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Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Guid New Year to ane and a


Yes, that's how we say it in Scotland. 'A Guid New Year to ane and a' (translation 'a happy new year to one and all'). I hope 2016 will be your year, that you will have lots of joy, much wealth, the best of health, and all the success you deserve in everything you undertake.

Chris Longmuir





Thursday, 24 December 2015

Santa Likes a Good Murder Mystery



It’s Christmas again and I’ve written my Santa list. And, of course, that includes all the books I want to read in 2016. It’s quite a list. What about you? How many books do you have on your Santa list? And although I’m not great at promoting my books, it can’t stop me hoping you’ve included one or two of mine.

And for those wonderful people who have read them all, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know there will be a new book for 2016. It’s almost finished, although after I write The End, I’ll have to go back and rewrite parts of the earlier chapters.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and may your stocking be full of everything you included on your list.


Chris Longmuir




Monday, 16 November 2015

SUFFRAGETTE



High on my list of films to see is Suffragette, a movie that has been lauded and criticised for its depiction of women’s struggle to obtain the vote in the late eighteenth and early twentieth century. It is set in a period just before the First World War and focuses on the militant activities of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) in Britain.

Britain at this time was a class ridden society, and although some members of the WSPU were working class women, the majority came from the middle and upper classes, particularly those who followed Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel.



Sylvia Pankhurst
Emmeline’s daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst who, unlike her mother and sisters, had a strong attachment to the Labour party, and was particularly close to Keir Hardie was the one who brought the suffragette struggle to the working classes. She disagreed with Christabel’s tactic of turning the WSPU towards upper and middle-class women, and due to her disagreements about the way the WSPU was conducting the struggle for votes, she broke away from them and set up the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). This organisation was more democratic with a greater focus on working women and even included men.

It must be remembered that the WSPU were not the only organisation fighting for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Freedom League (WFL), was also a militant organisation, but their militancy was non-violent. The WFL was formulated in 1907 by WSPU members who had become disenchanted with the WSPU due to the autocratic leadership of the Pankhursts, and the violent path on which they were embarking.

The film has attracted criticism and has been accused of having racist overtones, but it has to be remembered that in order to have a degree of accuracy, the historical attitudes of the time have to be replicated to provide a degree of authenticity. And Britain was a racial and class-ridden society at this time in history. Much of the criticism revolves round the wearing of tee-shirts with the slogan “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” which is actually a direct quote from a speech Emmeline Pankhurst gave in 1913. And Emmeline’s politics did veer to the hard right by this time, although earlier in her life she’d had socialist leanings. It is possible this slogan will not have the same adverse effect in Britain as it does in America, where slavery is a large part of their history. We could argue all day as to whether the producers of the film should have been more sensitive to this aspect, or whether they were right to portray historical accuracy, and at the end I doubt if there would be agreement. On the other hand, perhaps I am being cynical in thinking this is a publicity stunt which had the desired effect of stirring up controversy.

I have no view on whether the producers were right or wrong, all I know is I want to see the film.

Chris Longmuir


NB: My historical crime novel set in 1919 features Dundee’s first policewoman who was a suffragette prior to the start of the First World War.




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Monday, 26 October 2015

Helen Guthrie: Last Witch Executed in Forfar

To celebrate Halloween I decided to do something different and post an article on the Forfar witches focusing on Helen Guthrie, the last witch to be executed when the witch hysteria that was endemic all over Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was coming to its end. This article was previously published in The Highlander.
Witches dancing in Forfar Graveyard - Forfar Witch Walk 1997:
street theatre written by Chris Longmuir

THE WHITE WITCH AND THE PRETTY DANCER
by Chris Longmuir
Fear of witchcraft was common in 1661, when witch-fever was at its height in Forfar, a small country town in the north east of Scotland.
Most people thought that any misfortune befalling them was caused by magic. Loss of livestock, bad crops, illness and death, were thought to result from spells cast by witches. Accusations of witchcraft in the town were rife and the archives of Angus Council bear testimony to many witch trials and executions.
Witch hysteria reached its height in Britain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, resulting in witchcraft becoming a capital offence in 1563. Witch persecution sent many people to their deaths until the witchcraft laws were repealed in 1736.
Between 1661-1663 forty-two Forfar people were accused of witchcraft. Seven of those accused were executed while the fate of some of the remainder is unclear. One woman, Helen Guthrie, played a major role, and although she was not responsible for the start of the witch hunts she did have some influence on their continuation.
Helen Guthrie carousing in the churchyard:
Forfar Witch Walk 1997
From September 1661, the Provost and Baillies of Forfar examined various women. The Town Clerk, Thomas Robertson, noted their confessions.
The first surviving confession was that of Isobel Shyrie. She was examined on Sunday 15 September 1661, and her confession was taken down between the morning sermon and the afternoon one. Isobel confessed to being a witch and meeting with the devil. She also confessed to conspiring with the devil to cause the death of Baillie George Wood with whom she had argued. She said she made a powder from two toads’ heads, a piece of a dead man’s skull and flesh, and that she put this powder in the Baillie’s drink, and so killed him. Baillie George Wood’s gravestone can still be seen in the cemetery to the rear of Forfar Parish Church.
Helen Guthrie’s first documented confession was taken ten days later so she must have been among the first wave of Forfar women accused of witchcraft. Little is known of Helen’s life prior to her imprisonment as a witch, except that she lived with her thirteen year old daughter, Janet Howat, and associated with most of the women who were accused of witchcraft.
Helen, also known as the White Witch, was imprisoned in Forfar Tolbooth in 1661, accused of being a witch.
However what made Helen different from the majority of those accused and imprisoned, was that she informed on all her friends and acquaintances in order to save her own skin. By this means she survived for one year and two months before finally being executed.
Helen made her first confession on 25 September 1661, when she claimed to have been a witch for more than 14 years, after learning her craft from Joannet Galloway in Kirriemuir. Helen claimed that Joannet gave her three bloody papers as proof of her initiation.
Accused witches: Forfar Witch Walk 1998

