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Sunday 30 June 2019

Syd Moore


Radmila May talks with Syd Moore

Syd Moore lives in Essex, where the Rosie Strange novels are set. Before embarking on a career in education, Syd worked extensively in the publishing industry, fronting Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. She was the founding editor of Level 4, an arts and culture magazine, and is co-creator of Super Strumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes. Syd has also been a go go dancer, backing singer, subbuteo maker, children’s entertainer and performance poet, She now works for Metal Culture, an arts organisation, promoting arts and cultural events and developing literature programmes. Syd is an out and proud Essex Girl and is lucky enough to live in that county where she spends her free time excavating old myths and listening out for things that go bump in the night. 

Syd, I am delighted to interview you for Mystery People readers and look forward to learning about you and your writing. I will start by congratulating you on being short listed for the Crimefest Short story award. That is terrific news. And may I say that I particularly like your choice of place names, such as Adder’s Fork as the village where most of your stories are set (perhaps not the ideal choice for a holiday), and the sinister Hades Hall.

Radmila: I have really enjoyed your Essex Witch Museum Mysteries and also your talk at the 2019 Bristol Crimefest. You are, as you described yourself, a proud Essex girl and you also obviously have a great interest in witches, especially those of your home county. Could you tell us more about your interest and how was it awoken?Syd: That’s a good question Radmilla! Funnily enough it’s always been an interest of mine. Though nobody calls me Samantha anymore, I was named after Elizabeth Montgomery’s character in the TV show Bewitched. I don’t know if that had an influence on me as I grew up, but I can tell you for sure that I was always interested in what happened to the witch characters in fairytales, and constantly plaguing my parents with the child’s perennial ‘why?’. Why was she a witch? Who said she was a witch? Did she think she was a witch? And if she was a witch, did that mean she cast spells?  So, did that mean magic was real?  I think I must have been vexing. But witches just seemed so much more interesting than the passive vapid princesses waiting to be rescued or married. Witches were active, they did stuff, and they had respect, even if that translated into fear. As I got older, I began to realize that the real witch trials had been full of nuance and hidden agendas. Ironically, I discovered witches often had no power at all, temporal or otherwise. In my twenties I became interested in the Essex witches and also the re-framing of witches by feminists and started investigating the witch trials. I was shocked by the injustice there and it became a bit of a mission to expose some of the terrible stories I uncovered.

Radmila: Although your Essex Witch Museum Mysteries are comparatively light-hearted, there is a strong underpinning of research which gives your stories great authenticity. How do you set about this research?
When I wrote The Drowning Pool, about the legend of a local ‘sea witch’ in my town I uncovered some damming statistics about the Essex witches. We had at least four times the number of indictments for witchcraft than any other county. As I drilled down into this, I discovered the Witchfinder General and the horrific witch panic that he orchestrated I also looked into the detail of the ‘witches’ confessions and was struck by how ludicrous they were and how, really, the whole thing was a massive frame-up. To demonstrate this through fiction, however, I felt that, perhaps ironically, I needed to be as accurate and authentic as possible. As such I often go back to the primary sources and, if it’s appropriate in my fiction, relay the judgements and accusations as they were announced back in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. We’re really lucky in Essex that we’ve got such an amazing Records Office. The staff there are very helpful. I want to work a lot more with them actually. I have an idea about creating a Pop-Up Essex Witch Museum and they’ve been extremely supportive. But that’s another story. I’ve also been to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. Those guys are amazing. Joyce Froome, who is the assistant curator, has a mighty and encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. And she is extremely generous with it too. She and her team have helped me out with various details about magic for which I am very grateful. Without giving away any spoilers, in Strange Fascination I needed a spell that had Eastern European magical paraphernalia woven with hints of British folk lore and which might have been used for protection during the 1950s in rural Essex! Joyce promptly wrote back to me with some hugely useful ideas! She’s great. The museum is awesome – literally. Very much worth a visit.

Radmila: You also describe yourself a feminist. To what extent has the evidence that you have uncovered of the victimisation of impoverished elderly women in the past contributed to this?

