Praise be!

A phrase I use often at work (that’s my day job in government communications) is ‘Praise from Caesar!’ 🙂

It means you’ve received some encouraging and complimentary words from someone higher up than you, usually the big boss. Well, something similar has just happened in my ‘second job’ as a crime novelist.

I can’t reveal too much yet because we haven’t signed contracts, but a publisher has been reading my 3rd Detective Constable Dominic Strider mystery, entitled ‘Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere’.

He told me he was “really enjoying it”, loved how Strider wasn’t a typical clichéd copper, but was “a fully rounded character” and how the numerous jokes were “making him laugh out loud”.

Wow oh wow, I was genuinely blown away by his comments. After all, he doesn’t have to be nice or kind to me. He has the power to turn me away and say ‘no’. But he’s enjoying the book and, well, fingers crossed……..

Satisfied readers

It got me thinking about feedback for my first two Strider novels – ‘No More Lonely Nights’ and ‘Long & Winding Road’ – which were printed around a decade ago. Both are available in paperback and on Kindle via Amazon.

Social media wasn’t so prevalent 10-12 years ago, and so the best ways to market these two books was in my newspapers (I’m a former journalist) and via word of mouth.

The first book – ‘No More Lonely Nights’ – was launched in a Chester bookshop that’s sadly no longer with us. I held other signing sessions for it in both Chester and Ellesmere Port.

And when I held signing sessions for the second book – ‘Long & Winding Road’ – a lot of people were what you’d call ‘repeat business’. They’d enjoyed the first novel so much they were back for more!

The company of strangers

Everyone who’s ever written a book knows how lovely it is when family and friends praise it. But in the words of Mandy Rice Davies, in the Profumo scandal: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

So, to me, the very best feedback has always been strangers. The customers who come to your signings (see above).

The people who leave me 5-star reviews on Amazon, lauding the twisting plots, the grittiness of the locales and crimes, the complex and fascinating character of Strider himself.

The wife of a local politician (who’d never met me, and had no reason to be nice about my work) who told me the first book was “a cracking read”.

But my all-time favourite piece of feedback comes from a boy aged 12, who approached me at a signing session for ‘No More Lonely Nights’ at Borders Books in Ellesmere Port. I wouldn’t let him buy a copy of the book because it contains violence, swearing and a sex scene. But he asked me what the plot was about anyway. I told him…..

His reply, which he shouted across the store: “OMG, that sounds absolutely awesome!!”

He then ran off excitedly to tell his mum, who promptly bought a copy. Gee, I wonder if that boy is reading this blog today. All grown-up, I really hope his enthusiasm for my work remains undiminished.

Keeping it balanced

In the interests of balance, I should tell you about any negative reviews I’ve received. A few people have been mildly complimentary – one colleague said the first book was “good, but too laddish for her” – and others have said they liked it without elaborating, which makes you think it just wasn’t their cup of tea. Fair enough.

But truth be told, I have never, ever had a bad review. Not ever. Hope I’m not jinxing things by saying that! 🙂

Which leads me back full circle to the publisher, who’s currently halfway through my 3rd book, and loving it. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next. But I’m anticipating something very exciting indeed!!

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Welcome to Chester!

With my blogs now attracting more and more ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ both on WordPress and social media, I’m absolutely delighted that more and more people are being introduced to the wonderful City of Chester.

As well as being my home town, Chester is, of course, the stomping ground of Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID – the super-sleuth in my three (to date) completed crime novels.

To me, that’s one of the greatest pleasures in writing my Strider books. Being able to introduce people to Chester – a city most people in the UK and some from abroad have heard of, but many have never visited.

Sure, they’ve probably heard that it’s an ancient Roman city with almost complete City Walls still intact (and which you walk around safely, admiring the exquisiteness of the compact city centre as you complete the hour-long circuit).

They have probably heard it has an ancient Roman Amphitheatre, half exposed and half buried. That the settlement boasts a magnificent gothic Cathedral and sits on the majestic River Dee.

And they might even be able to name-check The Rows, that unique two-tier mainly wooden shopping structure – ie shops upon shops – which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

But Chester is far more than a sum of its parts. It’s a splendidly complex, unique, wonderful, sometimes magical, occasionally frustrating, little city with a big heart and a lot to say for itself. I know that first-hand, having lived and worked there for 15 years.

I don’t just know the ‘surface’ Chester either… the city centre you might shop in, socialise in, and work in.