Helen underwent several examinations and made at least three separate confessions. In the hope of making herself indispensable to the authorities she acted as witchfinder and prosecution witness by accusing twenty-eight people of witchcraft. She managed to survive by this means until Friday 14 November 1662.
Helen Guthrie’s daughter, Janet Howat, was also accused of witchcraft. Janet was the youngest of those accused in Forfar. Not only was she thought to be a witch in her own right because she had attended various meetings with the devil at Muiryknowes, Petterden, the Forfar Loch, and Lappiedub; but she was also a witch by association. This was the belief that witchcraft ran in families, for example, if a person’s mother was a witch the child was also a witch by association, and Janet’s mother, Helen Guthrie, was a self confessed witch.
Janet, whose witch name was the Pretty Dancer, was only thirteen when she was imprisoned in the Tolbooth in 1661. She never came to trial and was one of the last to be freed when the witch hysteria ended. There is no record of what happened to her but it is thought she may have been released and banished from the burgh in 1663.
It is easy to vilify Helen because so many people died as a result of her confessions and there is little doubt she was no innocent. Helen admitted she was a drunken and wicked woman who murdered her own step-sister when they were both children. So, did she accuse her friends and acquaintances out of a desire to do evil? Or was she less wicked than she made herself out to be and simply submitted to torture? Yet again, her daughter Janet Howat was also imprisoned as a witch. Was Helen simply doing what any good mother would do? Was she trying to save her daughter? We will never know.
Whatever her reasons Helen gave the authorities plenty of material to work with. She told of witches dancing in Forfar churchyard, drunken orgies, shipwrecks instigated by witches, cannibalism and consorting with the devil. She named names and pointed the finger at other women many of whom were subsequently executed in the time honoured fashion of being burnt in a tar barrel after being garotted.
Torture was a fairly common way of gaining confessions and, although by today’s standards, some of the methods used were barbaric, it would not have been seen in such a way then.
The existence of an extra teat or nipple, or a witch-mark was proof that a person was a witch. In order to examine an accused person for these marks, the Forfar dignitaries hired a witch prodder, John Kincaid, who had previously made a reputation for himself in East Lothian. His task was to examine all those accused of witchcraft and provide the necessary evidence.
Witch prodders detected witches by prodding them with long pins to find their witch-mark. This was a mark or blemish on the skin that when pricked did not bleed or cause pain. Any red spot, mole, wart or indentation of the skin could be considered the witch-mark, even flea bites. Witch hunters were paid anything between twelve shillings to twenty shillings for each witch they detected, and there were some prodders who did not hesitate to cheat by using retractable pins.
The suspected witch was stripped, her hair shorn and her body, including genitals, examined in front of the Baillies and town officials. Her body was searched for her witch’s teat – an extra nipple witches were supposed to have to suckle their familiars – following which her body was prodded with pins. Some women could have been petrified by fear at having their bodies probed by a strange man. They may have become numb and felt nothing.
The Witch Bridle or Branks
in  The Meffan Museum, Forfar

Following the witch test, the confession would be obtained by torture. Some of the implements used included the witch-bridle or branks; the boots; caspie-claws; and pilnie winks.
All the accused witches, including Helen Guthrie, would have been subject to some or all of these forms of torture, as well as more subtle forms such as food deprivation, sleep deprivation and hanging by the thumbs.
The Forfar Treasurer’s accounts in 1663, notes that one shilling and fourpence was spent on candles for the guard who watched Helen’s daughter, Janet Howat, for three nights. This must have been because she was undergoing the waking, walking treatment which would have deprived her of sleep.
Once the confession was obtained, provided the accused witch was still alive, the outcome of the witch trial was a foregone conclusion and the most common sentence was death. Although many of those accused by Helen Guthrie quickly met this certain death, Helen’s own execution was delayed for one year and two months giving her the opportunity to accuse many of her contemporaries.
Witches Awaiting Execution:
Forfar Witch Walk 1997

