Saturday, February 29, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 9

Scott D. Parker

Welcome to Leap Day. It's an extra day for the year, and an extra day to prepare before the new month starts tomorrow.

I might have mentioned this before, but as consequential New Year's Resolutions can be, New Month Resolutions can also be helpful. I tend not to think of them as resolutions. Instead, the starts of new months are opportunities to begin a new project or, in my case, re-start a stalled book.

The Benefits of a Fallow Period 

I started the novel as part of NaNoWriMo and I made excellent progress. But I hit a snag in December and stopped writing. I didn't think much of it. December is a time for Christmas movies and books and TV specials and music. Besides, I told myself, I'd just pick up the tale on New Year's Day.

Didn't happen.

Again, I shrugged. I had just stared a new-to-me book--Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz--and I decided to read more than write. I'd get back to my own book soon enough.

That didn't happen either.

Then, I started to wonder why I didn't jump back on the book. I started to edge towards chastising myself for not writing. I stopped short. There was a reason I wasn't writing, and I decided to ride that wave.

When February started, I thought I'd get back to the book. Didn't. I kept reading, moving on to The Nowhere Man, the second Orphan X novel, and added the first few issues of the famous comic book series MASTER OF KUNG FU. I enjoyed reading and, frankly, enjoyed not writing.

But as late February took hold, I began to feel that pull. It felt good. To get myself back on track, I re-read my manuscript, and two things happened.

One, I read the story and enjoyed it. I saw the better writing, could see my progress as a writer from where I was five years ago. I actually smiled at more than one part.

The second thing was I saw what got me off track. I read and edited as I went. I made an outline on paper, keeping notes of things to fix. By the time I got to where I stopped, I knew exactly what I needed to do to course correct this book.

And I can't wait until tomorrow when I jump back on the book and move forward.

Clive Cussler

This week, the world lost a great writer.

I came to Clive Cussler late and via his Isaac Bell series. I knew about Dirk Pitt and his adventure series, but only read a book or two. Maybe only one. I think I've read one or two of the other series as well.

Isaac Bell, on the other hand, well, I'm literally listening to the latest book, Titanic Secret, when I learned of Cussler's passing. I love the Bell series and the historical settings.

I'm not the only one who loved Cussler's books. Millions of readers have loved the adventures Cussler pens. This week, as word of his passing spread over the internet, I enjoyed reading what Cussler meant to these readers. What really made me smile was reading how Cussler was the author lots of dads read.

As a writer, however, I grew to appreciate and study how Cussler structured his books. I listened to almost all of them--narrated by the excellent Scott Brick--but I would constantly take notes. I would realize how excited or tense I was during certain passages and then go back and study those passages to figure out why.

For me, reading a Cussler book was not only an adventure, it was an education.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cussler, and thanks for all the stories.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Beau Does Meat Bubbles

"Meat Bubbles and Other Stories is a collection of short stories involving a private investigator named Joe Rey. His story is more than dark. It is more than dirty. It is the underbelly of a cesspool a light is rarely shined upon." -- Beau Johnson on Tom Leins's excellent MEAT BUBBLES 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Most people know my wrting brand is firmly planted in the criminal underworld. Not because I am a criminal but my interests as a writer is with the folks who find themselves pressed up against the wall with few options. However as a reader I'm all over the damn place. I read crime novels, English mysteries and police procedurals. If we've ever met in person you know my unmitgated love of all things Ed McBain and the 87th Precinct. I love every and any iteration of the crime novel.
    Mark Bergin's novel Apprehnsion is so much more than a crime novel. 
Mark is a former reporter and a former police officer. Both vocations have given him the cool and detached eye of the observer. His descriptions are sparse but never boring. They are detailed without being overbearing. His dialouge is clear and concise but real. It sounds like you are a fly on the wall of a squad room. But the true strenthgh and power of this book are the characters. Specifically the lead character. 
 John Kelly is a cop on the edge. Not in the cliched anti-hero way but in the real fragile human way. Kelly is man in a slow grinding downward spiral that starts with the death of his niece and is exacerbated by his attempt to get revenge and then brought to rock bottom by a case involving a pedophile who just happens to be defended by his new girlfriend Rachel Cohen. 
   Apprehension is a character study disguised as a crime novel. It takes us inside the crumbling psyche of  John Kelly and how his life torn apart by his rage, his despair and the endless, relentless stress of his job. A job he loves and loathes in equal measure. Kelly loves his brothers and sisters in blue but he is acutely aware of the cracks in the system. Kelly is like a walking pane of glass. Any stray stone will shatter him. 
   What really impressed me about this book was despite all the pressure and stress and pain bearing down on Kelly, the mental blackhole that is swallowing him whole, Kelly persists. He pushes and pushes and pushes himself to make the case. Even as he is falling appart. 
   The book is not perfect. I wish Rachel had been given more complexity and depth. As it stands she is an intelligent lawyer but a bit of a two dimensional character. The pacing can be a bit a slow for some readers but once you settle in and realize we are watching the dissolution of a man of honor who is doing dishonorable things it's less of an issue. 
If you want to gain an insight into what it's really like being an officer of the law, with all the laurels and labyrthine anguish that can come with wearing a badge you would do well to pick up Apprehension by Mark Bergin

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mystery Fiction Quotes Quiz

Here's something we've never done before -- have a little quiz.  Below are 15 quotes relating to mystery fiction, and below that is the list of people who said the quotes, though the people listed are not in the same order as the quotes.  