No, having been a local newspaper reporter for those 15 years, I know its good points and bad points, its strengths and weakness, its hidden underbelly. The twilight world of police investigations, backroom political deals, corruption and crime. The council estates a mere stone’s throw from the Town Hall and Cathedral, which contain people whose lives are a million miles away from the middle class, the gentrified, the great and the good.

It’s in these two disparate worlds that DC Dominic Strider treads, and which his first-person narration brings so evocatively to life in my novels.

Strider doesn’t just walk down the main shopping streets, places you could pick out on a basic city centre map. He knows the lesser-known streets too, the built-up estates and tenements, the dark alleyways filled with shadow and menace. And above all he knows the people…. the good, bad and sometimes ugly.

He is your guide into the sometimes public, sometimes hidden, always fascinating City of Chester. He’ll tell you the city’s history but also put a human face on it.

So if you can’t make it up to Chester yourself any time soon, then check out my two published Strider novels No More Lonely Nights and Long & Winding Road – both available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

And keep reading/following this blog, because one day soon I should have fantastic news about my 3rd Strider novel, which takes us back to his earliest case. It’s called Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere, and it starts – as all good stories should – with a bang!!

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Compare and contrast – which is the best city?

My wife and I have recently returned from a week in York –and it’s fair to say we fell in love with that wonderful city.

However, this could really put the cat among the pigeons, because York has an unofficial rivalry with Chester.

That’s Chester, the wonderful medieval city in which I lived and worked as a local newspaper reporter for 15 years. Chester which is the setting for my Detective Constable Dominic Strider novels. Chester which I write about so passionately in my books and blogs, and the subject of the pictures on this very page.

So it was with conflicted loyalties that I walked around York earlier this month, and we couldn’t help comparing and contrasting both cities. As Harry Hill used to say: Which is better? There’s only one way to find out….. FIGHT!!!!!

York is inevitably bigger and has the added benefit of its Viking past. It’s the birthplace of Guy Fawkes (allegedly) and Joseph Roundtree the confectioner (find out more in the chocolate factory tour!). It also has a wonderful ruined abbey from the time of Henry VIII and tonnes of shopping streets, including the famous Shambles medieval lane. Which is full of Harry Potter shops, weirdly…..

Chester is most certainly smaller, but I think it wins out on three fronts:

  • Chester’s City Walls are smaller, safer to navigate, take far less time to complete a full circuit and envelop the city centre only, affording you wonderful views wherever you go on them. York’s walls are nice in patches, but go on for miles, wrap around a council estate and industrial park, and crucially – in these health & safety conscious modern times – are quite dangerous, having no railings in many places
  • Chester Cathedral is stunning, gothic, modern in places but ancient in others. It’s big enough, but not too big that you can’t get round it in an hour and see everything. It’s full of quiet chapels to light a candle and say a prayer, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. York Minster is very nice of course, but we felt it was too vast and, well, a little bit dull. It was very ‘same old, same old’. Just my opinion of course, but it wasn’t the highlight of our visit
  • And finally, Chester is of course home to DC Strider, star of my crime novels and, indeed, the star of a short film – a locked room mystery I made many years ago. Born and bred in Chester, if you cut Strider in half, he’d have the city’s name running through him. His love for the city, its history and architecture, and his self-appointed role as their knight protectorate is unquestionable. As is my final answer to the poser: which city is ultimately better? Chester!! 🙂

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Long hot summer in the city

Setting my DC Dominic Strider crime novels at various points in the calendar means that, inevitably, at least one of them will be set in the long, hot summer months.

That happens to be the case with my first – and most personal – novel, No More Lonely Nights. NMLN takes place over one hectic August weekend in the height of a scorching hot summer.

In retrospect, I must have been going for a sultry, film noir type feel to the storyline. Maybe A Touch of Evil or Body Heat – well, the story features both evil characters and, er, a lot of body heat generated by Strider and his love interest, the visiting American journalist Kate Laughton!

Having lived in Chester for 15 years means I’ve experienced many lovely summers – and some really grim ones too! I got married on July 1st 2000 – and it tipped it down with rain all day!!

When the sun comes out, so do the tourists and residents alike, and it’s these that Strider must reluctantly bump along with in NMLN as he tackles the killer of a local prostitute, armed robbers, police corruption and threatening letters sent to the local MP.