However, on Friday 14 November 1662, Helen’s time ran out and she met her end in a flaming tar barrel like so many of her contemporaries before her.
So was Helen a wicked woman? Was she trying to save her own skin? Or was she trying to save her daughter?
We will never know.
What we do know is that she was unsuccessful on all counts. She didn’t save her own skin although she may have delayed the event longer than most. Nor did she save her daughter, Janet Howat, from being branded a witch.
Although Janet survived her imprisonment, it was not her mother who saved her. It was the change of attitude, by the Privy Council in Edinburgh, towards trials and torture. The same changes which ensured that Helen Guthrie was the last witch to be executed in Forfar.
The Forfar witch hysteria ended in 1663 when the remaining witches were released. However despite escaping execution and the tar barrel it was not over for these women. They were not allowed to return to their homes in Forfar and were banished from the burgh. Therefore they retained the stigma of being witches even though proved innocent.
And so the Forfar witch hunts ended, but not before misery had been inflicted on many women, some of whom lost their lives in the process.
Helen’s daughter, Janet Howat, the Pretty Dancer, was one of the last witches released and we can only wonder what happened to this fifteen year old girl who was in all likelihood banished from the burgh.
END

Fact Box
The boots – clamps, placed on the feet and legs, which were tightened by wedges until the legs were broken.
Caspie-claws – iron frames heated over a brazier with the victim’s legs inside.
Pilnie-winks – thumb screws.
The branks, the witch bridle, and the scold’s bridle were all similar – an iron collar fitted over the head in the form of a cage, with prongs that fitted into the victim’s mouth. Many of the prongs were spikes, piercing the tongue to prevent the accused witch from speaking out, either to defend herself or to curse her accusers. The Forfar Branks can be seen in The Meffan Museum at Forfar.


Chris Longmuir



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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Fake Reviews and Gaming the System


I don’t know how many of you noticed recent articles in The Sunday Times on how to game Amazon’s book review system to fake a bestseller. Link to article. Apparently the newspaper hired a ghostwriter to write a fake book about bonsai trees, and then hired reviewers to push it to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts.

This article certainly generated a lot of interest, and although it wasn’t stated directly, the reference to self-publishing eg “An undercover investigation by this newspaper into the robustness of Amazon’s safeguards with regard to self-published books was mounted . . .” made the inference that it is only self-publishers who employ these unsavoury tactics.

However, one of the biggest scandals in the past few years involved a bestselling author published by one of the big six publishers. Check out the article Sock Puppetry and Fake Reviews: Publish and be Damned published in 2004 by The Guardian. Link to article. The article also mentions other traditionally published authors, and I am sure there must have been many more who were never found out.

Looking at the issue of fake reviews, it seems to me that The Sunday Times deliberately sought out reviewers who promised five star reviews for a fee. I don’t see any reference to reviewers who promise to supply ‘honest reviews’. So, by selecting their reviewers in this manner, they have also cast aspersions on the many reviewers who supply reviews with or without a fee. If the fee is the criteria used for pinpointing a fake review then that will make every review you see in the newspapers and magazines, fake. I used to review for the Scots Magazine and I was always paid for these reviews. It never affected my ability to review honestly.

No doubt there are dishonest people in the book world, as there is in any other area of production, whether that be books, cowboy tradesmen, theatre tickets, you name it, there will always be people who want to make easy money. But to draw generalisations against a whole industry of self-published books is unfair. To also suggest Amazon are culpable, despite what any of us think of Amazon, is also unfair. You just have to read this article on Marketing Land to realise Amazon are aware of the problem and are doing something about it. The article is titled Amazon Sues 1,114 Fiverr Users for Offering too Write Fake Product Reviews. Link to the article. Another thing Amazon has been doing for a long time is to remove reviews they deem to be fake, although unfortunately they don’t always get this right, and many genuine reviews have been removed in the process.

Amazon bestselling chart comparisons


There is another issue with this article. Most people who read it will be unfamiliar with Amazon’s bestselling ranks. They will assume that this fake book became Amazon’s number one bestseller. Not so. It was a free book and came top of the Gardening and Horticulture bestselling chart, a very small chart in relation to the number of books Amazon sells. If you search for the category All Books on the Amazon website, it throws up 1,137,731 books – that’s right, over a million books. The bestseller list the fake book topped Free Garden and Horticulture only has 1,325 books. Now, I’m not a mathematician, but even I can see that the percentage of fake books sold would have been extremely small. If my books were competing with this number of books, I’d be top of the bestseller list for evermore. But there is much more competition in my field.


In any case, what makes a bestseller? Michael N Marcus in his article Opinion: Why Amazon Bestsellers Don’t Impress my Dog puts forward several suggestions. Link to article. According to him any book can achieve bestseller status, although that is often more to do with a strong marketing push than good writing. If your book is a niche book, like the fake book above, it is easy to become a bestseller because the competition is less. But a bestselling book may only be a bestseller for a week while the marketing push is on, but that is sufficient for the label to apply for evermore. Offering free copies may also push a book up the charts, there are loads of ways to achieve bestselling status. Read the article it will give you food for thought.

As for me, I don’t believe in gimmicks, nor do I offer free books as a ploy to push them up the charts. My marketing and promotion is sporadic at best. But as long as my sales are steady and people enjoy reading my books, I won’t ask for anything more. And I won’t lose sleep wondering how I can climb up the charts to prove I’m a bestseller.

Chris Longmuir


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Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bloody Scotland Highlights 2015

It's that time of year again. It's time for my annual excursion to Stirling to attend Bloody Scotland. This is Scotland's very own crime writing festival, and it's hard to believe this the fourth year it has been running, and it just keeps getting better and better.

