Category Archives: Writing

Trastevere…stomping ground of Milo Peretti – Rome’s newest private detective.

Trastevere (Tras-TEV’-eh-reh) is the 13th rione or district of Rome and the home of Milo Peretti, the private detective and main character in my mystery novella, Blood Will Tell. The rione is separated from Rome’s centro storico (historical centre) by the river Tiber, hence the name Trastevere or ‘across the Tiber’.

Tiber

Known for its maze of narrow cobbled streets and the medieval houses that line them, Trastevere is one of the most quintessentially Roman neighbourhoods. To many tourists, this is what Rome is all about. Even the Trasteverini themselves claim that their neighbourhood is the true heart of city and it doesn’t take long to see what they mean. There’s definitely something distinctively vibrant about the place.

Street

Trastevere is a feast for the senses. The colour of the buildings – from terracotta to sky blue, from golden maize to rose wine; all draped in ivy and dotted with window boxes. The rattle and buzz of Vespas as they fly down the street. The freshly washed bed sheets hung out to dry on lines stretched above the streets between apartment windows.

Washing

The air filled with the rich smell of roasted coffee beans and of freshly baked pizza. And later on, the arrival of the street entertainers, artists and poets add to the Bohemian atmosphere.

Street2

Then, open air dining in front of an ancient trattoria, old men playing cards and young lovers strolling arm in arm through a lamplit piazza. This is Trastevere.

Lamp

(Photo credits: Daniele Zedda, Mozzercork, Debs-eye, The Wolf and technologic)


My amoreggiamento with Italian crime fiction…

I write crime fiction. More specifically, I write crime fiction set in Italy and my detective, Milo Peretti, lives and works in Rome. But why? How did I get here? And what makes me write the things I do?

Coming from an Italian background, I suppose choosing Italy as the backdrop isn’t too much of a surprise. I’ve always been very conscious and proud of my family’s roots so it seemed only natural to write about a place that means a lot to me. But why crime? And why Rome? There are plenty of genres other than crime and plenty of other cities besides Rome.

As a boy, I read mainly historical fiction and fantasy. (I genuinely have no idea how many times I read The Chronicles of Narnia.) The closest I ever got to crime fiction was reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. Then as a teenager, I discovered my Grandad’s Sherlock Holmes collection and was was hooked. I couldn’t get enough mystery and intrigue and raided my local library for more. I read everything. From Ted Dekker, Frederick Forsyth, Sam Bourne and Vince Flynn to Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly. And so, I guess, when I started to write, I wanted to write the same sort of story as the ones I love to read.

But why Rome? After all, my family originally came from Parma in Emilia-Romagna to the north of Italy. Why not set the story there? Here’s the answer…

Zen

Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. And not even the books. It was the BBC’s TV series that made me fall in love with Rome as the setting for a detective story. There was something about the characters played by Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino. An air of suave Mediterranean sophistication that most of the fictional detectives I’d come across didn’t have. Unsure why I hadn’t done it before, I devoured books by the Anglo-Italian authors – Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon, Christobel Kent; and the Italian – Andrea Camilleri, Valerio Varesi, Gianrico Carofiglio. And so I discovered a passion for giallo (Italian crime fiction) and, not long afterwards, Milo Peretti came along.

But, enough about me… What makes you read/write the things you do?


The One That Got Away – Flash fiction

So…here’s The One That Got Away

This is my offering for this weeks Blog Hop flash fiction challenge (see Leanne Sype’s original post – http://leannesype.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/blog-hop-photo-reveal-19/

The 5 must-use words were butter, evil, wardrobe, rescue, ballroom. Here’s the picture courtesy of Flikr Commons:

The One That Got Away

‘You be a good girl while I’m gone won’t you, poppet?’
He stroked her cheek with his nasty fingers and she fought the urge to recoil from his touch. If her hands were free, she would have scrubbed at her skin to get rid of the lingering vileness but the ropes held her wrists tightly. Instead she held her breath to block out the smell of his foulness and nodded.
A grin split his face, hideous teeth jutting out like sunken tombstones.
‘That’s right. See, it’s better when we love each other isn’t it?’
His hot breath smelt of stale whiskey and decay. She wanted to be sick but forced herself to smile sweetly into his twisted evil face instead. As if butter wouldn’t melt, her mum always said. Mum. The thought made her throat close up. No. She mustn’t cry. Not in front of him. Not ever.
‘I’ll try not to be away too long, poppet. You’ll be good won’t you?’
She nodded. Anything to get him out of the house. Anything to give her time.
As soon as the  key turned in the lock she started on the knot again. Wriggling, twisting, picking. One free hand; that’s all she needed. Come on. COME ON!
She wrestled with the rope until she was drenched with sweat and on the verge of giving up in despair. Just as she abandoned all hope of escape, she felt the knot give. Not daring to breathe, she made her hand as small as possible and pulled. Inch by inch her hand slipped between the coils until the rope released its hold.
With trembling fingers, she worked to free her other hand. Within a moment or two, she was on her feet and rubbing her wrists to get the feeling back.
She tried the door and window. Both locked. She was still a prisoner inside four bleak walls.
The room was empty apart from the bed, a chair and an old wardrobe. She ran to it and flung open the doors. Empty. Of course it was. He had taken everything. Her clothes. Her shoes. She was never meant to leave so why would she need them again? She looked down at the ancient nightdress he had made her wear. She hated it like she hated him. But better freedom like this than no freedom at all.
Grabbing the chair, she swung at the window. A crack jittered across the glass but the chair bounced back into the room. Strong with desperation she swang again. This time there was a crash and the pane shattered.
Clambering out onto the ledge, a shard of glass caught her leg and drew blood. She ignored it and kept going. A drainpipe ran down the wall an armslength away. She made a wild grab for it and half fell, half slid to the ground.
Trees reached for her with their gnarled branches she ran blindly along the path like Cinderella from the ballroom. Somewhere behind her a twig snapped.


Contains Strychnine – a flash fiction story

‘Right… This is my offering for the Writer Wednesday Blog Hop. Thanks to Leanne Sype for recommending :-)! See Leanne’s blog for more info… http://leannesype.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/blog-hop-photo-reveal-18/

Hope you all enjoy it!

D.B.

Contains Strychnine

Poison?’
The librarian peered at me over the top of her reading glasses.
‘And what would you be wanting a book about something like that for, young man?’
The fluttering in my belly started again. Maybe she knew. No, that was silly. How could she know? How could she possibly know?
The old woman was still waiting for an answer. And smiling. It was a grandmother kind of smile. At least I think it was. I’d only ever seen photos of mine so I couldn’t be sure.
‘Well?’
The librarian waved her hand in front of my eyes and laughed.
‘Sorry. What?’
‘The book. What do you want it for?’
I shrugged and tried to look casual.
‘Just a school project. It’s for chemistry.’
She nodded.
‘OK. I think I can help you. Let’s see what we can find.’
We wandered down the aisles between walls of books. The librarian read the signs under her breath until we reached Science. She stopped and pointed to the fifth shelf.
‘No wonder you couldn’t see them. We keep them out of the reach of inquisitive schoolboys.’
She winked. That made me feel even worse about lying to her.
‘Now, what exactly are you looking for? We’ve got an A to Z of Poisonous Plants, How to Rid your Garden of Rats, Moles and Other Pests, or The Encyclopedia of Toxicology.’
I chose the encyclopedia.
‘It’s an adult book so you won’t be able to take it home, you know.’
I nodded. I didn’t bother telling her I’d never be going home anyway.
She left me to it and I lugged the book to a desk. I flicked through the pages until I reached S. Sarin. Sodium cyanide.
Strychnine. That’s what the box of pesticide said. Contains Strychnine.
I read the list of symptoms. Muscle spasms. Convulsions. I learned that death came eventually either from asphyxiation, whatever that was, or exhaustion from the convulsions. The end would come about two or three hours after exposure to the toxin.
My skin turned ice-cold and I shivered. Two or three hours? I thought it was supposed to be quick. A chill whispered down my neck as I realized. I didn’t care about him but I’d never meant to hurt her. I was protecting her. From him. From what he would have done.
I’d seen it in his eyes. She thought he was The One. After Dad left she thought that about them all. But this one took her out. Fancy meals. Concerts. Hotels. that sort of thing. But I saw through it and he knew. He hated me because I knew what he was. A monster.
My stomach felt like a giant was squeezing it in his fist. I imagined Mum’s face. Serving the food I made them before I left. Dabbing her mouth with a napkin. ‘Like a proper lady’ she’d say. Then, as the poison started to work, writhing and screaming.
I wanted to puke. I grabbed my bag and ran.