Sun-speckled locations used in the novel include The Rows, the medieval two-tier shopping system; the Kaleyard Gate area and Cathedral grounds themselves; The Groves alongside the river; Eastgate Clock and The City Walls; the Roman Amphitheatre; and a fictional pub by the canal (scene of a huge fight and, later, where Strider calls in reinforcements); alongside various homes and businesses pertinent to the plot.

Chester is stunning to visit in the summer months and, thankfully, is home of dozens and dozens of tea shops, cafes and restaurants – all of which are generously air-conditioned!

So if you want to walk the hallowed streets where DC Strider still treads to this day, get yourself down to Chester this summer. You won’t regret it!

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Meghan, The Queen and the ever-changing face of Chester

So wonderful to see my old city of Chester getting some international coverage last week, with a visit by the lovely Meghan Markle and some old lady (OK, OK, I know it was The Queen!!)  😀

As part of their itinerary, they dropped into Storyhouse in Northgate Street, which in the olden days was the Odeon Cinema, one of my favourite haunts when I lived there. Sadly the Odeon closed years ago.

After standing disused for a while, this 1930s art deco listed building has been wonderfully converted into a library, meeting space, theatre venue and small cinema. Megan and The Queen toured the building before unveiling a plaque to officially open it, and watched a performance by local schoolchildren.

You can find out more about their visit from my old newspaper the Chester Chronicle (I was a journalist there in another life).

 

To me, the Royal Visit demonstrates the changing face of Chester City Centre. I once wrote a film script in which the manager of the Odeon was visited by Cupid himself (a bungling version of Cupid anyway) to set right his disastrous love life. The Odeon no longer exists.

Other scripts and stories I’ve written over the years also reference venues and locations in Chester that either don’t exist anymore or have drastically changed since the days I knew them.

The biggest change has happened to the police and where they work in the city.

My first two novels starring my detective character DC Dominic Strider referenced the former Cheshire Police HQ in Nuns Road, opposite the magistrates’ court.

This seven-storey building was abandoned by the police a decade or so ago – they moved to a new HQ in Winsford. In recompense for leaving Chester, the police opened a new Chester, Ellesmere Port & Neston divisional police station on the Blacon council estate in Chester, and opened a tiny police office in Chester Town Hall.

So in my first two novels – No More Lonely Nights, and Long & Winding Road (both available in paperback and on Kindle) – I have Strider working in the old police HQ in Nuns Road.

By the time I rebooted the character and started writing the 3rd (completed) and 4th (half-completed) novels, the old HQ had long gone. What to do? So I decided to simply ignore what had happened to the old HQ, and just gave Strider an office in the Town Hall police base instead.

On the one hand, this is annoying and ruins any sense of chronology in my books. On the other hand, the ever-changing city centre landscape makes an author like me think on my feet, allowing me to change and adapt my own work so the Chester in my 3rd and 4th books – and beyond – represent Chester just as it is today.

That is the modern, constantly-evolving Chester that Meghan and The Queen enjoyed visiting so much last week.

 

 

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It was all a dream…..

Creatives have long held that some of their best ideas come to them in dreams.

After all, one of my favourite short film ideas (I’m also a scriptwriter) came to me in a fevered dream, although it has yet to be filmed. Perhaps because it was so wacky? (Read on till the end when I’ll tell you what my crazy idea was!)  🙂

So, the other week, out of nowhere I had a dream about my 4th DC Dominic Strider crime novel. Yes, the one I’m halfway through writing. The one based in the historic surroundings of Chester Cathedral. The one with the evil opera singer. Called ‘Till The Fat Lady Sings’.

The plot already centres on antiques fraud. Strider investigates the suspicious death (later confirmed as murder) of the Cathedral Verger. This leads him to discover that the Verger was part of a nationwide scam to steal antiques from every venue the opera singer performs at. Strider works with the Met Police’s Antiques Squad (yes, they actually have one) to follow the singer down to Covent Garden for the final confrontation.

So with that buried in my subconscious, and the thought already rattling around my head that the plot needed a little extra ‘something’ to spice things up, I had this dream….

Strider hears that the fraudsters want to find and steal the most amazing treasure from the Cathedral – the mythical Cheshire Cross of Christ. Legend has it the Cross is hidden somewhere within the Cathedral’s ancient walls, but no-one has ever been able to find it. The crooks start following the clues – like a treasure hunt – to unearth this priceless jewel-encrusted gold effigy.

