Friday, 15 January 2021

Forgotten Book - The Plague Court Murders

Published in 1934, The Plague Court Murders witnessed the debut of Sir Henry Merrivale, solver of locked room mysteries and unquestionably one of the Great Detectives of the Golden Age. Interestingly, the book was originally sub-titled 'a Chief Inspector Masters Mystery'. As Doug Greene says in his magisterial biography of John Dickson Carr (required reading for Carr fans and indeed any fan of classic crime), the author initially focused on the Scotland Yard man, who is a sceptical ghost-hunter, but this interest faded in Masters' later cases. Merrivale, who only enters the story half-way through, is by far the more memorable character, and it's no surprise that Carr chose to put him centre stage from then on.


The book was published under the name Carter Dickson, and Doug indicates that Carr's initial concept was that these books, branded distinctly, should concentrate on slightly simpler central puzzles. The mystery here is how a dodgy medium, Roger Darworth, can possibly have been murdered in locked room by an old dagger, once the property of a hangman, whose ghost is said to haunt Plague Court.

Quite apart from its historic importance as Merrivale's debut, this book is attractive because of the wonderfully atmospheric writing. Carr does lay the weirdness of Plague Court on with a trowel, but for me it works really well, and helps to create the necessary (very necessary) suspension of disbelief. The problem of the first murder (and as the title indicates, there is another one, almost as bizarre) is absolutely fascinating.

All that said, this isn't one of my favourite Carr mysteries. That's because I found the solution - ingenious as it is - very hard to swallow in several respects. No spoilers here, but I struggled to believe that the culprit could have got away with the central deception that set up the circumstances for the crime. One can debate whether it's an example of fair play, but I'm inclined to give Carr the benefit of the doubt on that point. However, the suspects and their possible motives weren't, for me, as interesting as the characters in Carr's best books, and the split of detective interest between Masters and Merrivale is rather clunky. But one has to remember that, although Carr was by 1934 a seasoned writer, he was still just in his late twenties. This book isn't a masterpiece, but it's a fun read all the same. 

  

 

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Bleak House - BBC (2005)


I've been a fan of Charles Dickens since my teens; I've even featured him in a couple of short stories. He was a terrific novelist. Much as I admire David Copperfield, Great Expectations and the light but enjoyable The Pickwick Papers, my favourite Dickens novel has long been Bleak House. I received my copy as a school prize when I was about fourteen and devoured it with great enthusiasm - despite its length. When the pandemic gave me more time for TV viewing, therefore, I thought I'd catch up on Andrew Davies's 2005 TV adaptation, which I missed first time around. Thanks to good old BBC Iplayer, I was rewarded with riches.

Indeed, deciding to watch this series turned out to be one of my best lockdown decisions. Davies is a superb screenwriter, and I've enjoyed much of his work, but here he excels himself. Each of the fifteen episodes into which he split this very long and complex novel is gripping. Davies's secret is that, like Dickens, he understands that a writer should never be ashamed of writing entertainingly. You can still make powerful points, and in both the novel and the TV series, Dickens and Davies do just that.

Davies will, I imagine, be the first to say that he was exceedingly fortunate in his cast. It is outstanding and the stars put in, without exception, tremendous performances. So Gillian Anderson is a charismatic if aloof Lady Dedlock, Timothy West is great as her bumbling old husband, Anna Maxwell Martin is charming as Esther (and more appealing, I think, than she is in the book), while Nathaniel Parker, so often cast as the good guy, is splendidly loathsome as Harold Skimpole. Denis Lawson does a fine job in the tricky role of John Jarndyce, while Charles Dance is utterly menacing as the remorseless solicitor Tulkinghorn.

I could go on and on, because there are so many fine performances, but I do want to single out Phil Davis's interpretation of the odious moneylender Smallweed. Absolutely brilliant. I must say that I was surprised that fog doesn't play a part in the programme - Davies blamed technical problems for causing him to remove foggy references from the script - but frankly that's a quibble. There is so much to enjoy in this version. It's the best screen adaptation of a classic novel that I've ever seen. Truly a tour de force.   