This year was slightly different though, because I took my thirteen year old granddaughter with me, and she had a ball. I have no doubt she enjoyed it because she wants to go again next year.

The other thing that was different was the hotel. The Stirling Highland Hotel was completely booked, so we checked into the Golden Lion. It was an older hotel, but the service and accommodation were top class, although the lift was deadly slow. On the other hand, we didn’t have to climb the hill to get to the hotel. I swear that hill up to the Stirling Highland Hotel gets steeper every year.


Because Amy was coming with me to Bloody Scotland, I had to wait until she finished school for the day, so we weren’t able to get to Stirling in time for the first event which was a shame because it meant we missed Val McDermid and Peter May in conversation. However, we were in time for Whose Crime is it Anyway, three top crime authors improvising a crime story on stage from clues and prompts from comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli, the audience, a spinning wheel, and phrases from a copy of Katie Price's (Jordan) autobiography. The authors, Caro Ramsay, Christopher Brookmyre, and Kevin Wignall, took up the challenge with gusto each one contributing and twisting the plot in turns. But just as they were getting into their stride Hardeep threw them a curveball from one of the prompts. Needless to say as the story developed it became more and more outrageous, and the writers more and more manic. It was a hilarious event and I'm sure the laughter of the audience must have been heard all over Stirling. This was a fantastic start to a great weekend.


The first event on Saturday morning was Forensics with Val McDermid and Lin Anderson. I had been looking forward to this, and it didn’t disappoint. They started the event off with the thing that most crime writers know, that when writing stories forensics is only a tool and that it is the character who creates suspense, But then they branched off into the rise of technology, and how this has impacted on storytelling. The discussion ranged over a wide-ranging variety of topics such as – computer science, maggots, blood spatter DNA, toxicology, soil forensics, and so on.



Some interesting facts came to light during the discussion. For example, did you know that flies can smell blood from a kilometre away, and even if they can’t get to them they will lay their eggs, even through zips if necessary? As for blood spatter, pigs are used to test this because their blood splatters just like human blood. The most interesting thing I heard about DNA was in relation to maggots. Apparently maggots tear flesh, and you can get fragments of DNA from between their tiny teeth. I’ll pause for a shudder here. Oh, and before I forget, there is a bone in your ear which can be analysed to reveal where your mother was living when she was pregnant with you. All very fascinating stuff.

Keeping up with forensic details is a massive task because science is constantly changing, therefore it is up to the writer to make things sound authentic. And a word of warning from Val – it’s the things you think you know that trip you up.

We attended other panels and events, but those two were the highlights as far as I am concerned. Although this year, because I had my granddaughter with me, I actually went to the football match – English authors versus Scottish authors (I’m not a football fan). It was hilarious and I found myself shouting, along with everyone else, when a goal was scored. And it resulted in a five all draw (I think). I believe that last year the Scottish authors won by fourteen goals to one.


All in all we had a great weekend, and arrived home on Sunday night absolutely knackered.

Chris Longmuir



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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Last Taboo: A Visit to CAHID

Although death and dying are celebrated in some cultures, people living in Britain tend to shy away from it. Despite the fact that this is something that will happen at some point, the subject is rarely discussed. However, there is an exception to this, and that is crime writers. Perhaps they don’t speak about death, but they certainly embrace it in their fiction. In fact, looking at my own crime books, there is only one which doesn’t have dead or death in the title, and that is the first book of the Dundee Crime Series named Night Watcher. Book two is Dead Wood, and book three is Missing Believed Dead. Even my new series features this taboo word, and we meet my new investigator, Kirsty Campbell, in The Death Game.

So, when an invitation to be a friend’s plus one, on a visit to Dundee University’s new mortuary appeared in my email inbox, I jumped at the chance. I was positively drooling at the opportunity to inspect this state of the art facility. http://cahid.dundee.ac.uk/

The mortuary is situated in the award winning, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), and is headed by Professor Sue Black renowned all over the world for her expertise in human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction, and lots more besides. She appears regularly on the telly during her visits to disaster zones and is the leading authority in her area of work. Is it any wonder I accepted the invitation so readily.



The mortuary, as I’ve already said, is a state of the art facility. This is thanks to the massive fundraising drive that was started in 2011, by the crime writer Val McDermid. You may have seen it advertised under the catchy title of Million for a Morgue. We don’t actually have morgues in Scotland, they’re known as mortuaries, However, Million for a Mortuary didn’t have quite the same ring to it, and anyway, a mortuary and a morgue are the same thing.

Crime writers taking part in the fundraising included Tess Gerritson, Kathy Reichs, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver, Jeff Lindsay, Stuart MacBride, Peter James, Caro Ramsay, and Val McDermid. The author with the most public votes (each vote cost £1) would win the morbid honour of having the new mortuary named after them. Apart from the money raised from the votes there were other fundraising activities going on, one of which was publication of The Killer Cookbook, described as the grisliest approach to dinner since Hannibal Lecter. A lot of writers were asked to donate recipes, myself included, but my recipe never made it onto the page – as you know domestication is not my forte. Anyway, how could I compete with recipes like Lamb to the Slaughter; Deadly Drizzle Cake; or Dead Man’s Breath. Did you notice we’re back to death again?

