Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Tricks Of The Journalists' Trade by Peter Bartram

Today's guest blog is by author and journalist Peter Bartram. He has written over 3000 articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines.  Stop Press Murder is the second of a series of crime novels set during the "swingin sixties".

That brilliant Sunday Times journalist Nicholas Tomalin once said: "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are, a plausible manner and a little literary ability and rat-like cunning."

When I first started work as a newspaper reporter in the 1960s, I soon found there was a lot of truth in what Tomalin said.

In recent years, we've read endlessly about the misdemeanours of journalists in the phone hacking scandals. But there was never a golden age when reporters behaved like angels.

Back in the 1960s we may not have had mobile phones to hack, but we had plenty other tricks up our sleeves. The aim was always to get the story before our rivals. And if that meant making it difficult for rival reporters to file their copy - well, they'd do it to us if they got the chance.

In the 1960s, mobile phones weren't even a gleam in Vodafone's eye - in fact, there wasn't even a Vodafone. But we needed plenty of telephone tricks to file our copy.

Often we'd be in situations where the only way to file copy was by using a public phone. And if there were several reporters on a story - and only one phone, the first one there gained a beat on the others.

One trick was to slip a helpful youngster a little pocket money to pretend to use the phone until you turned up.

In those days, all phones were operated by the Post Office. So another scam involved making official looking signs saying the phone was out of order.

In Brighton, where I spent time freelancing, it was useful to know hotel hall porters.
Get on their right side and they'd let you use the phones on their desks if the others were all engaged.

Taxis were another source of scam activity. In those days, reporters relied on taxis to get them to remote stories - and back to the office - more than they do now. I remember one colleague who was hard-pressed by rivals on a story.

All the reporters needed a taxi to get back to their respective offices. He reached the rank first and found three taxis plying for hire. He took one and just paid the other two to take off somewhere else so the rivals had to wait.

One of the perennial problems in newspapers is getting to talk to people who'd rather avoid you. I remember being commissioned by a national newspaper to get a quote from an important person.

The individual was at a dinner in a private room at a posh hotel and hired a couple of heavies to prevent any newsmen getting near him. In the end, I persuaded one of the waiters to take in a note with a single question on it. The note said that if he didn't answer the question, tomorrow's paper would report he had "no comment". He answered.

Unlike some of the phone hackers, we steered clear of breaking the law. At least, most of us did. But sometimes we skirted close to the edge of it if we insinuated we were someone else when trying to interview a hard-to-reach target on the phone.

Colin Crampton, the crime reporter in my mystery series, knows every trick in the book - and some. But he has a saving grace. When he pulls a scam it's in the service of a greater good - such as discovering a hidden truth or righting an injustice.

Few of us covered the kind of juicy murder mysteries that Colin investigates. But I like to think that, at heart, we had the same vision of the purpose of responsible journalism.

Stop Press Murder: a Crampton of the Chronicle Mystery is published by Roundfire Books.

There is a free Crampton taster novella - Murder in Capital Letters - available to download at

You can find more information about Peter Bartram and his books on his website

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Immortal Sherlock Holmes

George Mann is the author of the Newbury and Hobbes and The Ghost series of novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and audiobooks. He has edited and written a number of Sherlock books including Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, More Encounters of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box.

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent Holmes tumbling to his apparent death over the Reichenbach Falls in 1893, it was, to all intents and purposes, the end of the world's foremost consulting detective. Doyle originally had no intention of reviving the character - in his mind, Holmes was dead, the stories were over, and the author could spend his days concerning himself with other things, much to his relief. 
What Doyle didn't realise, however, was that he'd come to the decision too late. Holmes had already outgrown his creator. Adored by the reading masses, Holmes had become a hero, a legend, a figurehead. There was a public outcry, and it wasn't long before Doyle felt compelled to revive the character, explaining how Holmes had survived the fall through his usual brand of cunning and resourcefulness. 
Holmes has continued his adventures ever since, persevering long after Doyle's death, still solving seemingly impossible crimes, even now.

What's intriguing is how Holmes, perhaps more than any other fictional character in the English language (and far beyond) has transcended his creator, and, indeed, the fiction in which his story began.

For Holmes has become more than a simple character, a device for telling clever detective stories - Holmes has passed into myth, like Hercules, Frankenstein's monster, or Romeo and Juliet before him. 

The line between fiction and history has been irrevocably blurred. Holmes is so ubiquitous that those unfamiliar with the original stories sometimes mistakenly believe the character to be a real historical figure. Indeed - pilgrims can visit his house on Baker Street in London, and his ongoing adventures are chronicled in any number of stage plays, television series, radio plays, novels and stories. 
Why is it that Holmes should have endured where so many other characters have passed into obscurity?

Perhaps it's because, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle created a template for the modern detective story, that even now percolates through almost all crime and mystery fiction on the shelves in bookshops and libraries around the world. Perhaps it's because that same template has been adopted by television, and that every time we sit down to watch an onscreen detective take on a new case, we're reminded of the original master, and his outlandish and fiendishly clever techniques - techniques that are often imitated, adopted or borrowed by those who came in his wake. Perhaps it's simply a tribute to the remarkable portrait Doyle painted of two men, Holmes and his indefatigable Boswell, Dr. John Watson, of their atypical friendship, and the fact that these characters continue to loom larger than life. 
What's clear is that many of us feel a deep affection for the character, and a certain responsibility to continue his adventures; to continue chronicling the exploits of this great master, so he is never forgotten. More than that, there's a selfish impulse, too, to somehow become a small part of Holmes's on-going story, to contribute, to give something back to a character who has given so much to us. 
As each generation finds a new way to engage with the character - some coming to him through the original canon, others through modern television adaptations or pastiches - a new group of people are inspired to create new and fascinating adventures for him. 

