Word on the Wire

Month: November, 2014


Like writers, book launches come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve attended glitzy affairs for high profile authors – sometimes held at literary festivals where you have a glass of fizzy plonked in your mitt by a smiling publicist – as well as the more usual signings at bookshops. With the demise of the latter, writers are finding different ways to launch their brand new novels.

Recently, I’ve been invited to a couple of virtual book launches and, no slur intended, but I don’t really get them because, for me, I like talking to people face to face and, if lucky, finding other writers with whom to swap gossip and generally chat about word on the wire. Let’s face it, there’s so much you can’t possibly pick up online. Wasn’t it Gore Vidal who said: ‘Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.’ Well, there is nothing like a book launch to observe that sentiment at close quarters! Sure, there’s lots of grinning and glad-handing, and well wishes, and they are genuinely meant, but it’s also human nature for the less successful to have a little pang when clutching hold of a brand new novel that isn’t theirs while thinking (read this in a dramatic voice): ‘This should have been mine!’

My first novel was launched at the London Book Fair, which was a lot less glamorous than it sounds.   I lurked around a stand for the best part of a couple of hours and as, no pun intended, nobody knew Eve from Adam, I was studied by very few punters and in the same way a scientist views a new variety of algae.   The best bit was the dinner afterwards with my agent and husband. Since then, I’ve had less formal launches at hotels and libraries. Frankly, I’m more interested in ‘getting around a bit’ via radio interviews, talks, and participating in panels at literary events when I’ve got a new book out. I enjoy this side of the business, although in common with many writers, there is a point where I yearn to be at home writing my next tome.

So with all this flowing through my head, I set off for deepest, darkest Shropshire last week to attend the launch of ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne’ by Sarah Vincent. If you’re not familiar with the novel you can catch my review in the online version of the Cheltenham Standard.   Suffice to say, that the main protagonist Vida Tremayne is a writer who lives on erm… the deepest, darkest Welsh borders. Honestly, when I stepped inside Sarah Vincent’s home, I thought I’d stepped into Vida’s! Relieved to find that all Sarah’s friends were perfectly lovely, (no obsessive fan lurking around the kitchen sink or puma stalking the grounds – please buy and read the novel) I spent a jolly afternoon eating scrummy chocolate cake and chatting to her friends. These included a couple of writers, Suzanna Williams and Lisa Carey, and it wasn’t long before we were in a coven of three discussing writing methods, which was pretty fascinating. And before you ask, no, the green-eyed monster consumes none of us!



If I were parked on a desert island and asked to supply eight pieces of music for the programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, I’d probably choose film music because it hits the spot on so many levels, not just aurally but visually.  I can’t listen to Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana without thinking of that tragic scene on the steps in Godfather Three when Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary, is shot dead. John Barry, most often recognised for his Bond themes, surpassed himself with John Dunbar’s theme in ‘Dances With Wolves’, and who can fail to be moved by Maurice Jarre’s soaring strings in Lawrence of Arabia, or stirred by Hans Zimmer’s fabulous score in ‘Gladiator’? When life isn’t kind I have a habit of playing this at maximum volume – sorry neighbours – to bolster me. In the same way, Vaughn Williams ‘ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ and the epic scale of the harmony reminds me of my main protagonist, Paul Tallis, and my favourite ‘Russian’ novel in the Tallis series ‘Land of Ghosts’.  And so the list goes on. But my attention has been caught lately by some superb soundtracks accompanying recent TV dramas and boxed sets.

It all started with the theme to ‘Luther’ and Massive Attack’s creepy, sensuous Paradise Circus. The creep factor continues in ‘Vikings’ with ‘If I had a heart’ by Fever Ray in which electronic sound combines to create a haunting, icy and atmospheric backdrop to Ragnar Lothbrok’s dark ambitions. Ramin Djawadi’s distinct musical identity, with his hallmark ‘horse cantering’ rhythm, is richly displayed in the theme to ‘Game of Thrones’, and must be one of the most covered soundtracks – I recently stumbled across a clip of the Queens Guards’ own version.

So far, so good, and while theme and incidental music can be used to magical effect, it can also spring a strange, if not jarring, note. While the use of rock music, specifically Nick Cave’s sublime ‘Red Right Hand’, tracks from the Arctic Monkeys and Jack White’s cover of U2’s ‘Love is Blindness’ – one of my all time favourites – serve Peaky Blinders brilliantly, the same device, using tambourine-rattling 60’s sounding music, (Straight Up and Down by the Brian Jonestown Massacre) fails (for me) in Boardwalk Empire. It just doesn’t resonate, which is a shame because, when the music of the Prohibition era  is threaded into each episode, it delightfully complements and enhances what is an incredibly stylish American period gangster drama.

The only downside of all this musicality: I constantly have a theme tune of one sort or another revolving around my brain. Tra-la!