Anyway, enough of the factual bits, and on with the visit. Unfortunately our guide wasn’t Professor Sue Black because she was away for the day. However the guide we had was excellent and provided the group with many snippets of information. The first place we visited was the Stuart MacBride Dissecting room. Stuart was a runner up in the competition, and dissection appeared to be an appropriate area for him to be featured. The room was large well lit and full of trolleys which, although covered, were obviously not empty. Yes, you’ve guessed it, there were bodies under the plastic sheets, but they remained covered. This was the room where medical students, surgeons, dentists, scientists etc, practised dissection. Hip replacement was one such operation mentioned. As our guide said, if we were having an operation would we prefer the surgeon to have gained his expertise on real bodies or not.

The bodies used for dissection had been donated by their ‘owners’ prior to death. Any person wishing to donate their body to science has to complete a consent form containing three areas of consent. They may consent to one or all three.
1) Consent to their body being used for training purposes.
2) Consent to retaining parts – if this is not given all parts of the body are returned for cremation at the appropriate time.
3) Consent for images to be taken.
The bodies are known as cadavers, and the use of the Thiel process for embalming ensures lack of smell and full flexibility. The other aspect the university enforces is respect for the bodies. Any student refusing to show respect is not allowed to continue.

Our next stop was the Val McDermid Mortuary. Yes, Val won the competition with the most votes cast in her favour. The first room we entered was the embalming room, the only place in the UK to use the Thiel embalming process. Every body arriving at the mortuary is embalmed, and the process takes approximately an hour. After the body is prepared it is immersed in the Thiel solution (embalming fluid) in one of the Thiel submersion tanks in an adjoining room. There are 44 tanks in the room holding up to 110 bodies. Oh, and before I forget, all the other crime writers in The Million for a Morgue campaign have had one of the tanks named after them. I spotted Peter James on one of them.

The cadavers are kept immersed for up to two months after which they are removed, vacuum packed, and stored on ledges in metal cabinets that look a bit like wall to ceiling filing cabinets. Prior to storage each body is tagged, by cattle tags, in four places, one on each ear and the other two on toes. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the vacuum packing it’s done using an oversized shrink wrapping stand attached to a vacuum pump, and the shrink wrap doesn’t look much different from the stuff in your kitchen, although a lot stronger. By law, the cadavers can only be kept for three years, so any dissection has to take place within that period of time, after which the bodies are released for cremation, and the students attend the funeral service as well as the families.

It was certainly an interesting and informative tour, but we weren’t finished yet. We were invited to join the rest of the group in a meeting of the Death Cafe. As neither I nor my friend had heard of the Death Cafe before we were intrigued and, lacking any explanation of what it was, we joined them in their meeting at the Students Union.



I started this article by talking about the last taboo – death. Well that was what the Death Cafe was all about. You can check it out here http://deathcafe.com/what/ where it tells you that a Death Cafe is a place where people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. It is a discussion group ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. It is not a grief support group, nor does it involve counselling. It is about facing up to death, the last taboo.

And now that I’ve faced the last taboo, it’s time I got back to work, killing people – on the page that is – for the edification of my readers.

Chris Longmuir



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Monday, 27 July 2015

Writing a Novel with Scrivener


I am not a book reviewer and I don't usually review books in this blog. However, there are times when I read a book I enjoy so much I try to squeeze the time to do a review as a form of repayment for giving me pleasure, and then I post it to Eclectic Electric. So, this post started out as a review for Eclectic Electric, but like Topsy, it grew and grew, and that's because there was so much in this book I wanted to comment on. By the time I finished writing about this book it was far too long for a review for either Eclectic Electric, or for Amazon, so I've made a post out of it.


I'm full of good intentions and as a user of Scrivener I had been intending to read Writing a Novel with Scrivener, by David Hewson, but somehow or other I never quite got round to it. However, I have to admit it had been languishing in my Kindle for some considerable time. As I said, I'm full of good intentions. A long train journey gave me the opportunity to get to grips with it.

It was a relatively easy book to read and I was pleased to find it was not an in depth guide to the Scrivener programme, full of instructions on how to use the software. Instead it was more of an aid to understanding how Scrivener can work for the writer or novelist.

It does look at the various functions such as the Binder, the Editor, and the Inspector, which is  an essential to understanding how to use the software, but this is not done in a technical fashion and is easily understood.

Hewson describes these functions as:-
-          Binder = a filing cabinet of documents
-          Editor = where you write, it’s like a word processor
-          Inspector = synopses, notes, info, and annotations and other management tasks.
 
The Binder is on the left, the Editor in the middle, and the Inspector on the right

Hewson compares the use of Scrivener to how writers wrote in the days of paper and pencil, with sections, chapters and scenes which could be shuffled about, rather than one long unwieldy document. He says, in Scrivener you can write, delete, reshuffle and move things more easily, and says that “Scrivener sees books the way authors used to regard them before the computer was invented.”

The start of my new novel in Scrivener.

He talks about moving scenes around as a nightmare in conventional word processors, but a cinch in Scrivener, and experimentation is quick and simple.