I embraced feminism in my twenties before the I got into the nuts and bolts of the historical witch hunts and their atrocities. But yes, what I learnt about the European witch hunts has affected me and confirmed my conviction. Unfortunately, the persecution of witches is not a thing of the past. Attitudes to women have not changed globally. In Kenya right now many older women are being killed because they are thought to be witches, whereas in fact many of them are displaying symptoms of dementia. Witch hunting is absolutely rife in Papua Guinea where older women are also targeted. But it’s not exclusive to age. Young women are frequently accused of using witchcraft to kill and, last year, a six-year-old girl was tortured by a group of men after being accused of sorcery. Witch hunts have always gone after the most vulnerable in society to stigmatize and scapegoat them. Today the vulnerable vary in different cultures. In Nigeria at the moment, for instance, witchcraft accusations are very focussed on young children, toddlers and babies.

Radmila: Previous to the Essex Witch Museum Mysteries you have written a couple of standalones which are both ghost stories and mysteries. Why did you decide to switch to a series?
Syd: Basically, because I wanted a vehicle to explore this great miscarriage of justice and draw people’s attention to the fact it’s not confined to the past. There were so many stories, so many souls who were lost in Essex that you can’t convey it all in one book. There are also many parallels in contemporary life that I wanted to write about. People think that we are far removed from the barbarism of the past, but we haven’t moved on a great deal. We are still very similar to those who walked the earth in the sixteenth and seventh centuries. Like them we blame people (single mothers, immigrants, the EU etc) for problems. We are still slaves to ‘magical thinking’ too.

Radmila: Although you are now a highly successful writer, what other jobs have you done?
Syd: I still work in the arts part time. At the moment I am consulting for Metal, an arts organisation, who support emerging artists. I’m also very very excited to be assisting the curation on a massive exhibition which, I’m afraid, at the time of writing, is all top secret. However, I can talk about the other exhibition which I’m curating, and which opens in November about challenging the stereotype of the Essex Girl, another subject close to my heart. When I’m not writing the next Strange book, I’m developing a follow-up screenplay to Witch West, which has been optioned by Hidden Door Productions. I like all the work. It’s important for me to have variety so I don’t get bored! In the past I had all sorts of jobs from bookselling to lecturing, to a marketing, go-go dancing, publishing. I even had a stint as a performance poet. Back in the late Nineties/early Noughties, I presented three series of Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. That was a lot of fun.

Radmila: I see from the on-line information about you that you have travelled abroad to places where the supernatural abounds (eg. Australia). Is this likely to inspire you?
Syd: I love travel and yes, am often inspired by the places I tour. It’s impossible for me not to lap up local
legends and of course I’m immediately drawn to anything about witches. I have a collection of short stories coming out in September and one of them, Madness in A Coruna, was written when I holidayed in Galicia a few years ago. Once the idea came to me I had to rise early each day to write before my husband and son had woken up. The narrator’s voice was so insistent! He wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d finished the first draft. So, I wrote it at great speed. If you read the story you’ll understand why!

Radmila: What is likely to happen in the series as it develops? What about Rosie’s so far unfulfilled yearnings for Sam, the alluring curator of the Essex Witch Museum? And will her wonderful boots continue to be endangered in forthcoming titles? 
Syd: I don’t think Rosie is ever going to get tired of cowboy boots. There are so many different varieties out there. But, you’re right Radmilla, she does have a habit of getting into scrapes and getting her boots scraped. Her current adventure has her poor gold cowboy boots covered in mulch and decomposing leaves. The horror!
As to her relationship with Sam, well they are experiencing quite giddy highs and some spectacular crushing lows. A bit of peace and quiet might be just the thing they need to stop, reflect and talk things over, but right now, the way things are going at the Witch Museum, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. At the same time Rosie has a habit of doing things as she pleases, speaking her mind and expressing herself in ways I certainly never see coming! She’s very much her own woman in that regard! Watch this space! Or maybe that one, over there in Adder’s Fork.

Strange Magic (2017)
Strange Sight (2017) Strange Fascination (2018)
The Strange Casebook (2018) Strange Tombs (2019)
The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas (2019)

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Friday 28 June 2019

‘He Will Kill You’ by Charlie Gallagher

Published by Joffe Book,
March 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78931-086-3 (PB)

Coercive control and physical domestic abuse have been much in the news recently, so it was only a matter of time before this all too common travesty became the focus of crime fiction. But good crime fiction doesn't just make use of high-profile issues; it turns them on their heads and finds a new approach.