Match the quote to a name and see how many you think got right.  

(Many of these quotes come from one website I like, though I won't reveal the site because that would make things too easy.  And if you play, don't use Google!)

Answers are in small print, with the authors listed in the order that matches the quotes, below the big question mark.  And if you're so inclined, let me know how you did.

Here goes:

1) "The crime novel is the great moral literature of
our time."


2) "Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They
read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't
buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last
page sells your next book."


3) "Detective stories have nothing to do with works of art."

4) "The conventional view of mysteries, as explained by
Auden, for example, is as an essentially conservative
genre. A crime disturbs the status quo; we readers
get to enjoy the transgressive thrill, then observe
approvingly as the detective, agent of social order,
sets things right at the end.  We finish our coca and
tuck ourselves in, safe and sound….But what this
theory fails to take into account is the next book, the
next murder, and the next.  When you line up all
the Poirots, all the Maigrets, all the Lew Archers
and Matt Scudders, what you get is something far
stranger and more familiar: a world where mysterious
destructive forces are constantly erupting and where all
solutions are temporary, slight pauses during which
we take a breath before the next case."

5) "I've been as bad an influence on American literature
as anyone I can think of."

6) "I am talking about the general psychological health
of the species, man. He needs the existence of mysteries.
Not their solution."

7) "There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel,
and the deader the corpse the better."

8) "The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only
the critic."

9) "I know what kind of things I myself have been irritated
by in detective stories. They are often about one or two
persons, but they don't describe anything in the society

10) "It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York
City. New York City is itself a detective story."

11) "For neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not."

12) "It's a damn good story.  If you have any comments,
write them on the back of a check."

13) "The detective isn't your main character, and neither is
your villain. The main character is the corpse. The detective's
job is to seek justice for the corpse. It's the corpse's story,
first and foremost."

14) "To say that Agatha Christie's characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs."

15) "The job of the writer is to take a close and uncomfortable look at the world they inhabit, the world we all inhabit, and the job of the novel is to make the corpse stink."

1) S.S. van Dine
2) Stieg Larrson
3) Agatha Christie
4) Dashiell Hammett
5) John Fowles
6) Mickey Spillane
7) G.K. Chesterton
8) Walter Mosely
9) Jean-Patrick Manchette
10 Ruth Rendell
11) Ross MacDonald
12) David Gordon
13) Earle Stanley Gardner
14) Patricia Highsmith
15) W.H. Auden

1) Jean-Patrick Manchette 2) Mickey Spillane 3) W.H. Auden
4) David Gordon 5) Dashiell Hammett 6) John Fowles 7) S.S. van Dine 8) G.K. Chesterton 9) Stieg Larrson 10) Agatha Christie 11) Patricia Highsmith 12) Earle Stanley Gardner
13) Ross MacDonald  14) Ruth Rendell 15) Walter Moseley

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Year 5 of the Indie Writer: Week 8 AKA Greg Rolie and Steve Perry

Scott D. Parker

I've been listening to the first three Journey albums recently, and it got me to thinking if I'm in the Greg Rolie stage of my writing career or have I reached Steve Perry.

Original Journey

If you're like me, if you think about the band Journey, you most likely hear Steve Perry high soaring vocals in your mind. But he was not the original singer. Greg Rolie was.

I think I've mentioned my son has been discovering old classic rock records I've never heard. About a month ago, he picked up Journey, the 1975 self-titled debut of the band. Made up of members of Santana's original band, Journey produced three albums that captured the mid 70s vibe of prog rock and fusion, all performed by guys incredibly proficient on their instruments.

Boy, is that original album good. Sure, it's 45 years old, but I'm really digging it. In fact, I'm loving it so much I went out and purchased Look Into the Future (1976) and Next (1977) straight away. I've been jamming to them this past week. You can hear them trying to get to a place of stardom and land songs on the charts, but they didn't quite get there. This despite how well they play, the intricacies of their songs, and their incredible musicianship.

The more I listened to original Journey, the more I wondered how and why Steve Perry joined the band. Turns out the band's manager wanted to take them to the next level and he knew they needed a different singer and a different producer. Props to Rolie who stayed in the band a couple more albums even when Perry joined and took the spotlight.

