The Thieving Writer’s Syndrome

I imagine every writer suffers from this affliction: wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we hear, see and read – we steal it. Whatever we touch turns into a story, which we write greedily and for which we claim sole ownership.

It’s called “copyright”.

We don’t want others to copy our work. We make them pay for it even though, in the first instance, we have stolen it.

I do it all the time. It has become a habit of which I am barely aware. Every person I ever got to know will sooner or later make it to my books. So, beware! Avoid me if you care for your privacy. Or your mortal right.

The same with places. I nick every place that I visit. At some point I will pull it out of my back pocket and it will become a setting for my story.

All writers do it.

On my recent trip to the Canary Islands I discovered that a lot of stories that I would like to write had already been stolen and written by others. Like so:

1. The Odyssey (Sirens calling to Odysseus)

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2. For Whom the Bell Tolls

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3. Robinson Crusoe

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4. Guns of Navarone

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5. The Old Man and the Sea

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6. Treasure Island

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Back in time to Edinburgh

If you one of those history enthusiasts who would rather travel back (and forth) in time than into infinity and beyond, then Edinburgh is a place for you.

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The moment you land at Edinburgh Airport you get the impression you arrived in Hogwarts – Harry Potter-styled wizardly outfits are scattered all over the place. You stand a good chance of bumping into J.K. Rowling at the grocer’s.

Even the contemporary Fringe Festival has the feel of a Victorian fayre: street performers, jugglers, comedians and all manner of things bizarre and freaky call out to you from every street corner.

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The most modern building to visit is Hollyrood, the Scottish Parliament building, but from there it is only one-way street back in time.

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Historical fireplaces took my fancy, maybe because I had overestimated the Scottish Summer average temperatures and felt slightly on the shivering side.

Edinburgh Castle oozes history, the blood shed in endless battles and sieges trickles from the castle walls, the ghosts of betrayed leaders and prisoners of war haunt even by daytime (the night must be seriously overcrowded) and battle cries can be heard over the cannon fire.

And if you are still not satisfied that you have travelled far enough, you can always descend underground to walk the ancient Mary King’s Close (not recommended for people with claustrophobia).

And finally, you can’t have Edinburgh without a bagpiper – so here is one for you:

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Would you rather live in Handcock’s Bottom or is Marston Bigot more up your street?

I had a whale of a time when conniving the settings for my cosy crime series The Shires Mysteries. Truth be told, I nearly wet my pants.

To find a name for the village that would host all of the crimes I had in mind, I needed something memorable but authentic – something that would sit comfortably alongside all the real-life places in my county. Something that didn’t sound out of place in the Shires.

I reside in a place called Upper Studley. Upper is a common qualifier for an English village and it sounds immensely better than Lower or Little. They are equally common but less classy than my Upper. Then you have the Bottoms. They are, well literally, at the bottom of the ladder. For how would one feel dwelling in Handcock’s Bottom, or Scratchy Bottom, or Bottom Flash? How about Crinkley Bottom or Bottom Burn? If you aren’t into Bottoms, then would you consider buying a cottage in Buttock or a small bungalow in Great Butts? They are real villages proudly inhabited by real villagers.

I decided against setting my stories in the nether regions. I set my sights high – closer to Upper than Lower. Upton struck me as a possibility. There are a lot of Uptons around here. Think Upton Cow Down – yes, it’s a real place that can be found on a map, as can Upton Snodsbury. But they seemed too pretentious to me.

Tiddley Wink tickled my fancy. It’s a not a big village. In fact, it isn’t a village but a tiny hamlet. When I drove through it for the first time, I blinked and I missed it.

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My mother-in-law is now a resident in a residential home located in Limpley Stoke. Oh yes, she is! When we visit, we can pop over to the village pub called The Hop Pole Inn. Oh yes, we can! Here it is:

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The Hop Pole Inn in Limpley Stoke

Ultimately, I opted against naming my fictional village using an existing name, so Tiddley Wink and Limpley Stoke had to go, as well as Booby Dingle, Grope Lane, Farleigh Wallop and Clench Common.

Finally, I settled on Bishops Well. Not very imaginative, I hear you say. Life can be so much more out of this world than fiction!

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The Church of St John the Baptist in Bishops Well

Paris in mugshots

Daughter and I embarked on a mother-child bonding adventure in Paris, France. It was a perfect setting for finding common ground for it took our joint breath away and it made us contemplate things greater in life than our daily squabbles.

Places to visit in mugshots for those wishing to soak in some culture, history and arts in one potent cocktail, shaken – and – stirred:

Basilique du Sacre Coeur

Chateau de Versailles

Jardin de Versailles

Cathedral of Notre Dame

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The Eiffel Tower

Cruising on the River Seine

The Pantheon

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Louvre

Palais du Luxembourg

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We were swept off our feet, humbled, elevated and so very proud to be European. Admiring the wonders of architecture, sculpture, paintings and arts, wondering about the great minds – philosophers, writers and thinkers who laid the foundation of the unique European culture which shapes us today, remembering the history our ancestors built together, the blood they shed and the blood we share as it curses through our veins and makes us all one and same people, we couldn’t shake the sense of loss that is Brexit.  Cutting Britain off the face of Europe is the proverbial cutting one’s nose off to spite the face, an act of self-harm.

