Recipe for a short story in Russian

I’ve always felt this natural affinity with Russian culture and literature (not the most popular thing to say in the current climate, I admit, but culture has nothing to do with the present regime in Russia; regimes come and go, culture endures despite their efforts to thwart it). Ever since I discovered that Anna Legat, the greatest prima ballerina of all times, happens to be my namesake, I have been having this irrational fantasy that maybe – just maybe – my dad’s ancestors hadn’t arrived from Germany, but from the glitzy St Petersburg, wearing tutus and humming tunes from Swan Lake. And that may explain why I felt so at home with the characters from Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.

There is nothing to rival the breadth and the depth of the Russian soul captured by some of the greatest of Russian writers. You feel swept away and carried into the depths of every story, only to come up for air at the end of it and be instantly pulled in again by the next one.

There are several master strokes to each story one can only hope to emulate.

Firstly, each story has something to say, something to contemplate, something to register at the back of the reader’s mind. It is usually a deep philosophical question which is very cleverly reduced to a small, everyday occurrence that somehow manages to burst out of the straight jacket of triviality. It leaves you deep in thought.

Secondly, the plot yields to the character. People come to life in these stories. They are all sorts of them – such richness of personalities and their quirks and secrets; their delusions and their simple-mindedness, their vulnerabilities and their killer-instincts. It’s all there, throbbing and competing for air. The landscape – the famous Russian landscape – isn’t a setting; it is a character too. It plays its part to perfection.

Thirdly, humour. It is only ever so subtle. It lives in the undertones of the language (excellently captured by Chandler), in situational comedy and in the characters’ minds. It also lives in the shadow of the darkness and fear that are never too far, squatting in that bigger, grander house next door.

Fourthly, the silence and the understatement have their role to play too. The stories don’t quite end. It’s up to the reader to conclude them in her mind. The stories rely on an intelligent reader who can take them further.

Bobok is probably my favourite, but then I am biased towards Dostoyevsky as one of my idols (no, not as the flawed, prejudiced human being he was, but as an amazing writer). It is a story of a little man overhearing the dead in a graveyard. The dialogue brings them all to life! This quote makes you think, The wisest person of all (..) is the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month – an unheard of ability in this day and age. In the olden days a fool understood at least once a year that he was a fool, but nowadays – not a hope!

My First Goose by Babel left me covered with goose-bumps! Try it to learn about the survival of the fittest in Bolshevik Russia – read it.

Whilst Chekhov’s The Lady with the Little Dog made me think that life was too short to waste it, Lermontov’s The Fatalist made me reflect on whether any of it really mattered because as he put it, After all, the worst that can happen to you is death – and death is inescapable.

But then again, just contemplate the afterlife for a minute, as in The Greatcoat by Gogol, and that may put even death in its place. Perhaps revenge lives just that little bit longer than death? And if revenge does, then why not everything else?


Don’t let life get away from you

don't let life get away from youLife Without Me is just about that – Georgie is trying to take a grip on her life that is slipping away from her. But taking a grip when you’re in a coma is easier said than done! Then again, there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of…



Five star review of Swimming with Sharks


Swimming with Sharks has earned itself a fantastic 5* review from none other than Deborah Swift, an acclaimed historical fiction writer.

What a treat!

A friend lent me this book and I enjoyed this quick crime read whilst sunning myself on a beach in Greece. I particularly liked the character of DI Gillian Marsh and think she’ll be an interesting detective to follow as the series develops.

The story doesn’t go where you expect it to go, which keeps the reader guessing as to what has happened to Nicola on her dream holiday. There were some interesting minor characters who all had plausible motives for murder, and a fast paced denouement. Ideal beach read for those not swimming with sharks!”

Deborah Swift

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat – a brilliantly written mystery

“This was a brilliantly written mystery. I was caught up in the story from the start. The author crafts a suffocating psychological thriller with Nicola Eagles, a timid, gauche woman as the victim. The author keeps us so tightly inside Nicola’s head it’s nearly claustrophobic but it fits the story perfectly.

We are given glimpses of her surroundings – the lush, tropical holiday resort, the people who interact with her, her deepest fears, her most intimate thoughts – but we are shut out from anything else. So when DI Gillian Marsh is called to investigate Nicola’s disappearance, we have no idea what really happened. It’s a rare author who can keep me guessing until the end – and the ending was a shocker.

DI Gillian Marsh is an interesting character, and I will be more than happy to continue to follow her adventures. But what drew me into the book and kept me there was the author’s mesmerising prose. I started reading for the mystery, and finished with the impression of having lived a whole other life in Nicola Eagle’s skin. Fascinating.”

Jennifer Macaire


Bargain Alert: Nothing to Lose kindle price slashed!

“Real, complex, gripping, unpredictable…” – what reviewers say about Nothing to Lose.

Now you can get the whole story for half the price on Amazon kindle!

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon: charming and heart-warming


The premise of this story is simple but brilliant: Mrs Creasy has gone missing; Grace and Tilly, a pair of ten-year-old sleuths embark on a search, but instead of looking for Mrs Creasy they are searching for God. After all, He knows everything, including where Mrs Creasy is hiding. Once God if found so will be Mrs Creasy. I found great affinity with the girls – similar notions bumbled about in my head when I was their age.