I did a fun thing yesterday. I listened to album three and then went right into the the fourth, Perry's debut. I wanted to hear the change. Infinity opens with the famous song "Lights" and it takes no time at all to realize the band has taken everything up a notch. They leveled up and never looked back.

How Does This Relate to Writing?

This week, my indie writing hit the five year mark. Unbeknownst to me back in 2014, my debut shares the same date as the debut album by KISS in 1974. It was neat thing when I realized it.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in five years. Seven novels and eleven short stories for a total of 18 stories. I've got more on the way in 2020, but 18 is where I stand on the fifth anniversary of my company.

Some writers know who they are from the start: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Alan Dean Foster, and more that you can think of. Others took a little time to discover themselves: Erle Stanley Gardner, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and who knows how many more.

In essence, the writers in the latter group had their own Greg Rolie Era before the Steve Perry Era began.

So, this week, I've been ruminating about my career. Am I in my own Greg Rolie period or did I emerge out of the gate already in the Steve Perry Era?

If I'm honest, it's the Rolie Era. If that's true, then I wonder what book will take me to the next level?

I already know that answer, too. It's always the next one. It'll always be the next one because I'm constantly learning. But as I'm re-reading an unfinished book I started in late 2019 (so I can restart it again), I'm realizing the book's pretty good. I can actually see the progress I've made over five years right there on the page. It's exciting, and I can't wait to start it up again.

Maybe it'll be like Journey's Infinity. Maybe it'll end up being in my Rolie Period. Who knows? But I can certainly see progress.

Here's to the next five years.

For your writing careers, what era are you in?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Beau, Wounds, and Love

Today, Beau takes a look at Jordan Harper's excellent LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS.
A man runs away from his grave and into a maelstrom of bullets and fire. A Hollywood fixer finds love over the corpse of a dead celebrity. A morbidly obese woman imagines a new life with the jewel thief who is scheming to rob the store where she works. A man earns the name “Mad Dog” and lives to regret it.
Denizens of the shadows who live outside the law—from the desolate meth labs of the Ozark Mountains to the dog-fighting rings of Detroit to the lavish Los Angeles mansions of the rich and famous—the characters in Love and Other Wounds all thirst for something seemingly just beyond their reach. Some are on the run, pursued by the law or propelled relentlessly forward by a dangerous past that is disturbingly close. Others are searching for a semblance of peace and stability, and even love, in a fractured world defined by seething violence and ruthless desperation. All are bruised, pushed to their breaking point and beyond, driven to extremes they never imagined. More>>

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Until the Absolute End

The other day online, in The Guardian, I read an article about the great filmmaker John Boorman. He is, of course, the man who directed Point Blank, Deliverance, Hope and Glory, and Excalibur -- favorites all of mine -- not to mention oddities like Zardoz and one of the worst big-budget horror films ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic. Of Boorman, one thing at least cannot be said: that he ever shied away from venturing into unchartered territory.  The Guardian mentions fellow British filmmakers Nicholas Roeg and Ken Russell as his closest contemporaries, a statement accurate enough, and like them, he can be hit or miss with his films.  When they work, his films can be great; when they fail, they can be disasters, but not for lack of ambition or inventiveness. I've seen most, not all, of Boorman's films, and I can say I've never found any of his movies that worst of things -- dull.

Anyway, if you'd like to read the article, it's a good read.  It's a nice portrait of the artist in old age.  Boorman is 87, living alone in a huge house in Ireland, but in nothing like what you would call his dotage. 

Here's the article, if you want to read it: You Think the Holy Grail is Lost. No, I Have It On My Piano.

He makes one particular point that struck a chord with me.  Of old age he says, with a measure of humor, that it's "a series of giving things up.  I can't swim, I can't run, I can't drive a car or ride horses."

Now I'm 30 years younger than Boorman, but what he says got me thinking.  Already, there are activities I used to do and don't anymore because they are tough on the body.  I used to run for two or three miles on a regular basis, for example, on the streets wherever I was living, but I don't do that anymore because it leaves my knees feeling sore.  If I keep doing that, I fear, I'll wind up damaging those knees and since I've never, through all my years of running and playing tennis, had the slightest problem with my knees, I don't want to bring anything on now. 

And so it goes.  Everyone has their list of physical problem areas that limit what they can do.  I've never had to worry much about anything like that, so now that age is putting up specific barriers - nothing major but nagging little things - I think about them fairly often.  

Which brings me to writing.  What's one of the greatest things about it?  Simple: if you have your mind and even reasonable physical health, it's not something that, because of age, you have to say, "I can't do it."  I assume nearly everything is harder to do at 87 than at 57 just like a lot of things at 57 are harder to do than at 27, but even so, it's good to know that writing is there for you to do until the absolute end. Hell, Boorman himself, as the article says, has just finished a book, something that's "part memoir, part instruction manual".