Playing them at their own game, Strider follows the clues himself, outsmarts the villains, and manages to (eventually) uncover this hidden treasure. It was such a terrific idea (even if I say so myself) that I immediately awoke, leapt out of bed – OK, crawled out of the bed – and grabbed a notepad to scribble it down.

The idea will now be incorporated slowly and surely into the second half of the novel, and I’m presently working out the best way to do that. But what a terrific way to jazz up an already-exciting crime novel.

I just hope my subconscious mind will now rustle up some more tremendous plots while I’m asleep – and maybe even help me find a literary agent into the bargain.

All I need is a name, beamed into my brain. Just one name of an agent who’ll get my books and love the concept of DC Strider. Not that I’ll tell him where I get my ideas from, of course…..  🙂

 

NB My fever dream many years ago, which ended up as an (as yet unfilmed) short film script saw four middle-aged friends reuniting in a country pub after several years. After a lot of laddish banter and much catching up with each others’ lives, one reveals he has terminal cancer.

He then asks the other three to help him with his dying wish: to shock people in the most outrageous way possible. It ends with him hand-gliding over the countryside stark naked – to the open-mouthed surprise of the locals!

It was meant to be heartwarming and life-affirming, as well as very fumy. I pictured Ian McShane (Lovejoy himself!) as the dying man. Sadly, to date, it’s never been made for the screen. The crowd-funding campaign to get this made starts here!! 😀

 

 

Picture perfect

It was wonderful to visit Chester in Easter week, returning to those hallowed grounds I trod all those years ago when I was a local journalist and resident in the city. These are also, of course, the grounds being currently trod by Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID, hero of my four (and counting!) detective thriller novels.

I took the opportunity of the bright, sunny weather on one of those days to carry out a long, enjoyable self-guided history tour of the Cathedral (it has opened up its quadrangle garden and water feature to the public, and has redeveloped its outer gardens and built a falconry centre in its grounds).

I also explored the City Walls around the Cathedral and revisited the four main shopping streets lined with the glorious Black & White Tudor buildings which form part of The Rows – a unique two-tiered medieval shopping complex that’s the only one of its kind in the world.

I took photos of all these glorious locations, which I present to you today in this blog. They add to the rich tapestry I hope I’ve been weaving over these past months – and are a visual treat for the eyes.

With each step, I was able to point out different locations used in my books to my wife. As my fourth novel, Till the Fat Lady Sings, is actually set in and around the Cathedral anyway, this was perfect timing. So I showed my wife the Verger’s house where he is killed; the back door to the Cathedral where the killer sneaks him in, in order to dump his body; where the car bombing will take place, and such like.

The Cathedral also played a small but important role in my very first DC Strider novel, as one of the benches in its courtyard is where Strider starts falling in love with visiting New York journalist Kate Laughton, who becomes the love of his life! He later shows her round the Cathedral when he gives her a tour of the city, though that’s just mentioned in passing.

Having these real-life locations in my mind when writing my books really helps bring the story evocatively to life. Especially as they are told in the first-person, so everything that Strider sees, touches and senses, I already have done so myself!

So it was superb to be back there, in my home town, back on familiar turf and walking the very steps, paths and passageways that Strider is treading.

  • Join his adventures now – follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and find the first two DC Strider novels on Amazon Kindle – all links provided on this page.

Public Holiday Number One

Easter is nearly upon us. As always my thoughts are never very far from Chester, the setting of my Detective Constable Dominic Strider crime novels & my home and workplace for 15 years.

It’s not a conscious thing I do, but I once realised that my Strider books tend to be roughly set around various public holidays.

The first, No More Lonely Nights (NMLN), happened over the August Bank Holiday period. The second, Long & Winding Road (L&WR), was in the run-up to Christmas. The third, Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere (RtN), took place over Easter.

Setting a novel over a public holiday, to me in hindsight, makes sense. It’s a short period of time so the action is speeded up and more frenetic, plus the holiday itself makes for an interesting background detail.

You could also have less people in authority around, if you set something on a bank holiday – say Strider wanted to visit the Council. He couldn’t because the offices would be closed. Wouldn’t bother him – he’d just break in anyway to find out what he needed.

The good old British weather is another great addition to these novels, creating a vivid and interesting backdrop. From the hot days and sultry nights of NMLN to the crisp, fresh snow that Strider trudges through in L&WR, and to the April showers that threaten to wash away evidence from the crime scene in RtN, the ever-changing British weather is almost a character in itself in my stories.