Creative Constipation…Ten Tips for Getting Things Moving Again.

So you’re stuck. Banging your head against a literary brick wall. Here are a few pointers to hopefully get the words flowing again…

1. Get off the Internet!

Seriously… I know it’s been said countless times already but it’s worth repeating. Mainly because it’s so true. And I know how important building a ‘platform’ is but the Twitterverse will still be there when you get back. I promise. But if you’re really desperate download Buffer and line up a few tweets for when you’re offline. Everyone’s allowed to be too busy sometimes.

2. Go somewhere quiet.

If you don’t have an actual cabin in the woods for when you need some undisturbed writing time then make your own virtual private writing space. Put some headphones on. Find some mood music (without words) to listen to and leave the world of endless distractions and ‘things to do’ behind for a while.

3. Relax.

Pressure is not good for creativity. It might increase productivity but are they always the same thing? Try to put any ‘real life’ problems to the back of your mind – at least while you write. Fiction is all about escapism. That applies to writing as much as it does to reading.

4. Stop overthinking.

As with pretty much everything else you’ll ever do, trying to force writing just won’t work. If you find yourself staring blankly at the screen, unable to see past the last sentence you’ve written then STOP. Take a deep breath, put whatever preconceived notions you have out of your head and start afresh. More often than not you’ll find there was a much better solution to the problem than the square peg you were trying to force into that round hole…

5. Visualize.

When you come to a scene, play the film of what you want to happen in your mind. Imagine it as realistically as you can. Faces, smells, feelings… Then let the film run on. See where it goes and follow it.

6. Don’t be afraid to change things.

We’ve all been there. That favourite line or phrase you can’t bear to cut out but the scene just isn’t working with it in. My rule of thumb is ‘If in doubt, take it out’. I can’t tell you how many times something I thought was brilliant was actually the blockage. You remove it and the whole thing starts flowing again. I know this is your baby but try not to be too precious about it. When you send your story out to the big bad world, you want it in the best shape you can get it. If that means being ruthless then so be it.

7. Stand back.

Sometimes when things aren’t quite working out you need a change of perspective. Take a mental step back and look at the big picture of the plot. Where do you want the story to go? Is what you trying to write helping to take it there? If the answer’s no then look for a new route. Retrace your steps to where it went wrong and try again.

And when you’re really stuck…

8. Take a break.

Do something different. Put the story to one side. Go and work on something else. Write some flash fiction or a short story. Anything to get your creative juices flowing again. The important thing is to keep writing. But there’s no point staring at a screen for hours if nothing is coming.

9. Revisit earlier writing.

Maybe earlier on in the manuscript. Something else you’re proud of. Find examples of stories and plotlines that you fixed in the past and note the changes you made. Try to learn from your previous mistakes.

10. Read.

Sometimes you can get buried so deep into your own work that you forget the world is bigger than just you and your story. I know how easy it is to convince yourself that you’ve not got time. You’re too busy writing. Reading other authors’ work will broaden your mind and help develop your own writing skills. It was Stephen King who said, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ Take time to appreciate and learn from the best.

Now go and write. And whatever you do – remember to have fun!