The Pembrokeshire Murders - ITV


I've been watching The Pembrokeshire Murders on ITV this week. Two episodes so far, with one more to come tonight, plus a documentary about the case. I wanted to watch the drama-documentary because the case has interested me for many years. This is the latest in a number of true crime shows on the major UK tv channels, dealing with the likes of Dennis Nilsen and so on. And this trend has in turn given rise to debate about the ethics of true crime shows - a subject of some importance, but one which I'll leave to another day, other than to say that I think a great deal depends on the quality of treatment of the material.

The Pembrokeshire Murders is well-made, and Luke Evans, playing Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, is a charismatic actor. The story is presented as a cold case mystery: Wilkins took a fresh look at three cases which he believes are linked. These are the murders of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985, the double murder of a couple, Peter and Gwen Dixon, on a coastal path (a very high profile mystery - I remember watching the original coverage on Crimewatch UK) and an attack on a group of young people, including rape and sexual assault at gunpoint.

There's no great mystery about whodunit. The prime suspect is John Cooper, a hardened criminal who at the time Wilkins' investigation begins, is serving time in prison for other offences. Cooper is played by Keith Allen, who invests a truly dreadful man with a few glimmerings of humanity that bring him to life: it's a very assured performance, and can't have been easy. But Allen is excellent.

The investigation is intriguing. One extraordinary stroke of luck is the discovery that Cooper appeared in a TV darts game show which enables the detectives to show that his appearance at that point resembled the portrait of the suspect. So far, we haven't heard much about the victims. This is always a dilemma for writers of such a programme. How far do you trespass on personal privacy, and to what extent do you risk glamourising a cold-hearted killer by focusing on him rather than on those he attacked? The makers have tried to surmount this challenge by giving us quite extensive coverage of Wilkins' personal life. So far, they have struck a reasonably good balance, even though the concept of the decent cop who doesn't give his family enough priority is a very, very well-worn theme, which isn't handled with any great originality here. Overall, though, this is one of the better dramas based on a real life crime in the UK.   

PS - I've now watched the third episode. Often, series of this kind fade after the first episode, but in this case, I thought the reverse was the case, and the story actually became stronger. The trial scenes were especially well done.


Monday, 11 January 2021

Which Wimsey? Carmichael versus Petherbridge


I keep trying to find upsides from the pandemic. One of them has been the chance to watch some TV shows and films I've missed, or not watched for a long time. I've now had a second look at two television series which aired in the 70s and 80s respectively. They are adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels, with different actors playing Wimsey. All the books but Whose Body?Unnatural Death and Busman's Honeymoon were screened. There has never been a TV or film version of the under-rated (but tricky to film) non-series novel, The Documents in the Case.

The first thing to say is that both series stand up to the test of time. Much better than I'd have expected, to be honest. This is perhaps especially true of the first series, starring Ian Carmichael as Wimsey. One tends to under-estimate Carmichael, and as he admitted himself, he was really too old for the part, but he throws himself into it with so much enthusiasm that one can't help but be swept along. He was a real fan of the stories, and that degree of commitment is evident. Wimsey isn't the easiest character to play, because of his (often deliberate) mannerisms, but Carmichael does a good job. The production values aren't brilliant, but the scripts are very capable.

I had warmer memories of the subsequent series, featuring Edward Petherbridge. The way in which he conducts his pursuit of Harriet Vane (splendidly played by Harriett Walter) is slightly more mannered than I recalled, but his performances are consistently good, as he rises to another testing challenge. Wimsey in the later books had become less of a Woosterish 'silly ass', and rather more of a romantic hero. There was some element of wish fulfilment in his portrayal, as Sayers herself admitted, and also in that of Vane, but I've always thought that it's rather patronising, as well as less than accurate, to say that Sayers 'fell in love with her hero'.

Sayers' ambition as a crime writer was admirable. Yes, there are flaws in all the books, but there are riches too. And by and large, the stories make excellent television. Five Red Herrings is a relatively plodding alibi mystery, but the TV version was, for me at least, definitely more enjoyable. The screenplay of Have His Carcase might perhaps have been better as three episodes rather than four, but reducing the chit-chat in Gaudy Night resulted in an entertaining version that captures some of the flavour of the original without the prolixity. I also loved Richard Morant's version of that estimable sidekick Bunter.    