One of the tools in Scrivener is the Corkboard, which Hewson considers ideal for outlining and brainstorming, a place where you can play with ideas, and instead of cutting and pasting you drag things around.


The synopsis of a chapter or scene in the Inspector, is duplicated in the Corkboard and the Outliner, which is another function of Scrivener, and the transfer of these synopses means the outliner can be used to produce a complete outline of the novel. I remember in the good old days of Word, a publisher asked for the outline of a novel I’d submitted and I had to burn the midnight oil to produce it. If I’d had Scrivener at that time I would simply have had to print it off from the Outliner.
 
The outliner shows each chapter which can then be expanded to see the scenes in each chapter.
I have expanded 2 of them and have chosen carefully so it doesn't give away my plot.

In the Binder the two main folders are a manuscript folder and a management folder. The manuscript one is where everything that goes into the novel is stored. And the management folder is used for themes, characters, places, research, and To Do folders. He also has an ‘Unplaced Scenes’ folder in this section which is useful if a scene pops into your head but you’re not sure where to place it. Everything in the management folder is not included in the book. The character folder contains forms as an aid to character description, however it is not essential to use these and the author decides how best to use the tools supplied.  Like Hewson I prefer text based descriptions so the use of the forms is optional.

Another use of the Inspector is the meta data box. This has a status box which can track whether a scene or chapter is first draft, revised, or finished. This cuts down work at the final revision stage because it narrows down the scenes which require tweaking. The meta data box can also be used to track  POV, and as I write in multi-viewpoint this can be very useful, particularly as you can colour code each POV a different colour. Another feature to track POV is the ability to create collections using the search function. By using this all the scenes from one POV character can be collected and run together without changing where they are in the manuscript. This is incredibly useful because it gives a linear view of each character, and it is easy to spot anomalies etc. This function can also be used to collate all the first draft scenes at the revision stage. Leaving behind all the scenes which do not require further work. 

I am really glad I eventually got round to reading this book which, in Hewson’s words, is not a guide to the software, but is simply his description of how to use Scrivener to write a novel.



Chris Longmuir


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Saturday, 20 June 2015

First Policewoman in Scotland Appointed 100 Years Ago


How many of you noticed that earlier this week Police Scotland marked 100 years of women in policing with a passing out parade, and that almost two-fifths of the officers in the parade were women. Glasgow was also celebrating because the very first policewoman in Scotland was appointed by the City of Glasgow police force. However, both of these celebrations were a tad early, because Emily Miller, Scotland’s first policewoman, was appointed on 6th September 1915. Still, I don’t suppose that matters too much.

Scotland was also a bit behind the times in accepting a woman into the police, because the first women’s police service came into being a year earlier in 1914, and many of the first policewomen were former suffragettes. The two main suffragette organisations, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), and the WFL (Women’s Freedom League), joined forces to formulate the Women’s Police Volunteers (WPV) after the sufragettes decided to curtail their activities for the duration of the Great War. They were not the only police service however, because the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) set up the Voluntary Women Patrols. But this article is not about women police in London, or elsewhere in England, it is about Scottish policewomen.


The decision to employ women in the police force was made by the Chief Constable of each individual force, therefore Scotland was no different to England in that respect. However, the resistance to women was more widespread in Scotland, and in evidence at the Baird committee in 1920, the Town Clerk of Stirling stated – “We neither need them or want them”.

Glasgow City Police, however, had lost so many men to the Great War, they had to take radical measures. They employed hundreds of temporary constables and increased the number of men in the Special Constabulary, and they appointed Emily Miller in September 1915. Miss Miller remained the only policewoman in Scotland until 1918, when Mrs Jean Thomson or Wright was employed by the City of Dundee Police. There was actually another woman employed by the police in 1914, prior to Emily Miller, and that was the Court Sister in Aberdeen, whose duties included everything a policewoman might do, however little is known about her.

The Baird Report into employment of women for police duties, which heard evidence in 1920, is the place to go to find out details of how policewomen were employed and what their experience was. Both Emily Miller and Jean Thomson gave evidence, and it would appear that Miss Miller’s duties involved working with women and children, whereas Mrs Thomson’s role was wider, and it could be said she was the closest thing to a policewoman that Scotland had, although neither woman had powers of arrest. Women constables would have to wait until 1924 before they were granted this power.

It took a long time for women to achieve the same status as men in the police force, and initially they were used for work with women and children. The power of arrest, as stated earlier, came in 1924, and few women were employed – Glasgow only had eleven policewomen at that time. Promotions were unheard of and it was 1940 before the first woman constable was promoted to Detective Sergeant, and 1954 before there was a Chief Inspector, and 1995 when the first female Chief Superintendent was appointed, she went on to become the first Assistant Chief Constable. It was 2008 before Norma Graham became Scotland’s first female Chief Constable, making it a full 93 years before a woman reached the top of the tree.


The problem with researching the early women police is that records are sparse in Scotland, although I believe the London Metropolitan Police have more information in their archive. Joan Lock, a former policewoman and now a crime writer, used this archive to write, The British Policewoman: her story, the book that got me interested in the origins of women police services in Britain.