It's in this way that Holmes lives on, and will surely live on for centuries to come. As his fall over the raging Reichenbach Falls proved all those years ago - Holmes is essentially immortal. 

Associates of Sherlock Holmes Edited by George Mann (£7.99, Titan Books)
For the first time, famous associates of the Great Detective – clients, colleagues, and villains – tell their own stories in these brand-new adventures. Follow Inspector Lestrade as he and Sherlock Holmes pursue a killer to rival Jack the Ripper; sit with Mycroft Holmes as he solves a case from the Diogenes Club; take a drink with Irene Adler and Dr Watson in a Parisian cafĂ©; and join Colonel Sebastian Moran on the hunt for a supposedly mythical creature…  

You can find more information about George Mann and his work on his website.  You can also follow him on Twitter @George_Mann and follow him on Facebook.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Diana Bretherick: Criminology and Crime Fiction.

Shotsblog is pleased to be the first to welcome Diana Bretherick to the blog as part of The Devil’s Daughter blog tour.   Diana Bretherick was a criminal barrister for ten years and is a former lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. Her first novel, City of Devils (Orion, 2013) was selected for the 2013 Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club. Her latest novel The Devil’s Daughters is recently published by Orion in paperback.

As a former criminal barrister and criminologist specialising in the study of crime and popular culture it was perhaps only a matter of time before I tried my hand at writing crime fiction. My experiences in these fields have certainly informed my novels.

Both ‘City of Devils’ and ‘The Devil’s Daughters’ are set in the Italian city of Turin in the 1880s and feature the world’s first criminologist Cesare Lombroso. Criminology is essentially the study of the causes and consequences of crime. Its history, in common with that of crime fiction, reflects changing social attitudes of all kinds as well as those towards crime and criminals. Before Lombroso’s influence the study of crime was little more than a ragbag of different ideas from various thinkers and it wasn’t until he began to write on the subject in the 1870s that it started to become an academic discipline in its own right. Having said that, Lombroso’s ideas were somewhat unusual although they should be viewed in the context of their times. Essentially he thought that some criminals were born rather than created by their environment. Such offenders, he decided, were throwbacks to primitive man and could be identified by their physical characteristics. A thief for example would have an expressive face and a thin beard, his forehead would be sloping and his nose would be distorted. Habitual murderers had bloodshot eyes, hawk like noses and thin lips and rapists, he decided, had jug ears.

Despite these rather odd observations Lombroso’s main contribution was to bring the study of crime to the public’s attention, which is why he is known as ‘the father of modern criminology’ and why we still teach criminology students about him today. In fact I decided to write about him as a result of a question asked by one my students in a seminar. They wanted to know if this so called criminal ‘expert’ had ever investigated any actual crimes. I was intrigued by the possibility and started to read Lombroso’s work, which had recently been translated into English. What I found changed everything for me. Although as far as I could see he didn’t catch any criminals he regularly gave expert evidence in criminal trials about whether their physical characteristics made their guilt more likely. It seemed to me that he might well have investigated crimes as part of this exercise. Reading his work took me into his world and also gave me his voice – bombastic, apparently sure of his ground but also quite insecure underneath all his bluster. He was also essentially a kind and humane man who saw his work as a step towards a crime free world benefitting everyone.
Although my knowledge of criminology helped me to paint pictures of a world where views
 of crime were quite different to ours, my background as a barrister was also useful. I would
think of offenders, lawyers and judges I had met whilst in practice and use them to create my characters and I also drew on cases for court scenes. But it isn’t just my own knowledge that informs my writing. I am lucky to have lawyers, historians, criminologists, psychologists and forensic experts as well as other writers as colleagues and friends all of whom give generously of their time to answer my many questions. Writing fiction is often seen as lonely pursuit but where the research is concerned it’s much more of a team effort.

The Devils Daughter by Diana Bretherick is published on 27th August 2016 (£13.99, Orion)

1888. When young Scottish scientist James Murray receives a letter from Sofia Esposito, a woman he once loved and lost, he cannot refuse her cry for help. Sofia's fifteen-year-old cousin has vanished but, because of her lower-class status, the police are unwilling to investigate.  Accompanied by his younger sister Lucy, Murray returns to the city of Turin where he was once apprenticed to the world-famous criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. As he embarks on his search for the missing girl, Murray uncovers a series of mysterious disappearances of young women and rumours of a haunted abbey on the outskirts of the city.  When the body of one of the girls turns up bearing evidence of a satanic ritual, Murray begins to slot together the pieces of the puzzle. But as two more bodies are discovered, fear grips the city and a desperate hunt begins to find a truly terrifying killer before he claims his next victim.

You can find out more information about Diana Bretherick and her work on her website.  You can also follow her on Twitter @DianaBretherick and find her on Facebook.