had written it in isolation.  She very kindly says my writing deserves much higher exposure and she wants to help me gain it and having read the rough drafts, we both agree it is my best yet but is also very approachable and easy to get into.

One of the best experiences of writing V1 Vixen was getting to know my friend and actually having fun which we all know is really hard as adults with jobs and commitments. Despite being friends for nearly 20 years, we’ve had more fun in this 1 year than the previous 19 put together.

I’ve written before about how important book promotional videos ( You can see all my videos here on my Amazon Page) are and with some inspiration from my friend, we decided to film a life-action trailer.  It must be said, all of this was done on my iPad in less than an hour and with no script or experience at all.  Another hour on the iMac the next day and it was as complete as I could get it.

As my friend Ru put it so well, from an idea, a unique storyline is born. Through collaboration, great friendship is formed. The result….

In a few days time I will write a post about the ideas and theme of V but for the moment, I am in the middle of proofreading, editing and re-writes!

If you’re on Facebook you can follow our progress with news and exclusives by liking our V Trilogy Page

If you like the video, do let me know!  Also feel free to share anything and everything about my upcoming V1 novel.

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