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.

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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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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!

A Christmas Canon

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Astonishing how life imitates fiction! In DI Marsh’s third outing, Thicker than Blood, Mildred fights tooth and nail against being ejected from her farm and grounded in an old people’s home. Granted, she is old and she might forget where she put her glasses, but she has the willpower made of steel. Just like my Mother-in-law.

My Mother-in-law, dear old Audrey, has spent the ninety-four self-contained years of her life in her house, fending for herself, combating and defeating many a carer and community nurse who tried to tell her what was good for her. As if she didn’t know! She lived through the War and they did not, thank you very much!

Right up to this Christmas, she knew how to outsmart her long suffering son, and my poor Husband, and made him do as she said even though, frankly, she hasn’t been making much sense for years. But yet another dramatic tumble down the stairs, yet another ambulance ride, yet another long hour in A&E, and a Christmas miracle at last occurred! Audrey threw in a towel and conceded to a relocation to a lovely residential home, subject to several non-negotiable conditions and qualifications (all of which have been met): gardens, views, countryside, birds, and no more damned hospitals!

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That’s the spirit! The spirit of Christmas! A miracle we never thought would take place (such is the nature of miracles, after all). So now we can visit because she is just round the corner and Husband can sleep soundly through the night. And so can I. Merry Christmas indeed!

And what of Mildred? Is she going to come to her senses?

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Canada in instalments: 5(and last) Wildlife — the last chapter

Canada is brimming with all manner of creatures, large and small. But mainly large. They have the capacity to stop the traffic, and they often do. It is as if the entire effort of our human civilisation has passed unnoticed in this wild part of our planet. Quite rightly so! Last few images from Canada […]

via Canada in instalments: 5(and last) Wildlife — Anna Evans-Wylie