The women who joined the police in 1914 and beyond were adventurous, fascinating characters who weren’t afraid of authority, nor did they take kindly to the taunts they received from the constables of the time. Things like, ‘get back to your washboards’, and much worse. They were dedicated, tough, disciplined women whose training included learning martial arts like ju jitsu, and they ventured into places that many male constables avoided. These women, many of whom have faded into obscurity, were worthy forerunners of today’s modern policewoman.

My own historical crime mystery, The Death Game, was inspired by these women, and because my crime stories are set in Dundee it was fortuitous that the second policewoman in Scotland, Jean Thomson, worked there as a policewoman between 1918 to 1921, The Death Game could be said to have been inspired by her. Naturally, my Kirsty Campbell, bears no resemblance whatsoever to Jean Thomson, but I have given Kirsty the London Women’s Police service training, including the ju jitsu, and then transported her to Dundee.

The recognition paid this week to these pioneering police women is well deserved, and long overdue.

Chris Longmuir


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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Another Year, Another Crimefest by Chris Longmuir

I love this crime convention, not only because it gives me a chance to catch up with old friends, both readers and writers, nor is it because I have an opportunity to strut my stuff on a writers’ panel, but because I love Bristol. I have family there, and my mother celebrated her 100th birthday there last year. She’ll be 101 years young this year and still going strong and living independently.

Many years ago I used to drive to Bristol, but not anymore. Nowadays it’s the train for me, a nine hours journey – and my suitcase this year weighed the proverbial ton. It was the books you see. Last year I didn’t have to cart books with me, because Foyles ordered them for the Crimefest bookshop. Different bookseller this year and no advance order, so in the suitcase they went. I was keeping my fingers tightly crossed that I wouldn’t have to hump them home again.

The train invariably arrives at the teatime rush hour, so it’s always a slow journey to the hotel, but this year it was even slower. I spent half an hour in the taxi while the driver tried every route known to taxi-drivers to get me to my hotel, but the thousands strong anti-austerity demonstration in the city centre ensured he wasn’t going to be successful.

Bristol Crepe Kiosk
My room at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel was comfortable as usual, but once I unpacked I headed out to enjoy the sunshine. It was a lovely evening and the Waterfront  was busy, I had my first icecream of the season, and then treated myself to a crepe from the Bristol Crepe Kiosk. It saved me hunting for somewhere to have a meal and I could stay out in the sunshine to eat it.

The following morning it was all change. Cold and rainy. The conference didn’t start until 1.30 pm so I walked to Broadmead shopping centre. It’s only a fifteen minute walk from the hotel, but by the time I got there and back, I was soaked through. Was it only last year I did the same walk in a heatwave?

The irrepressible Joanna Penn
Crimefest devotees were now arriving, and after the procedure of checking in and claiming my goody bag with a selection of freebie books and a variety of promotional materials, it was all systems go as the panels started. It’s always a difficult decision choosing which ones to attend, but I plunked for the Debut Authors panel, followed by the Odd Jobs panel, and the Nordic Noir Panel. I missed the next one in order to attend a meeting of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors), at the Bristol branch of Foyles, where Joanna Penn talked about the advantages of publishing audio-books. Quite a lot to think about, but Joanna is such an enthusiastic person none of us required much convincing that this might be the next big thing.

Having missed the Crimefest Pub Quiz, I retired to bed to regain my strength for the next day’s fray.

Friday was packed with author panels, too many to detail, however one of the highlights of the day was the one which created the most mirth, and that was the one entitled Strange Bedfellows: Sex in Crime Fiction. The other one, which was informative rather than hilarious, was the Audible panel about audio books and dramatisations.  The day was rounded off with a cocktail party to announce the CWA Daggers shortlist, by which time I was exhausted again.
 
Catherine Aird interviewed by Jake Kerridge
Saturday dawned, bright and clear. Not that I got to enjoy the weather because it was back to another non-stop session of author panels. Again, if I mentioned them all, it would be enough to fill a book. However, I will mention the highlights of the day, which for me was the interview with Catherine Aird who has been writing for the past fifty years and who was such a charming, unassuming woman she won all our hearts. Two other high profile sets of interviews were, Sophie Hannah and Mathew Pritchard (Agatha Christie’s grandson), interviewed by John Curran, followed by Lee Child interviewing Maj Sj√∂wall. But for sheer entertainment, lots of hilarity and laughs, nothing could beat the Things That Go Bump panel, moderated by Kevin Wignall, with panel members, A.K. Benedict, Oscar de Muriel, J.F. Penn, and Mark Roberts. As far as I was concerned it was the best panel of the day.
 
Mathew Pritchard, John Curran, and Sophie Hannah
Saturday evening was taken up with a formal reception followed by the gala dinner. My table was named the Locked Room, and I did wonder whether I would get out again. However, the meal was excellent, the speaker, James Runcie, was entertaining and had us all laughing out loud as he described how to write a Booker prize-winning book, my table companions were interesting people and the chat was good.
Some of the audience at the Emerging Indie Voices Panel

Emerging Indie Voices Panel
Sunday morning arrived all too soon, and it was time for the panel I was on. I’d been asked to join the Emerging Indie Voices panel, although I think I’ve been emerging for quite a long time now. Last year’s panel was one of the highlights of the convention, and I was a bit scared I wouldn’t match up to last year’s standard. I needn’t have worried, the panel discussion, ably moderated by Joanna Penn, was a great success. It was lively, energetic, and entertaining, and I had a great time on it. The readers and writers who attended were a brilliant audience, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I have the feeling this panel will be another highlight of the 2015 convention. Oh, and I sold some of my books, so that was less to hump back home in my suitcase.
 