So - Carmichael or Petherbridge? If you'd asked me a year ago, I would definitely have opted for Petherbridge's interpretation. But on reflection, I must say that both actors (supported by very good casts) do an excellent job. For escapist viewing, both Wimsey series are perfect for these troubled times, 




Friday, 8 January 2021

Forgotten Book - Betrayals

Charles Palliser, an American long resident in Britain, is an interesting writer with a gift for pastiche. But that description doesn't do him full justice, because he has a considerable literary range as well as talent. This is well illustrated by Betrayals, a book published twenty-five years ago with more than a touch of Borges about it. It's much less well-known than his debut, Quincunx (which I'm hoping to read soon) but I found it very interesting.

The book is divided into ten sections. The first and last are extracts from a newspaper, the Daily Scot, an obituary and a review respectively. The former is a malicious piece of work, about a late Glaswegian professor called William Henry Dugdale. It refers to a number of mysterious incidents, and these allusive touches set a pattern for the book.

The next section, 'The Wrong Tracks', is particularly enjoyable. It's a collection of three stories, each told by passengers from a stranded train. It soon becomes clear that there are connecting themes, in particular about types of betrayal, and these connections continue throughout the narratives that follow. These are highly varied, and even include a parody of the then hugely popular Scottish TV series Taggart. I enjoyed Palliser's wit very much, even though I felt that particular section of the story was expanded beyond its natural length.

That said, the book doesn't, in the end, hang together quite as well as I'd hoped. There are various deliberate infelicities in the texts, and I'd anticipated a satisfying explanation for them; if one was provided, I missed it. I certainly got the impression that Palliser was paying off a few personal scores, and the book does not ultimately prove to be quite as tightly structured as it might have been, all the connections and repeated themes in the different sections of the story notwithstanding. So I can't claim that Betrayals is entirely successful, because to some extent I felt it fizzled out. But there's plenty of entertainment along the way. And plenty of ingenuity too.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Cover Me - Colin Larkin - review

The sub-title of Colin Larkin's Cover Me, just published by Telos Books, speaks for itself: The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965. This large and lavishly illustrated is a joy to leaf through, and Larkin's chatty text brims with enthusiasm for his subject. He explains how he acquired a massive collection of Pan paperback cover artwork, and one or two controversies which he encountered thereafter. Illustrations which were once perceived as valueless and disposable are now very valuable. This book is a long-term project, clearly a labour of love, and Telos have done him proud with the quality of reproduction of the images. Author and publisher deserve to be congratulated.


Paperback artwork isn't a subject that I'd ever thought about much (except perhaps in the context of my own books) until I bumped into the American expert Art Scott at the Las Vegas Bouchercon, not far short of twenty years ago. I bought a copy of Art's book about Robert McGinnis's artwork and although Colin Larkin is interested in an imprint rather than an individual artist, he is clearly as expert as Art Scott. He discusses many of the artists responsible for Pan covers and among other things, I learned the - to me, rather amazing - fact that the Pan piper logo was originally designed by Mervyn Peake.

This is a book about artwork rather than the novels themselves, but since Pan had a specialism in crime and thriller titles, many novels and authors familiar to crime fans feature here. It's clear that Colin Larkin isn't an Agatha Christie fan, and he is under the mistaken if not uncommon impression that The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a locked room mystery (it's a closed circle mystery, i.e. with a restricted pool of suspects, which is rather different). But this is a tiny quibble - the sort reviewers indulge in just to prove they've read the book! In a volume of this kind what matters is the principal subject matter, and he discusses that in a very informative way.

I was starting to buy cheap paperbacks at or just after the end of the era that Colin Larkin writes about, and to me - in those days - the Pan covers seemed rather old-fashioned. I much preferred Tom Adams' covers for the Christies which appeared under the Fontana imprint. Now, with the distance of time, I've modified my views. The Pan covers seem to capture a particular era, an age of austerity when excitement was perhaps felt to be in short supply. In some cases, they also seem rather sexist, but at the time 'raciness' was considered very appealing. We can learn about social attitudes from a book like this, just as we can from reading the novels themselves. The vivid, occasionally lurid covers played a huge part in selling books in large quantities. 

Covers do matter, whether we authors like it or not. And thanks to Colin Larkin and Telos, we can now enjoy an extended glimpse into a vanished world. I was really glad to read this book.  

