Sandman, the conspiracy of outcasts

Sandman review Charlie Laidlaw2

Just off the genteel Quakers Walk weaving its way amongst rolling fields towards Devizes’ White Horse sprawled upon Roundway Hill, a timid narrow footpath dives into a deep wood. The path is frequented by shady individuals: most of them skinny and unkempt, dressed in threadbare garments, looking older than their actual years due to what one would describe as falling on hard luck.

I once followed that path. It took me down a slippery slope and across a lazy stream towards a well-camouflaged network of under-the-scarp caves. Their existence was betrayed by rugs flapping in entrances and sheets of corrugated iron wedged on top of them. There were also signs of a campsite, a stack of firewood and a few empty bottles and drugs paraphernalia scattered around. The place had a distinct vibe of alienation, depravity and wretchedness about it. It was the homeless’ colony.

In the bushes not far from the path, I heard grunting noises. A quick reconnaissance revealed a couple engaging in the act of fornication. Out in the open! In broad daylight! Those were my first indignant reactions to what I was witnessing. Later on however, upon further reflection, I concluded that I couldn’t really expect the homeless to go and get a room, could I?

That god-forsaken place would a few years later make a perfect setting for Sandman. Haji had to find a hiding place, hole up in there and stay under the radar for days. He had to hide in plain view. He had to blend in. He had to look like he belonged. An Afghan outsider in an alien land, he could not book a hotel in the city or waltz into a quaint village pub in search of low-key accommodation. But he could sit around a campfire with a bunch of like-minded outcasts, and look like he was one of them. They were as disenfranchised as he was. The pariah status was his and their common denominator.

But was their shared existence on the outer perimeter of respectable society enough to give them strength in togetherness – well, let’s see…

Sandman is out tomorrow, 11th April 2019, the fourth instalment in the DI Marsh crime series.

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DI Gillian Marsh of the #not-me generation

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DI Gillian Marsh is a handful. She can be abrasive and insubordinate. She is a thorn in her boss’s side because she simply doesn’t know her place. She is every murderer’s worst nightmare because if you’ve got something on your conscience you won’t shake her off your scent. Her team know not to get in her way as she steams through her cases like a runaway train that will wait for no one. No, Gillian isn’t likeable, but that doesn’t worry her. She wasn’t born to be liked – she was born to get to the bottom of the matter. That takes dogged determination, hard-nosed attitude and never letting go. It is no wonder that with all those characteristics, DI Marsh is affectionately known as Pitt Bull.

I am quite particular about not labelling DI Marsh as a lady-detective. Not because she isn’t a lady, but because she wouldn’t appreciate the label – the gender label. When she’s on a case, she isn’t a woman. Neither is she a man. She has no gender.

She is just a damn good detective.

I have been brought up to take gender equality for granted. I have never submitted to gender stereotypes and have led my life as a human being, full stop. If I had to describe myself, I would never start (or finish) with I am a woman. Womanhood would constrict me to one side of humanity. I wouldn’t want to miss on what the other side had to offer. I wouldn’t want to take sides. So no, I am not a feminist. I don’t see a point in gender wars.  I have now passed my beliefs to my protagonist. I won’t have her defined by reference to men or be seen through a man’s eyes. Gillian doesn’t aspire to be man’s equal, or even to be better than any man. Her straightforward and uncomplicated objective is to be the best in absolute terms, without bringing sexuality into it.

I like to think of DI Gillian Marsh as the prototype of the next generation – the post #me-too generation. I like to think of her as the #not-me generation. No one would dream of reducing her to her femininity. No man would dare to take advantage of her womanhood. Make no mistake, Gillian Marsh would not be abused. Being a woman does not make her vulnerable. That’s how she is and that’s how I like her.

That’s what makes her a damn good detective.

Gillian is tenacious and methodical. She analyses cases to death. She calls that inventorising. In her head, she runs an inventory of facts and evidence, mulls them over, tries different angles and matches all the pieces until they all fit together. She doesn’t give up. That constant and entirely absorbing process leaves her little time for domesticity.

Her daughter, Tara, is her Achille’s heel. Gillian is an impromptu mother. She blunders through motherhood, plagued by insecurities and anxieties. God knows how she gets through mothering without major incidents! Probably beginner’s luck. And there is another character flaw on the domestic front. It is to do with men. Gillian doesn’t know quite what to do with them after sex. Men seem to slip through her fingers like sand. She can only give them so much of her time, and that is never quite enough. But that’s the choice she knows she has to make. She has to choose her job. After all, she may not be the greatest lover the world has seen, but –

…she is damn good detective.

Re-blogged from Accent Press:

https://accentpressbooks.com/blogs/author-posts/di-marsh-generation-not-me-by-anna-legat

Inside the mind of a cold-blooded killer

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When I decided that the hero – or rather anti-hero – of my next book would be a terrorist who crosses the width of the earth to inflict death and destruction on the West, I knew I had a tough nut to crack: getting into his head.