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the superb second series of ‘Peaky Blinders’. I said that I had a horrible feeling that it would ‘end in tears’. Well, the final episode seemed to be fulfilling my prophecy. Providing a master class in dramatic tension, ‘Blinders’ had me on the edge of my seat right up until the last few frames. I won’t insert a spoiler, but if you want to find out how to craft a story or simply watch it as a pure piece of brilliant entertainment, I can’t recommend this drama highly enough.

In the same vein, the last episode of Gomorrah held a few surprises. From a dramatic viewpoint, I was slightly bothered by the fact that every character has a ruthless and cruel streak, but I guess you could argue that these are based on real-life Naples gangsters – what else should I expect? Indeed, one of the sweet-baby-faced actors Vincenzo Esposito (who comes to a nasty end in the series) was partly chosen for his role because he has heavy links to organised crime.   Since then, he’s been arrested in connection with a brutal stabbing. It’s the gripping realism of ‘Gomorrah’ that makes it so watchable. Yes, it’s ugly, it’s unfair, it lacks glamour and this is a good thing because it opens your eyes, without being preachy, to the fact that this kind of lifestyle can only end one way.  I’ll definitely be watching the second series.

So what was next? The second series of Vikings and, my goodness, this has been ramped up in every way. Ragnar, not content with one woman in his life, fancies himself as a bit of a Scandi-Lothario, although wife number one is having none of it and heads off into the sunset in a real show of girl power. She returns later, having sorted out husband number two, to prove herself as a shield-maiden. Something that struck me more forcefully this time around is the importance of women in Viking society. They fight. They can divorce their husbands. They oversee marriage ceremonies. They also appear to have a bit more social mobility than their Christian counterparts.

As expected, there’s plenty of plotting as alliances are made and broken. Revenge is exacted and sometimes with a cruelty that is jaw dropping. I’ll leave you to work out what the punishment of the ‘blood eagle’ amounts to. Finishing where I started, in common with ‘Blinders’, the second series of Vikings builds on the first. It’s more character-driven and tightly plotted, and for that reason very much more satisfying.



I enjoy watching foreign films and have little problem with sub-titles. True, if the film is French or German, my ability to follow the action and speech is a bit more seamless than if I’m watching in other languages. I don’t have a single Danish word in my vocabulary, yet I found ‘The Killing’ easy peasy. Likewise, ‘The Raid’ (Malay).

Having heard a fair amount about ‘Gomorrah’, we decided to give it a crack last weekend. To get us in the mood, we watched ‘Romanzo Criminale’. Now I don’t know whether it’s me, but it took me a while to keep up with the action. To my English ears, it appears that Italians cram a lot of words into a single sentence. (I’d be happy to hear from Italian mates on the subject). Did it detract from my enjoyment? Not a bit of it. By the time, I’d got past the first ten minutes I was flying.

Critics have compared ‘Romanzo’ to Goodfellas. For this reason I was expecting more brutality with the violence. The fact that it was measured – sure, people get gunned down, but there were no gut-wrenching scenes of torture or smashing up with baseball bats – made it more watchable because there were no distractions. In essence the film is a tale of three friends, inseparable as kids, and committed to each other as adults until, in true Italian fashion, vendettas are made and scores settled. The big controlling idea and moral of the tale is stark and bleak: crime doesn’t pay.

So feeling molto bene, we watched the first eight episodes of the first series of ‘Gomorrah’.   Gritty and intense, the action revolves around the Savastano clan who are involved in a turf war with another gang, with predictable results.

Set in Naples, with its warren of high-rise buildings in which gang members slog it out with each other, I was reminded of Gerald Seymour’s superb book ‘The Collaborator’. Seymour (no relation) gets it so right that I wondered whether he’d had an ‘escorted’ trip.

As with so much Italian drama ‘Gomorrah’ is all about characterisation and the ‘family’. Pietro Savastano, played by Fortunato Cerlino has cornered the market for looking eternally pissed off. His overweight son has an aversion to killing, which isn’t good when you’re supposed to be the don’s heir apparent, (he’s soon forced to overcome his reluctance) and the don’s sexy wife and ‘Mama’ would give Lucrezia Borgia a run for her money. The standout character is Ciro, (Marco D’Amore) a foot soldier caught in an ever increasingly downward spiral of violence.   When Savastano gives in to paranoia and sacrifices many of his own men, including Ciro’s adoptive father, simply to prove who is in control of the streets, Ciro is forced to question where his real loyalties lie. What a beautiful dilemma.

So far, so bene, but the big change of direction in episode nine made me screech to a shuddering halt. Ciro’s actions (I’ll leave you to find out what) might be in keeping with a gangster lifestyle, and I love fatally flawed characters, yet Ciro’s behaviour is so grotesque it makes him unappealing. As the saying goes, the jury is still out and, perhaps episodes 10-12 will bring me back onside…