 

 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Making a Start

This week should get the new year off to a good start, since I'm aiming to deliver a new book to the publishers. This one is called 21 and it's a short story anthology, a collective effort on the part of the members of Murder Squad, the group of northern writers founded by Margaret Murphy back in 2000. Back then, we never dreamed that the group would still be going strong after so many years. And back at the start of last year, we were looking forward to various events to celebrate our 20th anniversary - we even acquired a special logo, as you can see below! Well, we all know what happened about that, but we also planned to produce this book in 2021, and we were delighted when Severn House signed it up.


There are six current members of the Squad: Ann Cleeves, Kate Ellis, Margaret, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, and me. Each of us have contributed three stories - more than half of which are either brand new or haven't previously been published in the UK, while former members John Baker (now retired as a novelist) and Chaz Brenchley (now based in the US) and, by kind permission of his widow Doreen, the late Stuart Pawson have one story each in the book. I've written an editorial intro and Margaret has contributed a foreword. We're happy with the book and we hope our readers will be too.

I tend to avoid making new year resolutions these days. At the moment, mere survival seems a reasonable objective! But I've been writing away over the festive season, and I hope that this blog will occasionally feature extended posts on selected subjects. For instance, I want to talk about Ann's latest novel and Kate's most recent Devonian whodunit, discussing facets of their writing which I find particularly interesting, and musing on the various similarities and differences in our work.

As for 'live' events, it's too soon to know what this year holds in store. Last night I enjoyed catching up online with friends such as Shelly Dickson Carr, Gigi Pandian, Jeff Marks, and Steve Steinbock, whom I've missed seeing at various conventions in the US. This was in lieu or our usual dinner at Malice Domestic, but when we'll next get together in person remains to be seen. Maybe at Bouchercon in New Orleans, if we're really lucky. 

And this week I undertake my third week of online lecturing for Adventures Online, on The Art of the English Murder Mystery. I very much enjoy working with various colleagues on these sessions, not least Simon Dinsdale, a former police superintendent with a wealth of great stories. This is a programme aimed currently at American crime fans, but who knows, it may extend to the UK in due course. Fingers crossed!  

  

Friday, 1 January 2021

Forgotten Book - Big Ben Strikes Eleven

Happy new year! As I've mentioned, it's going to be a busy one for me in terms of writing projects. I'm also aiming to keep this blog going in 2021 and I hope to include occasional pieces about crime writing technique. My website has finally been revamped, and the updating process will continue in the coming months. Let me encourage you to get in touch via the contact page as well as by comments on this blog if you have any questions or suggestions. 

After watching the understandably muted new year celebrations, I thought I'd ring in the new year with a post about a truly forgotten novel which is rather interesting, even if its title isn't as relevant to the story as one might expect.   

David Magarshack (1899-1977) is remembered today as a notable translator of Russian, in particular the work of Dostoievsky and Gogol. He was born in Riga when it was within the Russian Empire and he fled to Britain after the First World War because of the antisemitic legal regime in his homeland. He studied at the University of London and tried to make a career in journalism, with limited success. In the 1930s he followed fashion and tried his hand at writing a detective story. The result was Big Ben Strikes Eleven.

The ambition of this novel is illustrated by its sub-title: 'A Murder Story for Grown-Up People'. What does this mean? To a modern reader it seems rather patronising, as if the debut author is saying that most mystery fiction is written for childish minds. I doubt that was his intention. What I think he was probably trying to get at was that he wanted to write about character and motive, to make his book something more than a crossword puzzle type of whodunit. Possibly he saw himself as a Dostoievsky of commercial crime fiction. I confess that I'd not heard of Magarshack until he was mentioned to me by Elinor Shaffer, who in turn introduced me to two fellow academics, Muireann Maguire and Catherine McAteer, who have given me some very helpful insights. 

This story concerns the death of the rich and (naturally) unpleasant Sir Robert Boniface, who is found shot in his blue limousine. There is a possibility that he committed suicide, although the sub-title kills off that interpretation. We are introduced to a fairly narrow range of suspects, and the detective work is undertaken not by a brilliant amateur but by two Scotland Yard men, Superintendent Mooney and Inspector Beckett.