A few snippets of what we are -metaphorically at least – leaving behind:

 

The Prom Queen and an Ugly Duckling

I am an emotionally charged Mummy. Yesterday was Daughter’s prom. Fab day for Daughter, a rollercoaster of emotions, dramas, malfunctioning Satnavs, makeup disasters and bare-knuckle fights for me.

A whole day off work was requisitioned so that I could assist Daughter in her transformation from her customary leggings/baggy t-shirt getup and an aversity to hairbrush to… well, this amazing beauty I hardly recognised. I hasten to add that by assisting I mean chauffeuring to and from appointments, getting under her feet, stabbing her with a mascara brush in the eye and tying her shoelaces. I left the proper stuff to the professionals. And here comes my Prom Queen:

I am amazed and proud, and taken aback by her confidence and grown-up poise neither of which she got from me. And I thank her lucky star for that!

To illustrate my point, I will take you back in time to my own prom. What a tragic affair that was! For I was the ugly duckling who had never made it to the rank of swan.

First of all, it was a social event. Social events weren’t for me. They scared the living daylight out of me (still do, but pst…) as I had no idea what to say and felt deeply uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with all those people who knew exactly what they were doing. My thoughts were far away in lands fantastical and if I were to articulate them, my peers would regard me with contempt, I was sure of that. So I kept my mouth shut. I had no boyfriend. I had zero social acumen.

On the morning of the prom, while other girls were having their hair and nails done, I was away attending the final of The Young Writer 1985 competition. Instead of shoes and makeup, I was contemplating restless ghosts and the sound of a black horse’s hooves on a cobbled road in my gothic horror piece. Incidentally, I came third so that wasn’t a runaway success either.

From that event, my Dad drove me home at breakneck speed (in his car, not a black-horse-and-cart). With half-n-hour to the start of the prom, I hurriedly refreshed, washed the ink away from my fingers and wrapped myself in my new shiny dress (my Mum had chosen it for me on her own. I had been too busy doing something much more important at home).

It wasn’t only the dress that had been chosen for me behind my back and without my input. It was also my partner for the evening. Did I mention I didn’t have a boyfriend? But I did have a few good-Samaritan friends. One of them had recruited their brother’s mate to accompany me. So there I was in his arms on the dance floor, breathlessly counting the steps and never taking my eyes off my feet. Poor guy, it must have been the worst night of his young life!

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The Grand Old Duke of York…

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It was time for crossing the North-South divide and following the grand old Duke of York to the top of that hill. We travelled to York ready for a frosty reception and the War of Roses. But it was a friendly and warm place, and it offered peace to the world on all fronts.

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For a few days we lived in the friendliest little B&B, run by a Viking-type character with red hair, plenty of tattoos and non-nonsense approach to hearty, protein and fats-packed breakfast, bless him! We dined on traditional Yorkist food, slowly becoming full-blooded troopers.

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For some diversity, we lounged in Turkish Baths: a whole evening dedicated to sweating, braising our bodies on full heat and then dipping them in an ice-cold pool. Something akin to making wrought-iron swords of ourselves. There was some hyperventilating on Husband’s part, but he recovered quickly and without grumbling.

On a cultural front, we visited York Theatre Royal to watch Agatha Christie’s murder mystery (nearly wrote mysery!). It was excellent, stylish and true to Miss Marple.

But the most satisfying was just loitering around York and inhaling its atmosphere. We scaled the walls and were nearly swept off them by the gales. We trotted to and fro in the Shambles, searching for ghosts of the past.

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York Cathedral took our breath away. It’s a living form, not a building. It sits on ancient foundations which outdate the Romans, and it rises all the way to heaven. One can just settle down in a pew and soak in the spirits that float there free and unobstructed by the twenty-first century.  Some of them have their heads immortalised in one of the chambers.

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Bath – time

 

My gorgeous bestie back from the ancient days of our primary school visited me this month, all the way from Canada. Naturally, we concurred that we had not changed (or aged) one bit: me – still deliciously chubby and pale, her – still tall, slim and gorgeous.

First thing first: Dog had to be bribed and made friends with. It took just a few minutes and plenty of treats.

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Having conquered the dog, my friend was free to take over Bath. Bath is the most wonderful place on Earth if you’re into history, culture, shopping and Jane Austin (or Mr Darcy by proxy). So, we shopped. Oh yes! Big time spenders, us! Then we detoxed through the cultural experience of watching the yummy Laurence Fox (Hathaway in Lewis for those who don’t know him – yet) in The Real Thing in Bath Theatre Royal. Finally, escorted by my husband to avoid scandal, we bathed, sweated and performed heat-yoga at Roman Baths. Hot stuff! And decadent!

Of course, we dined and we wined. I’d recommend the oldest eatery in the world, Sally Lunn and her amazing buns filled with hearty, finger-licking food.