I didn’t want to make it easy for myself. It would be all too simple to blame it on the radicalisation of some hapless 16-year old by the social media frenzy. I wanted my villain to have a past, a life before he died inside, a background in the shape of a nation, a country and its history. I didn’t want a brain-washed, new-born fundamentalist or a convert who would need some external, divine intervention in order to grow his own backbone.

So, I found 60-year old Haji, an Afghan veteran of the Soviet War, a scientist educated in the best schools in Moscow, an agnostic, a man open to western values, a rational man, an artist, a family man. You could say, I found a good and ordinary man who turned to terrorism before my eyes. And now, I had to give him reason and credibility. I hope I succeeded on some level.

A lot of research has gone into Sandman. I knew of course first-hand of the effect Soviet rule had on all its satellite countries, of the oppression and the tight grip they had on their neighbours’ politics, security and people’s everyday lives. But I didn’t know the unique Afghan perspective: its rich religious, ethnic and historical tapestry. So, I read all I could about that country and I learned, and I was amazed. It is astonishing how little we, the so-called fat cats of the West, know of any other place on this planet! We are dangerously Eurocentric, and to survive, we have to reach out and find out how the other half lives. But that’s just a small reflection.

Going back to my research for Sandman, I must acknowledge a brilliant book by Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy, the Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89. Without it, Sandman would be a shallow puddle of guesswork.

Sandman is due for publication on 11th April 2019. It is ready to pre-order on Amazon and with the Publisher, Accent Press.

Sharp and swift – the language of the masses

Yesterday’s People’s Vote march in London was brimming with sharp, swift and deadly language of political rallying. It was the language of the masses and for the masses. I was fascinated with the crispness of wit, the depth, the satirical edge, the hilarity.

It takes a master wordsmith to deliver a powerful message in a few words that can be squeezed into the tiny space offered by an old cornflakes cardboard box. I came across many of those homemade, juicy bits yesterday, and I devoured them.

The phrase food for thought could not be more appropriate: it was a feast!

As a writer eternally struggling for that perfect turn of phrase, I received  a free lesson in what it is to be succinct, funny and genuinely passionate all in one.

I managed to smuggle something out in a doggy-bag:

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Marching for people’s vote

March stands for marching

Anna Evans-Wylie

It was one of those London outings that I won’t forget in a hurry. It didn’t involve the West End theatre production or shopping, but it was 100% pure London: people’s power in action. We were marching with the estimated 1 Million ordinary people for peace, friendship and unity of our small continent, sending a clear message to Mr Putin and Mr Trump who are so keen to divide and conquer us.

It was crowded, it was hot, it was slow-going as the mass of people filled every nook and cranny of the main streets and every side alley. There were youngsters hanging from scaffolding and statutes, waving EU and British flags. There was a great sense of comaraderie and good humour all round. Husband brandished Danny Dyer’s famous quote about Cameron and his trotter up in Nice. I grabbed a photo with none other but the now iconic STOP-Brexit Man who camps on the doorstep of the House of Parliament day and night, rain or shine, to deliver his…

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Sandman, book 4 in the DI Marsh series

I am delighted to announce that Sandman, book 4 in the DI Marsh Mysteries is now ready to pre-order for delivery on 11th April! It is a modern-day thriller with a bitter twist.

Buy from:

Amazon

Accent PressAccent Press

Marsh series pre-order

Sharing a scene from Thicker than Blood

… on Karen King’s author website

Now onto the scene. Anna has chosen a side story – a scene from DI Marsh’s personal life where she revisits her old life in South Africa – to share with us today.

Unlike the fields, the house hasn’t changed. The cold, polished stone floors feel exquisite underfoot. Gillian has left Tara and Deon frolicking in the pool with his two Irish wolfhounds watching over them. She is drawn indoors, curious to see how much she can remember of it. The memories flood back with every step. The grand piano still stands, dominant but silent, in the living room. Deon’s mother used to play it, a tiny, frail woman in charge of this powerful instrument. It was a sight – and a sound – to remember. Now the lid is down and though it has been dusted and polished to perfection, it is obvious that no one has played it in years.

Photographs have been arranged on top of the piano. Plenty of photos of Tara when she was a baby, then a toddler, and then the stream of images stops at the age of four when Gillian left and took Tara with her. She is looking at a picture with Tara in a conical birthday hat, the elastic cutting into her chubby chin, chocolate smeared around her lips and stuck between her teeth as she grins at the camera, wielding a yellow fluffy duck in her hand. Her fourth, and last, birthday on the farm. And then many years away…

A guilty sensation tingles in Gillian’s fingertips as she puts the picture down. She has deprived Deon of watching his daughter grow, lose her milk teeth, learn to ride a bike, break her arm when she fell off the trampoline, wear that beautiful frilly dress to her prom. She never thought he would forgive her, but he seems to have done so. Thankfully. After the long break on Tara’s curriculum vitae, she returned to her father last year and there are more photos to testify to that: Deon and Tara with the vineyard in the background and the cloudless sky bleached by the February sun. Last year Deon was still a big man, filled with boereworsand mealie to the brim. How did he lose all that weight?