Dorothy L. Sayers gave the novel a rave review and I must say that the calibre of writing is truly remarkable for someone who had arrived in Britain less than fifteen years before the book appeared in 1934. The prose is a little ponderous, though, perhaps a side-effect of Magarshack's literary ambitions. I've read his second novel, Death Cuts a Caper, but found it fairly turgid, despite some interesting elements in the storyline such as the use of tarot cards. He wrote a third novel (which I haven't yet read) but then abandoned crime for translation, where he achieved much more success. Perhaps he'd discovered that writing murder stories for grown-ups is harder than it looks.  

Thursday, 31 December 2020

A Year for Writing



Writing can be hard work, especially when ideas and words don't flow as one would wish, but it's richly rewarding work, which offers a great deal of solace when times aren't easy. For me, and I suspect for many others, writing and reading really have been lifelines in 2020. I'm especially grateful to my readers, many of whom have taken the trouble to get in touch during the past year. And despite everything, the past twelve months have in so many ways been the best of my writing career. Topping all else, naturally, was the award of the CWA Diamond Dagger, presented virtually by Ann Cleeves during an online ceremony. The above photo from the 2017 Daggers dinner, when I presented the award to Ann, is still as close as I've got to handling the actual diamond-encrusted and very valuable award, but I have received my personal dagger!


There will be more to say in weeks to come about what I've been working on this year. On the publishing front, it was a year of non-stop activity, with a strong Golden Age focus to many of my projects. I brought out five new books, led by Mortmain Hall. This is a novel that I'm especially proud of, and the reviews in Britain and the US were fantastic. One of the quotes I love is from A.N. Wilson - 'A whole page would not give me space to explain the intricacy of this story. A tangle of satisfying clues and a pleasing denouement in the classic Christie manner.' I was also thrilled to see the book featuring in 'best of the year' lists, notably on CrimeReads and from Ragnar Jonasson. It's truly rewarding to see experts who really know the Golden Age inside out, like Ragnar, Xavier Lechard, and Jose Ignacio Escribano, appreciating the book. The artwork by Ed Bettison for the UK edition attracted a lot of attention and as a result Ed was commissioned by the lovely people at Head of Zeus to produce a new cover in the same style for a welcome reprint of the paperback edition of Gallows Court:


Speaking of cover artwork, I was also really impressed by Steven Leard's work for HarperCollins on the cover of Howdunit, the Detection Club masterclass on the art and graft of crime writing, which I spent much of last year compiling. The challenge of naming all 90 contributors plus myself was formidable, but he rose to it splendidly. This is a book which, because of the quality of the contributions by so many fine writers, from Christie and Sayers to Rankin and Le Carre, should enjoy a long life. I believe that many of the contributors' comments have a timeless quality and are of interest to all crime fans, not just would-be crime writers. Again, the fact that the book appeared in 'best of the year' features in two national newspapers as well as on some leading blogs was truly heartening.


I put together Vintage Crime on behalf of the Crime Writers' Association. Published by Flame Tree Press, this anthology is another beautifully produced book. The stories included chart the evolution of short crime fiction since the CWA was formed nearly seventy years ago, with contributors ranging from Julian Symons to two fine writers of today, Frances Fyfield and Mick Herron.



Throughout this testing year, the British Library team somehow managed to continue with their programme of publishing one Crime Classic a month and I contributed introductions to each of them. In particular, there were two more anthologies which I compiled. I have a soft spot for Settling Scores: each story is by a different author and features a different outdoor sport - as far as I know, that's not been done before. 

 



Almost all these books were actually written last year, but the final compilation of 2020 was somehow rushed through during the pandemic in order to meet the deadline for the Christmas books market. It's my fourth collection of short seasonal mysteries for the British Library, A Surprise for Christmas. The title story was written by one of my favourite authors of the past, Cyril Hare.


Among the foreign editions of my books, I was particularly delighted by the Chinese translation of The Golden Age of Murder. The publishers were even kind enough to make stamps of my autograph and myself to include in copies, given my inability to attend a book launch! During the year I've enjoyed keeping in touch with a number of people I got to know in China last year, and hope I can get back there before too long. 