Joanna Cannon puts the whole Avenue under a magnifying glass. The reader has insight into the lives and personalities of all residents. Secrets seep to the surface, skeletons fall out of the closet. The author handles difficult themes aptly and without sentimentality. Bigotry. Prejudice. Sense of community. Social ostracism.

I revelled in Cannon’s prose, which is refreshing, elegant and lyrical. She is the queen of anthropomorphism. An example: “Before she disappeared, he never said I love you. Unsure of themselves, the words had become trapped and awkward, and reluctant to leave. Instead of saying I love you, he said Take care of yourself, and When will you be back? Instead of saying I love you, he placed her umbrella at the bottom of the stairs, so it wouldn’t be forgotten, and in the winter he put her gloves on the chair by the door, so she would remember to pull them on to her hands before she left. Until she disappeared, this was the only way he knew how, but since she had gone, he found that the words had become untethered. They fell from his mouth in the silence, certain and unashamed. The rattled under the bridge at the canal and tripped across the towpath. They waltzed around the bandstand and chased along the pavements as he walked.”

This a charming, heart-warming story about our inherent obstinacy and our equally inherent goodness of the heart.

Interview with Wiltshire Times

I am talking to Wiltshire Times about Nothing to Lose, book #2 in the DI Marsh series.

I might have a new case for DI Marsh – the mystery of the missing ‘t’. Have a look!

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Fact & Fiction in Nothing to Lose – Reality Bites (fact#2)

Reality bites – this sounds like a pun in very bad taste. You will see what I mean if you carry on reading. It is time for my second revelation relating to the storyline in Nothing to Lose: anorexia.

In Nothing to Lose Gillian watches her daughter Tara shed pounds like they’re going out of style. Being a detective, she snoops into Tara’s life (and bedroom) to discover a battery of slimming products. This confirms every mother’s worst fears – that her child is spiralling into an eating disorder and starving herself to death. It is a fearful prospect because it is more a disease of the mind than the body. You can’t cure an anorexic – not until they are ready to accept food and keep it in. And that moment may never come. Anorexia is a catch-twenty-two: the more you try to control it, the more it controls you. Any external intervention against your will meets with a wall of resistance. I know. I’ve been there.

Just like Tara, I was about eighteen, in my first year of university. I had just moved from the sleepy, tranquil world of my childhood in the country to a frenzied, crowded city. I didn’t know what hit me. Life overwhelmed me. It had spun out of my control. I was lost. I was surrounded by strangers; no space to hide, no holes to crawl into. The speed of my life was nauseating. I could not keep up with it. I could not control it. The only thing I could control was food. It wasn’t about dieting, not in the beginning. It was all about re-introducing order into my life. Only later did I start to count calories, and after that, when I stopped counting, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat. The mere smell of cooking made me feel sick. I think that was where I crossed the line – the point of no return.

Just like Gillian, my mother was beside herself with worry. At first, she thought I was on drugs, but she quickly realised it was all about food. She would find sandwiches buried in the drawers of my desk, steaks languishing on the compost heap, attracting vermin. Once I even managed to pour soup out of my bedroom window right onto my father’s head. My father was in the garden, pruning roses. The soup was bean soup. My mum went into a spasm of hysteria. But even that had no effect on me.

Only when I saw a photo of myself in a bikini did I finally realise I was a walking skeleton. With clothes on, my sharp edges and protruding ribs were well camouflaged.

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But without my clothes… look at this at your own risk.

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I was horrified! I started eating: tentatively and with frequent relapses into 6 ½ stone. You’re never quite out of the danger zone. You’re never quite fully recovered. Any emotional trauma, any change of circumstances, any heightened anxiety and you’re back to square one.

In Nothing to Lose, Tara suffers a similar fate after she is rejected by that good for nothing Charlie Outhwaite.

Nothing to Lose is the second book in the DI Marsh crime series, available now on Amazon and from major bookstores. The book is available at a promotional price of £5.59 at WHSmith

Nothing to Lose cover

Fact and fiction in Nothing to Lose – fact 1

Of course Nothing to Lose is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead (dead is more likely to be the case in crime fiction), or actual events is purely coincidental. And yet something or someone real has to feed the author’s imagination…

In Nothing to Lose my imagination gorges on my fears. Real fears, if fears can be real.

The story starts with a head-on collision resulting in four deaths. That head-on collision, on that particular stretch of that particular country road had happened in my mind many a time before the book was written. Every day, travelling to work in the morning I saw that accident happen over and over again.

It is a treacherous road: after a limited length of dual carriageway where every lunatic frantically overtakes everything that moves (slower than himself), the road narrows abruptly and climbs up a steep hill, facing the morning sun which on a bright day can be blinding. Bear in mind that on the other side of the hill there are equally impatient lunatics keen to get to the top ahead of the pack, hoping that luck is on their side. I could easily be one of them (I don’t suffer Sunday-drivers on a Monday morning gladly), but then I see it happen – the head-on – and I slow down, and stay in line behind the slow coach with a belching exhaust. Call it a premonition.

After Nothing to Lose was written, a head-on collision did indeed occur in that very spot, in the dazzling midday sun. A man, having probably pushed his luck too far, ploughed into the oncoming traffic. He got away with his life. My characters did not. But that is where fiction begins.

Bishops crash

Nothing to Lose is now OUT and can be purchased in all major bookshops, and online on Amazon.

Out now