D.B.


Book reviews: Are they worth the cyberspace they’re written on?

Book reviews…. OK, bear with me on this one. I know we’ve all heard a lot more than we ever wanted to about them over the last few weeks. But sock-puppets and reviews-for-hire aside, I’ve been having a think about book reviews in general and the online variety in particular and asking some tough questions of them in a hopefully objective kind of a way. So here’s my little two penn’worth to throw into the melting pot of opinions…

If you’re anything like me then buying a new book almost invariably means a visit to Amazon. With the amount of internet traffic Amazon sees, it stands to reason that the very visible customer reviews on the site make a difference to the choices we make and the books we buy. But do they really?

Well, I can obviously only speak on behalf of yours truly but I can’t remember the last time I read a review in Amazon, let alone bought a book because of one. You see, when it comes to books, there aren’t many people whose opinions I trust. There’s a few book bloggers I know, the reviewers for national newspapers and a handful of close friends who have the same tastes in literature as me but other than that I don’t put too much store in what anyone else says about a book. I don’t think I’m a literary snob – I’ve just seen far too many books that are very poorly written with four and five star ratings to believe anything I read any more. Maybe I’m just a bit of a cynic but I’d like to think it’s more like a touch of realism.

Now reviews may be useful from a writers point of view to see what your readers make of your book but even then I doubt they give an accurate picture. For example, say someone ‘Looks Inside’ your book, thinks it looks badly written and never gives your work a second thought. Is that going to be reflected in a bad review? Of course not. The absence of negative reviews proves absolutely nothing. So how then would all the glowing reviews by the, shall we say, less discerning readers help me tell if a book is worth reading? If you look hard enough you can find people who will five star review just about anything regardless of the standard. And they definitely do because I’ve read them.

So do I think customer book reviews are worthless? Not entirely, no. But are they being devalued? Absolutely.

What surprises me the most is the number of authors, particularly on Twitter, who post customer reviews as a way of marketing their books. I can honestly say that I’ve never once clicked on one of those links. I’m not wishing to be harsh but, seriously, to my way of thinking it ain’t worth a hill o’ beans. Sorry Tweeters!

So what does make me buy a book then? Well, I’m afraid I have to hold my hands up and admit that I do judge books by their covers. Rightly or wrongly, in my head at least, unprofessional presentation is likely to be reflected in the standard of writing. But by far the most important thing for me, particularly when discovering an author for the first time, is to read a sample of the writing. Seeing the first chapter would be good but generally you can tell by the first page whether you’re going to want to read on or not. So if you want to sell me your book, my tip would be to let me ‘Look Inside’. And if you pique my interest there then no amount of bad reviews would put me off coughing up my hard earned dough to read it.

So there it is. That’s my opinion for what its worth. But feel free to disagree with me and if anyone has evidence to the contrary then I’m happy to be proven wrong….

Thanks for reading,
D.B.


Hello world!

Right, here goes. My very first blog post…

I think the most obvious place to start would be an introduction both to me and my writing. If you’re following me then So first of all – me… I was born in 1986. I’ll help you with the maths – that makes me 25 (coming up for 26). My love affair with writing began at school. Stories and essays came pretty easy and I was good at them. Or thought I was at least. I didn’t really write outside of school though. I was far too busy reading for that. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Famous Five and whatever else I could get my hands on. As a teenager, I went through the obligatory stage of writing angsty poems and even entered a few into competitions. Needless to say I never won.

For the next decade my writing was virtually nonexistent. I kept an ideabook and even started a few projects but they invariably petered out pretty quickly. Work and other responsibilities meant that any spare time I had was quickly swallowed up. The thought of countless hours spent writing and then the impossible task of getting published at the end of it all meant the idea of a book with my name on it was little more than a pipedream. But then with the advent of the Kindle and the success of other indie authors, the finish line felt a whole lot closer than it had before. And so, either much later than it should have or perhaps arriving precisely when it meant to, my serious writing began.