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Welcome to Cumbria - enter at your own risk

I thought, given that I am always banging on about my home city and county, it would be only fair to tell overseas readers a little bit more about Carlisle and Cumbria...Awe, who am I kidding - hardly anyone in Britain really knows where we are either!!!

Whenever I get into conversation with anyone not familiar with the area, I can always wager that I will encounter such gems as:

'Is that in Scotland?or 'No, no, don't tell me - it's in Wales isn't it?' and the classic 'You sound like a Geordie to me!'

I always laugh when people refer to the North West at Manchester, Liverpool etc, a view that is supported by a brilliant road sign on the M6 just after Preston that simply reads 'The North'. (Priceless - all that's missing is a figure of a caveman with club.)

Cumbria is perhaps most famous for the Lake District but it also has a proud history, having made its mark on shipbuilding, the railway and textile industries, as well as being home to the Border City of Carlisle which has been fought over by Romans, Reivers, Jacobites and Hanoverians, Parliamentarians and Royalists, Scots and English for over two thousand years.

All of this aggro brings me to my point. I use my home city and county as an inspiration for my detective fiction but the question needs to be asked: is it cosy or just plain criminal? As Martin Edwards has one of his characters saying in The Cypher Garden "This is Cumbria, we have narrow-gauge crimes. Not the conspiracy killings you get on the Orient Express."

And certainly when local writing is considered, the cosy image is enhanced by literary giants of centuries past such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin and dear old Beatrix.

But perhaps there is call for crime readers to take a closer look at this sleepy backwater. After all, I seem to recall the gardener in Martin's novel came to a pretty grisly end. Moreover, Graham Smith's terrific DI Harry Evans (and his major crime team) series - set in the county - at times show Cumbria being as far from wandering clouds and dancing daffodils as can be imagined. And then when yours truly engineers a plot to have a poor Italian immigrant have a knife jammed in his neck at the back of Carlisle Cathedral, you could be forgiven for asking if God's Own County is that cosy after all?

I suppose as writers we are always trying to strike the right balance between plot, character and setting, in order to satisfy that certain type of crime reader who loves nothing better than the odd homicidal maniac doing his (or her) thing - as long as he is doing it against the backdrop of [say] dreamy Oxford spires, or on the immaculately manicured lawn of a nearby vicarage.

In real life, statistically Cumbria is one of the safest places in the country to live and I love it. I have to confess therefore that crime writers like me clearly want their cake and eat it!

MD

My Inspector Armstrong series is published by MX Publishing and is available from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide BOOK DEPOSITORY.

Posted: 20 November 2017

 

Cornelius Armstrong

Given that this post coincides with the publication of Volume II of Inspector Armstrong's Casebook, I thought it appropriate to tell you a little bit more about him and the inspiration behind him.

Cornelius was born in Carlisle in 1864 and, like many Carliseans, was descended from a combination of Border Reivers and Celtic immigrants. For those who don't know much about the Border Reivers, they were basically a bunch of scallywags who ran about plundering on each side of the English-Scottish border during the middle ages. Most were clans or families (not unlike the mafia 'families' of the 20th century I suppose), carrying many names we are still familiar with today, amongst which would include: Elliott, Dixon, Thompson, Read and perhaps most notably...Armstrong (see where I'm going with this?).

Carlisle has a rich history and the Industrial Revolution saw Scottish and particularly Irish immigrants flood into the city with work provided by the railways and the textile industry. Armstrong's mother was the daughter of one such immigrant and it was this Irish heritage that gave our hero his distinctive Christian name.

I would probably be lying if my own heritage wasn't uppermost in my mind when I developed the character. It we accept that there are four main branches to our family tree (those of our four grandparents), then mine also mirror Armstrong's and many others from the area - Graham and Scott (Reiver names), and Curran and Daley (Irish immigrants).

Readers of the Armstrong stories won't be surprised to learn that - like so many writers - his creator was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes adventures. In fact Cornelius was first introduced in a Holmes pastiche prior to him taking on his own investigations (Sherlockians may even spot the odd homage to the Great Consulting Detective in the stories!).

The other inspiration behind the adventures is Carlisle itself. Without the usual Watson/Lewis side-kick, it is the city itself that takes the role of the main secondary character in the Armstrong Casebook. With its colourful history dating back more than two thousand years when it was the northern most outpost of the Roman Empire, there is always something for the writer to lean on or the detective to investigate.

The first three volumes of Inspector Armstrong's Casebook are being published between October and December 2017. More details of the stories themselves can be found on the appropriate pages of this site.

MD

The Inspector Armstrong series is available from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide BOOK DEPOSITORY.

Posted: 4 November 2017

 

Such a glamorous life

Welcome to my new blog!

I thought I'd kick things off by shamelessly plugging my new Inspector Armstrong books with MX Publishing. It's always exciting to have a new book (or books) coming out but on the flip-side I am currently preparing myself for a further excursion into the win-some-lose-some world of book promotion.

I'm reminded of a particularly manic period a couple of years ago during crime month which saw the publication of a previous Inspector Armstrong Casebook. It proved to be a particularly entertaining few weeks, filled with the usual mix of triumph, disaster and comedy gold!

First up was a radio interview. Having dropped a review copy in with the lunchtime presenter the previous week, I duly turned up at the appointed hour only to find that he had gone sick. I was shown into the studio where I was introduced to his replacement. The good news was that she was also called Armstrong and therefore showed a genuine interest in her namesake's adventures; she delivered the bad new off air, just as the pre-interview record was fading out: "I was only given your book ten minutes ago so you're on your own." (Yey!).