Another picture catches her eye, and brings on a heavy sigh: it is that good-for-nothing, skin and bone Charlie Outhwaite, caught carrying Tara towards the pool, his red hair held by a Rambo-style bandana. Bloody Charlie Outhwaite! Gillian pushes the picture behind another one – out of sight, out of mind… The other picture is that of a young boy, dark-headed, dark-eyed, wearing a Spiderman outfit – it must be Deon’s son from his second marriage. She knows so little about his life after their divorce. The boy is a spitting image of his father. There are no photos of his second wife; neither are there any of Gillian. Fair enough.

‘Dinner is on the table and no one’s ready!’ Hortensia proclaims, irritation in her voice. ‘It’s no good eating cold pies!’

Gillian rejoices when Hortensia piles up food on Tara’s plate and doesn’t take no, thank you! for an answer. The pie is rich with gravy and huge chunks of beef. The mashed potatoes are as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And naturally, she has served corn on the cob. ‘That’s a feast and a half,’ Gillian beams.

‘As we always do, but for Mister Deon.’ She insists on calling him mister despite having been with him on the farm for over thirty years, being his house-keeper, child-minder, nurse and mother after his own mother died when he was a lad of eighteen.

‘Why is Dad not having the same as us?’ Tara inquires, indignant, and points at Deon’s plate daintily holding a lean slice of grilled chicken and a few salad leaves. ‘Can’t I have what he’s having?’

‘No, you can’t. You’re young and healthy, and you need to add some meat to the bone,’ Hortensia eyes Tara critically, ‘but Mister Deon is not a well man. We’ve had a big scare, didn’t we, Mister Deon?’ He opens his mouth to speak, but she won’t let him. ‘Three months ago… No, I lie – four months now Mister Deon gave us a big fright with his heart attack and what not. Good thing I had Sunny to take us to hospital, or he’d be as good as dead.’

‘Hortensia is exaggerating a bit ‑’

‘Not one bit, no!’ She fixes him with a steely glare. She means business. ‘The doctors brought him back from the dead, if you must know. And they tell me he must lose all that fat on him, if he wants to live. All them arteries clogged up, all the way to the heart. Next week, straight after Easter, he be going for that bypast craft on his heart.’ Her expression changes. It is tender now and anxious at the same time, as she puts his plate in front of him. ‘So that’s what he eats – healthy food, no fry-ups. I keep an eye on him.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me, Dad?’

‘What’s there to tell? I’m all right now.’

‘He will be when that bypast craft is done on him. But-’ Hortensia pauses, and unlike herself, is unable to finish the sentence. Her thumb is back in action wiping another stray tear. ‘That’s why I am so happy when he tells me you two coming. So happy!’

The guilt that has been ebbing and flowing in Gillian’s fingertips washes over her from head to toe, and leaves her cold. Has she returned Tara to her father that tiny bit too late? Had he been missing her? Was he lonely? Did the thought that it was the end for him cross his mind four months ago – did he want a chance to say goodbye to his daughter? It wasn’t Gillian’s right to withhold Tara from him, and that’s not even a question

My one and only wish for 2019

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If I had that one wish for New Year that could come true… What would it be?

I would have to use it wisely, make sure that I covered all bases, that I didn’t waste it on something short-lived and narrow. And the only thing I could think of was that somehow this New Year could bring us all together from wherever we are, whoever we are and whatever we believe in.

I am acutely conscious of the fact that the sort of world unity I wish for lost its allure a long time ago when recession hit us all hard and made us look for someone to blame. And the preachers of hate swooped in to point fingers at strangers and stranded travellers. They made us build walls and regroup to the higher ground of a crystal mountain where they told us to hide from the hordes: the dispossessed, the alien, the others.

This Christmas my suspicions were confirmed that there are no others. We are one and the same people. Every Christmas the four households within our tiny Church enclave come together for a chat and a mince pie. This Christmas, it was my turn to host the party. At first sight, you’d think that there couldn’t be a more homogeneous group of people: all white, middle age, well-educated and fairly comfortable, quite creative and bohemian, a couple of youngsters between us to pass onto the baton of the bright future. And yet.

As we shared our past experiences, it transpired that we had lived all around the globe: Cyprus, Germany, Lebanon, Poland, Malta, Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. Each of those places had once been a home to some of us, but it did not detract in the least from us sharing our tiny Church enclave and living here in perfect harmony. Some of us had once upon a time experienced the fate of a refugees: from the clutches of communism during the Cold War, from the mayhem of Beirut, from Eastern Berlin before the Wall fell, from Cyprus during the Turkish invasion. Some of us had to run, leave everything behind and rebuild our lives from scratch.

We are all white, middle-age and comfortable, but we have had our share of realism and we hold a stake in our global common humanity. We are no different from today’s Syrians. We are no better – we are just at a different point in life and in history. We have no guarantees that one day we may not be forced to seek refuge in, say, Iran. It happened in the past – why couldn’t it happen again? We’ll never finish that wall between them and us – it’ a mad man’s delusion. It’s like building a wall between your heart’s left and right atrium and allowing no flow of blood – no flow of life – between them.

So yes, my wish for this New Year of 2019 is that we stop fanning divisions and we start building bridges and hold hands with those who need their hands held.

Happy New Year to you all, my fellow citizens of the world!