My fourth novel – which I’m halfway through writing – is set over the summer again, as the opening action scene takes place at Chester Races. The racecourse holds race meetings throughout the summer and early autumn period, so this makes for an ideal setting for Strider’s latest adventure.

But more about this novel later – I haven’t figured out yet how to end it. All I know is that Strider will be hitting old London town and taking down the villain in his usual inimitable style.

All of which leads me to bid you ‘adieu’ and have a very Happy Easter!!

I HEART Chester!!

It was Valentine’s Day this week, and it’s cemented in my mind how one of the loves of my life is actually…. something that’s not even living! Well, not in the usual sense!

I first fell in love with Chester when I was in my late teens, having visited for the day  with my aunt. Walking under the archway of the magnificent Eastgate Clock, taking me from Foregate Street to Eastgate Street, a sudden shiver went down my spine.

I was home!!! 🙂

That was the bizarre yet joyous feeling I had, that somehow this city would play an important part of my life. And so it would come to pass…..

I wrote many of the first drafts of my debut crime novel No More Lonely Nights while living elsewhere. I relied on an A-Z street map purchased from Chester’s local tourist information office to find the best locations for the story: Rowlands Heights flats in Newtown where the body is found; Bridge Street for the jewellery robbery; a pub by the canal, the Blacon estate, the MP’s house in Upton and the old police station.

I finally moved to Chester in the summer of 1995, having completed my year-long journalism course, and started work immediately at the Chester Chronicle as a general reporter, as well as police, courts and health correspondent.

My love affair with my adopted home city continued over the years, as Chester played host to numerous important life events. It’s where I met my first girlfriend, where I met and married my wife, and where we got our first house, in Handbridge overlooking the River Dee.

We moved down to London in November 2009 for work and social reasons, and consider ourselves fully-fledged Londoners now, albeit Northerners in London!

However, we still have family in Chester and relish visiting them a couple of times a year as we get to see the old town once more. As former residents, we see the place with fresh eyes and can be very critical about new buildings, closed businesses, and other changes we don’t agree with.

But I wouldn’t miss these visits for the world. My three other books – Long & Winding Road, written while still living in Chester; Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere and Till The Fat Lady Sings, both written in London – are all set there. My main character, DS Dominic Strider, works for Chester CID. He’s Chester through-and-through!

As much as I love my new home in London, and it IS a fantastic city with a wealth of opportunity, Chester is and will remain my first love. Well, when we’re talking cities of course. Other types of love are a whole new topic in itself!!!!

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Scouting your locations

Happy New Year everyone!

For my first blog about my novels of 2018…. I’m gonna have to wind the clock back a whole month. And yes, I will have to mention the C-word – unavoidably! 🙂

In early December, I returned to my old home of Chester for a week. It is of course the very city in which my crime novels are based, and the stomping ground of my lead character Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID.

I was there to see family and celebrate my birthday (I turned 36 once again!!!). The weather was dry and crisp: perfect for taking long leisurely walks around the historic shopping streets and ancient City Walls.

My wife and I also dropped into the gorgeous medieval Chester Cathedral to see the annual Christmas Tree Festival (told you I had to use the C-word – Christmas!!)

I’m halfway through writing my fourth novel – Till The Fat Lady Sings. It’s set in and around the Cathedral, and focuses on an evil opera singer who’s holding a concert there, and who brings a wake of death, destruction and thievery with her. And if you think I’m giving the game away here, just consider this book as a Columbo-esque mystery. It’s not so much WHODUNNIT but HOW they’re caught!

This seemed an ideal opportunity to visit some of the locations I use in the book, to walk down the cold flagstones in the quadrangle that Strider will walk down, to check out all the little characterful nooks, crannies and hidden rooms, and gaze in awe at the architectural majesty of the building’s inner sanctum.

It truly is a superb building and totally worth a visit. It confirmed in my mind that I’d chosen the perfect location to focus this fourth story on (the Cathedral received mere passing mentions in my previous books).

And it proves once again the importance of always visiting real-life locations you’re writing about, if you can. It gives your writing the pervading air of authenticity and – hopefully – has the power to transport readers there.

If I can evoke the feeling that you’re actually there inside the Cathedral – seeing what Strider sees, hearing what he hears and feeling what he feels – then I’ll have done my job and done it well! 🙂