And finally: did you know that Bath is the stag-hen parties capital of the world? Now you do! We found ourselves a hunk of a stag to drape ourselves over and Husband wormed his way into the heart of a sitting duck ( I mean – hen!).

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Just cruising: a lazy mode holiday

Day 1

We set off for Dover and entered a torrent of rain, which followed us all the way. There is nothing closer to my heart than the companionable British weather!

We passed many a weird road sign, but one truly stood out. It was one of those temporary yellow signs warning of calamities such as roadworks and narrowing lanes. This one said: SIGN NOT IN USE. So, someone went to the trouble of erecting a middle-of-nowhere billboard to say nothing at all! Ingenious!

We had a day break in Hastings, a sleepy seaside town which had the dubious honour of welcoming to Britain that foreign invader, William the Conqueror. Not a French restaurant in sight so we settled for Nepalese. It was yum-yum, but it left me with my guts strewn on the floor. My delicate and bland palate cried for warm milk with honey.

The beach was pebbly and offered the benefit of a free foot massage. Daughter and I took the offer, Husband took the pavement like any civilised man would.

Day 2

The cruise ship was huge. It was in fact a floating town with a whole range of man-friendly facilities, shops, restaurants, libraries, gyms, swimming pools, cafes and theatres. We decided that if global warming was to come true and the world was to be flooded with the thawing Arctic ice, we should pre-book a cabin on a cruiser and give the climate change our proudly erected middle finger. Meantime, Daughter and I went swimming whilst Husband chose the sophisticated option of reading a book on the top deck.

For dinner, I ate so much that my stomach became inflated like a buoy. Nevertheless, I couldn’t say no to a dessert. On a positive note, I got deflated in the night, singing along with an Elvis impersonator.

……………….

Cruising choppy waters of the North Sea is a very noisy business, especially when one is trying to get some sleep.

Oil rigs are not as attractive a sightseeing option as you may think.

Seagulls will survive a nuclear or climatic Armageddon. It’s all water off their backs.

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……………

Day ?

Lost the count of days. Everything became a blur.

I woke up with a dreadful headache and, in pursuit of compassion, informed Husband accordingly.

‘I’ve got a bloody bad headache,’ said I.

‘That’s alright,’ said he. ‘It’s all in the mind.’

We spilled into the streets of Amsterdam. We discovered that apart from cows, cheese, clogs, bicycles, prostitutes and cannabis, dogs were also Holland’s national treasure. We bumped into a dog in every restaurant and public place. There was even a dog in the gallery, admiring the Judgment Day painting. I regretted not bringing Mango with us. She would’ve loved to be worshipped in double-Dutch.

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The 2-hour queue to Ann Frank’s annexe put us off so we went for the Old Masters in Rijks Museum. God, the Night Watch hit me between the eyes with its absolute perfection! I just gaped like a lightning-stricken idiot. Then, Daughter and I felt to our knees and prayed, thanking God for giving us Rembrandt. Husband was looking for the loo.

After another feast fit for kings, we watched a magician hang his wife in mid-air on a broom stick. Husband is still working it out. He is now contemplating the possibility of a magnetic field being hard at work.

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The next day

It was raining. When it rains in the Low Countries, it rains like it means it. We flip-flopped through puddles of water and God knows what else. Crazy cyclists wheezed by, taking our noses with them and leaving us in their wake. Did I say it was raining and we had to use amphibians as the most appropriate mode of transport?

Another impossibly long queue and we gave up on Van Gogh. I wiped off my tears and settled for the consolation prize: a trip into the back alleys of Amsterdam’s Red-Light District. Husband positively glowed at the very thought of it. Regrettably, the brothels looked all deserted. Either the jolly hookers were on strike or busy in the back room.

To detoxify I took Daughter to see The Street Cat Named Bob. I was enjoying it until some miserable old twit with no life of his own to speak of and a face of a squashed puffer-fish with a wispy moustache told me off for “kicking his chair”! I wasn’t anywhere near his chair – my feet were battering the chair next to him! With an attitude like that and notwithstanding that face, it came as no surprise that he was cruising on his own. Dickhead.

I was cheered up by a comedian who had a way with words like no other. Lloyd was his first name, but I didn’t catch his surname. Joke I remember:

Q: What’s the difference between a prostitute and a wife?

A: One is Pay-As-You-Go and the other one is on contract.

I ate like a pig and was beginning to look like one.

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Day …

I developed a most impressive set of blisters on my feet for walking in high heels. All because in Europe I felt compelled to put my European hat on, and trainers simply don’t go with a hat. My blisters are like large jelly fish specimen stuck between my toes. Still are.

I tried to steam them in a sauna room, but they only grew bigger and puffier. No plaster was large enough to cover them so I took to walking in slipper-clogs. I acquired a pair of those as a souvenir. We also bought, as you do when you don’t know what to do with the rest of your foreign currency two minutes before leaving for home, some hand-painted tulips, Dutch china coasters, key rings and a statue of a cow.

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Eating had become a dangerous habit. Time to go on a watermelon diet!

On a positive note, even though we were surrounded by geriatrics, nobody died and we all arrived back in Dover in more or less one piece.

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