Nick Stephenson, Chris Longmuir, and JJ Marsh on the Emerging Indie Voices Panel
The convention, for me, wound up with the interview of James Runcie by Jake Kerridge. Runcie is an enetertaining speaker, so it was a brilliant end to a brilliant convention. Roll on next year’s Crimefest, I’ve already paid my deposit.
 
Having fun on the Emerging Indie Voices Panel
Chris Longmuir



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Monday, 27 April 2015

Why would I want to build a new website in Joomla?

Article previously published on Authors Electric

I’ve been burning the midnight oil, designing and building a new website which has to go online before the 21st of this month. Why the rush? And why would I want to ditch Dreamweaver for Joomla?

My son changed his old Dreamweaver website to Joomla round about three months ago, and I’d heard him describing it, otherwise I wouldn’t have known Joomla existed. He made this change because Joomla websites are responsive, eg they adjust to fit any size of screen, even mobile phone screens, whereas his old Dreamweaver site was a static one which did not adjust. I made a mental note to look into this because my site was a Dreamweaver one as well. When I have a spare moment, I thought, I might consider this. So, once again, why the rush into this unknown territory of Joomla?


The reason, or maybe I should say bombshell, arrived at the beginning of April when I spotted in one of my forums that Google intended to change their algorithms on the 21st April. The new algorithms would exclude static websites from their search engines. Only the responsive ones would be picked up. Now, I didn’t know if that meant my website would be excluded completely from searches, or whether it would be so far down the list of results it would never be found. I still don’t know, but what I do know, is that my website is currently on page one of Google searches on my name. So, I was likely to lapse into obscurity, and that doesn’t sell many books!

A mad scramble ensued. I bought books on how to install and work with Joomla, and they’re not cheap. The books I bought were:


I also looked at websites, and there is an excellent set of video tutorials at Siteground. Well worth watching
Suitably armed I delved into the depths of CMS website installation, and it’s certainly nothing like working with Dreamweaver. Everything seemed back to front. So it was getting my head into the place where I could understand the procedure. It’s all done online, rather than like Dreamweaver where you add content and do changes on your computer, then upload them to your website. With Joomla there is a backend and a frontend to the site. The front end is what is seen on the web, and the back end is where the content and changes are done, and the backend is online as well as the frontend. This has the added advantage of being able to make changes to a website anywhere there is a computer, rather than being tied to the only computer the Dreamweaver site is on.

I found Stephen Burge’s CASh workflow system a great help when trying to remember the order in which things had to be done. CASh stands for:
  • Categorize first – you must have a category to put your content into
  • Add next – you then need to create your content, to which you subscribe a category
  • Show last – after you’ve created your content and given it a category, you need to create a menu so that the content will show up on your website. If there is no menu the content will remain hidden from the public.

Taking my courage into my hands, and after consulting with my web host, Freeola, I installed Joomla into a subfolder of my website on Freeola. This meant I would have time to build the site before it could be viewed on the internet. To access it myself, I only had to add the name of the subfolder after the URL to my site. Job done, I accessed my Joomla website, and after a bit of head scratching I started to create articles, following the CASh procedure. There were one or two hiccups but I soon got into the swing of it, and the textual content soon started to fill the site up. However, text alone makes a very dull site, so images were inserted, and I set up my slideshow heading. That was an adventure, but I got it up, then had a variety of mishaps when I tried to insert the button links, but I eventually got there. In the process I mucked up my horizontal menu bar. It had taken me ages to figure out how to get it horizontal rather than vertical, and all of a sudden the menu buttons vanished and my menu links straggled right down the page. It didn’t do much for the appearance of my slideshow! I won’t go into details other than say it was a painful process getting it to work again.
 
One of the banners from my slideshow
Adding extensions, such as a side scroller, social media icons for Twitter etc, a better text editor to give me more formatting options, and a backup extension, all provided extra demands on my ability to understand what I was doing. In the process I lost my menu bar twice, lost a complete page on the frontend, although it was still there on the backend. And it was these glitches that ate up the time while I tried to figure out how to sort them.

There were lots of other ups and downs, and I’m suffering from sleep deprivation, but at the time of writing this I’m almost there. The last thing to do is remove my old Dreamweaver website files, my website will go down when I do that. I then have to move all my Joomla files from the subfolder where it currently resides, into the root folder of my website. I’m already quaking in my shoes at the prospect! And, of course, I’ll be doing that immediately before, or during the publication of this post. So, if you click on the URL to my website and see the old site, you’ll know I’m not quite there yet. If you see nothing, or a page 404 error, either I’m in the process or it hasn’t worked. And if it doesn’t work you may need to rescue me from the nearest tall building before I jump.

Go on, click the link and see what’s at the end of it!

Chris Longmuir


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