I proceeded to tell the listeners all about the book and Val, the presenter, ending by saying, "Martin, you're an absolute star!" I don't know if that was a commentary on my writing or the fact that I had just filled in ten valuable minutes of an otherwise unscripted show (I left convincing myself it was the former).

That night saw me struggling with projector and screen in a village hall as I prepared to give a talk to the ladies from a local Women's Institute - an event that had been arranged months earlier but that which now coincided with the launch of the new book. Fortunately technology smiled kindly on me and off I went.

Throughout the lecture I was rather disconcerted by an officious looking lady who sat in the front row and peered at me over the top of her glasses - she was obviously the Miss Mountshaft of the group (what is it about a tweed skirt, woolly tights and brogues that strikes the fear of God into you?).

At the end of my talk I braced myself as she came over to me and said, "Well Mr Daley, I thoroughly enjoyed that. It is probably the best talk we have received in years." (Wow - who knew?).

A few days later, following a good article in the local newspaper, I attended the first of two book signings - this one at Bookends, the local independent store in Carlisle. It was a pleasant, relaxed affair in the small store that saw us sell a few books and spend a generally enjoyable morning.

Then it was a trek down to the Lakes for a book fair. Feeling strangely empowered in my new tweed skirt, woolly tights and brogues combo, of I set safe in the knowledge that no one would see me from the waist down behind the stall. If I tell you that I was in fact the token celebrity, you'll realise that it wasn't the biggest event the literary world saw that summer.

Now as we all know, There is nothing nicer than being in the company of like-minded people but equally, we all know the unpredictability of good old Joe Public.

The particular highlights for me on this day included a lady who came over and peered, unimpressed, at the pop up banner that was standing behind me (as my dad used to say, she had a face that would worry rats). "Creator of Inspector Armstrong?" she read, "Never heard of him," - and then looking me up and down with some distain - "never heard of you either!"

I put on my best ventriloquist smile (my wife thinks it makes me look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining) and try to lighten the mood - I explain that Armstrong is not so much Northern Noir as Cumbrian slightly off-white, but she continues to glare at me as if she has just caught me rifling through her handbag. "Don't do much reading," she says, failing to see the irony of her presence at a book fair, "not like my husband."

At this point I pluck up the courage to venture, "Maybe you could buy something for him," trying to steer her gaze toward the books on the table in front.

"He's been dead ten years." (Maybe not then!).

Off she went no doubt to brighten someone else's day. She was replaced by someone who turned out to be the female of Tim-nice-but-dim. This lady enthusiastically leafed through every book I'd ever written and punctuated her study with comments like, "Oh, you are so talented!" "Oh, this is wonderful!" "Oh, how marvellous!" She then looked at me in all earnest and said, "I must get some of your books, are they available in the shops?" (My Jack Nicholson smile descended into an expression befitting a gormless imbecile).

The afternoon was rounded off by a coach load of young Japanese tourists who pulled up outside. Looking at it from their point of view, there is nothing more quintessentially British than a book fair in the heart of the Lake District and they all duly piled in. Word got round that there was an author in the building and they all shuffled over to get a better look.

I watched them from afar, trying to guess at what they might be saying as they looked uncertainly in my direction:

"Who is he?"

"I've never heard of him."

"He looks nothing like Martin Edwards" (current Chair of the Crime Writers' Association).

I'm not sure what Japanese is for 'any port in a storm' but it seems their curiosity got the better of them and over they trotted, and when they discovered I wrote period detective fiction, there were in their element.

Their characteristically polite and enthusiastic enquiries ended with a request for a photograph. I acquiesced with pleasure and they all closed in around the back of the stall (I have since wondered how many mantelpieces in Tokyo are adorned with pictures of young Japanese students with their cheesing grins and victory signs, surrounding a bemused, bespectacled English guy).

The final event of the fortnight of my mini publicity campaign should, in theory, have been the grandest: a book signing at Waterstones. I decided against my new favourite below-the-waist look, believing that the high street in Carlisle wasn't quite ready for such an outrage. I therefore decided to play it safe with the classic author-look: the taupe action slacks. (Just me?).

The day duly arrives and I turn up and meet the 'manager' who looks about sixteen. "Oh, hello," he says politely, "we've set you up over there." He points to a chair in front of an advertising banner in the centre of the store. I hear the opening bars of Carmina Burana in my head. With no table to hide behind, I take my place. And wait.

For four hours, customers do that terribly British thing of ensuring there is no eye contact, as I sit there like a prized exhibit with tumbleweed bumbling by.

One man does come over and (thankfully) engages in conversation about my writing, books in general and the great Kindle for-or-against debate. He ends by telling me he won't buy one of my books because he has severe dyslexia (I'm sure you can picture the smile by now).

The day ends with two women coming over and telling me how much they like Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin and Lee Child, and how the life of a writer must be so glamorous. As they walk away I hear one of them say to her friend, "He seemed like a nice chap." I'm sure I heard her friend say, "Really? I didn't like the look of him - he reminded me of that Jack Nicholson."

Well, that's show business I suppose. Wish me luck.

MD

Posted: 22 October 2017

My Inspector Armstrong series is available at all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide BOOK DEPOSITORY.


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