I contributed an essay on 'Plotting' to The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, a book I shall be discussing in more detail in the new year. On the true crime front , there was an essay, 'The First of Criminals', about Harold Shipman, for an anthology edited by Mitzi Szereto. There were also articles for a range of online and print magazines, including CrimeReads, CADS, and NB magazine, plus appreciations in a biography of H.R.F. Keating and Joseph Goodrich's very interesting Unusual Suspects

As regards short stories, I wrote 'The Observance of Trifles', a jokey short story in the form of a blog post plus comments for In League with Sherlock Holmes, edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King; I am looking forward to receiving my copy and reading the stories by fellow contributors such as Tess Geritsen. I wrote a Golden Age story for My Weekly called 'Respect and Respectability' which is likely to be picked up in a forthcoming anthology; it introduces a new character called Miriam Ackroyd, who may well return again. Another Golden Age story, 'The Locked Cabin', appeared in an 'impossible crime' anthology edited by Maxim Jakubowski and I was extremely gratified the other day to hear that it will be included next year in a collection of the best short stories of the year. All in all, then, a full and (despite the pandemic) exciting year.

And yes, there is more to come in 2021...



 

Monday, 28 December 2020

A Year Like No Other

                                                                      


Crime writers trade in the fragility and unpredictability of human existence, and perhaps that's been quite good training for life in 2020. Like everyone else, I found that the year unfolded in a way that I'd never imagined. Across the world, everyone has had their own challenges to face and for me, these have been the inability to get together with loved ones and friends or to travel and take part in the many events I'd looked forward to. We've all had to find a way of coping which suits us as individuals. From the start of the pandemic it seemed to me that the key thing is to look after one's health: physical, mental, and financial. And also to hope that one isn't unlucky, because in truth, there's a limit to the extent that one can control things. Among other things, I've been fortunate to live in a lovely place and it's been no hardship to spend more time there than usual.  

I did manage a few events at the start of the year: a book club event in our local village, the Detection Club AGM and dinner in February (although with hindsight, the spooky emptiness of the train to London was a harbinger of things to come), and a lovely trip to Loughborough University, doing events with Professor Mike Wilson and his students, who were working on a theatrical performance of a Jefferson Farjeon story. 

In April, I celebrated (in a locked down sort of way!) 40 years as a qualified solicitor. I'd expected to retire, but in fact I've carried on working part-time as a consultant and in this strange year I've been glad to stay in touch, remotely, with my other working life. Two lecture trips on the Queen Mary 2 were scrapped, but their place has been taken by two weeks of online lecturing for Adventures Online, with more in the pipeline. I've got to know - again remotely - a fascinating chap called Simon Dinsdale, a retired superintendent with a fund of stories. We've started working together online and I hope this can continue next year. 

One decision I took at the start of the pandemic was to do as much writing and writing-related stuff as circumstances allowed. This has worked out really well. At the start of the year, I was fretting about whether I'd be able to meet various deadlines. As it turned out, I even managed to add a few more projects into the bargain. So despite the disappointment of not having personal contact with so many people whose company I wanted to share, technology has filled some of the gaps, and although Facetime and Zoom are definitely not the same, they are much, much better than nothing. As for those friends who have suffered this dreadful illness or the effects of 'long covid', my heart goes out to them. 

I'm full of admiration for the people who have worked tirelessly to make online events happen. I'm really grateful to Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen, Sarah Ward and Buxton International Festival, Manjiri and the team at Pune International Literary Festival, the lovely people at UK Crime Book Club, Nick Wells and Flame Tree Press, Dea Parkin, Antony Johnston, and the CWA, Bonnie MacBird and the CWA London chapter, and Giles Ramsay and the Adventures Online team. Inevitably it's a selective list, but doing online events with other people has brightened my year immeasurably. 

Reading has, as always, been highly therapeutic. I've also done quite a lot of comfort TV watching, including the Carmichael and Petherbridge Lord Peter Wimsey series, which stand the test of time pretty well, loads of Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and the utterly brilliant Spooks. But I've stopped watching the TV news! My travelling has been restricted to short covid-compliant breaks, but this at least enabled me to undertake quite a lot of research for the novel I recently started to write. Hardcastle Crags, Kinver Edge, and Calke Abbey all proved to be quite inspirational settings. Not to mention seeing the National Rhubarb Collection at Clumber Park - though I'm not sure how I could work that into a story! And before this extraordinary year ends, I'll reflect further on my writing life in 2020.