That is exactly what serving police officer Charlie Gallagher has done in this clever police procedural. Detective Sergeant Maddie Ives is part of a CID team investigating day-to-day crimes, and also does a spot of borderline moonlighting, supporting women with abusive partners. One of these women is Grace Hughes, who is keeping a diary of her partner Craig's worst excesses and planning her escape.

When a major bombing incident means it's all hands to the investigative pump, Maddie is distracted; and when a young man whose activities she has been looking into is found dead, she finds she has even less time for her extra-curricular work. And then there's DI Harry Blaker; he and Maddie have history, and he has now returned to work following a serious injury, demanding that she help him out with a possible blackmail case.

Meanwhile, Grace has plans of her own...

Charlie Gallagher's hands-on experience of a detective's workload is very much in evidence almost from the start of this tightly woven novel. The police officers have personal lives, but no time to pursue them; it's easy to see how obvious clues can slip through the net when there simply isn't time to follow every lead – especially when witnesses aren't telling them the whole story. 

The characters too are well observed. Harry Blaker is gruff and abrasive, but perceptive and determined to get his man. Grace Hughes is downtrodden and unconfident but reveals a core of steel. A host of supporting players also come across clearly: bombastic Frank Dolton; cocky Toby Routledge, inevitably heading for a sticky end; Rhiannon the promising young detective constable, and Vince the uniformed officer with ambitions.

Maddie herself is dedicated and hard-working, tough and compassionate. She has all the makings of a series protagonist – especially when a move to Major Crime is hinted at towards the end.

I especially enjoyed the way the various disparate threads of the plot all came together to create a picture that was there all along if only both reader and police had seen the connections. Now, that's good crime fiction.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Charlie Gallagher has been a serving UK police officer for ten years. During that time he has had many roles, starting as a front-line response officer, then a member of a specialist tactical team and is currently a detective investigating serious offences. Charlie is the author of four Lanthorne police procedurals. His new series features DS Maddie Ives.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Thursday 27 June 2019

‘Next Victim’ by Helen H Durrant

Published by Joffe Books,
15 January 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78931-066-5 (PB_

There's a savage murderer at large on the mean streets of Manchester, especially on one of the meanest of all – Canal Street, famous for its gay bars and nefarious goings-on.

A young man's mutilated body is found, and DCI Rachel King is tasked with hunting down his killer, who has shown particularly vicious tendencies and left no DNA trace. The only clue is a handful of nuts and bolts found by the body, and that appears to lead nowhere.

Rachel is already juggling a pair of difficult teenage daughters, a demanding ex-husband and a former lover with a background that would threaten her career; add in a high-pressure case in one of the most demanding jobs in existence, and it's small wonder she's permanently exhausted, and much of the time has no idea what her girls are up to. Her detective sergeant Elwyn Pryce is a gem: calm, well organized, perceptive; but even he has issues in his personal life, and she dare not confide in him.

As the body count rises the mystery deepens; Rachel is working long hours, and it's down to her whole team to rise to the challenge. Young DC Jonny Farrell is na├»ve but keen; DC Amy Metcalfe is ambitious but laid-back and reluctant to get her hands dirty. All the same, it's Amy who eventually comes up trumps – just as Rachel herself is finding that the entire case is coming a little too close to home.

It all adds up to a pacy murder mystery with a crew of sharply drawn characters and a vivid sense of place. The traffic on the A6, Canal Street's upbeat but slightly dark ambience and the cosiness of Rachel's home village are all well portrayed – though as a former resident of the area, I did have a question or two about the geography!

Enough loose ends are left dangling to make the reader wonder what next for Rachel King. I'd be very interested to find out.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Helen H. Durrant writes gritty police procedurals and is published by Joffe Books. Until six years ago she hadn’t written a word, now she has sixteen titles out there and counting. Her novels are set in the Pennine villages outside Manchester. Writing was a dormant ambition. It was retirement that gave her the opportunity to have a go. The success of her books came as a huge surprise, now she can’t stop!

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.