I was recently having a talk with a friend who's a writer and much younger than me, twenty-four years younger to be exact.  He said how at his age, his main priority is doing the work, writing the books, enjoying the process of writing the books, and what comes will come.  Keep doing what he's doing and build up his body of "stuff".  At his age, he's got time, and who knows what can happen?  He's in it for the long haul, and that means twenty, thirty, forty years.

Though much older, I feel pretty much the same as my friend.  I said as much.  I told my friend that at 57, I don't feel cramped for time.  With fiction, I write slowly, so I do my best to make sure I write the books or the stories I really really want to write, but beyond that, I'm good.  It's basically this: as age continues to make its mark, I do what I can to stay fit and maintain energy, and I know (and hope) that writing isn't something I should have to give up because of age. It's unusual like that, writing is, say whatever else you want to say about it.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Inside the mind of Beau Johnson

It's always interesting to catch a glimpse inside the process of one of your favorite authors.  My friend and writer Beau Johnson has a new book coming out.  ALL OF THEM TO BURN takes us back into the dark and violent world of  Bishop Rider. He takes this opportunity to let us in on what goes through that noggin of his. Buckle up.


So, we meet again. You look good. I mean, I’m not a stylist or anything, but I really like what you’ve done with your hair. Anyway, when last I wrote, Bishop Rider was just about ready to “eat”, my second collection mere weeks from release. And eat he did. So much so that I somehow ended up taking parts from the man in an attempt to slow him down. Which leads me to the question: how much can a character endure?

If you’re Bishop Rider, the answer seems to be quite a lot.

I’d already taken his sister and mother from him in A BETTER KIND OF HATE, you see, and this is what I call his “birth.” Then, within the pages of THE BIG MACHINE EATS, Bishop is not only betrayed by one of his own---leading to him losing what I’ve come to call his kicking foot---but begin hinting that his partner in crime, Detective John Batista, will one day soon begin to lose parts of his face.

Lots to keep track of indeed.

And to be honest, I never set out to write Bishop’s story this way. Out of sequence, as it were. It just sort of happened. Each adventure having the power to spawn a prequel or sequel in equal measure, and in the rarest of moments, a throwaway line from years ago creating a whole new character. This character being Jeramiah Abrum, the son of the man who killed Rider's sister and mother in the first place.

This revelation here, as you might infer, has kept me on my toes as well.

Which leads me to what I really wanted to discuss. How one writes. Or goes about writing. There are three ways I know of. Plotter, or outliner if you prefer. Pantser, which is what I have always been, a writer who writes by the seat of his or her pants and going where the story takes them. The third is a combination of the two, which, if I’m honest again, is what I’ve morphed into the longer I’ve been writing Bishop's tale. i.e., his story becoming far too large for me to contain in my head as I had been.

There is hope, however, and it’s something I also wished to discuss---how part of any journey, fiction or otherwise, will always include the end. This didn’t happen by choice either. Well, it sort of did, as it was me who wrote it, but it felt right the more I pondered it. The only question that nagged at me was whether I’d allow Bishop to go out in a blaze of glory in ALL OF THEM TO BURN or if I’d let him continue to do what he has since he saw that video of his sister.  

This, of course, is where you come in.

Pull up a chair, click that link---let me show you how it ends.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

At the Starting Line

I’m beginning a new novel, which means that in addition to brainstorming plot ideas, I’m pulling out my starting-line resources.
These are a few things that I’ve found over the years that help me get fired up about the long writing road ahead. One is On Writing, by Stephen King. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, but now I limit myself to opening it only when I’m about to start a new project. It’s useful for many reasons. You hear from a master how he does it. And you hear that a writing career is hard and long. Which is a big boost psychologically as I confront a blank page. And then there are the little jewels throughout. One I came to as I was preparing to write this blog post:
King stopped for gas at a station with an attendant. While the guy was filling up his car, he wandered around the building and found a fast-moving stream. There were still patches of snow on the ground and he slipped, barely catching himself before sliding into the water and getting swept away. He thought about how long it would’ve taken anybody to notice he was missing and then how long before rescue personnel would find him. That morphed into an idea about a mysterious man who parks an old Buick in front of a rural gas station. That eventually became From a Buick 8. And that tells me that falling on your ass isn’t necessary a bad thing.
My other favorite reference is a list of points from a former Pixar storyboard artist. Emma Coats wrote a column about it for The Wall Street Journal a long time ago, and I cut it out immediately. A few of my favorites:
- “Give your characters opinions. Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third and fourth—get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”
- And the one I always strive for and never manage to accomplish: “Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.”
Maybe I’ll be able to do it for this book—but don’t hold me to it.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 7 AKA Bond and Batman

Scott D. Parker

Well, if it wasn’t for Matt Reeves and Billie Eilish, I’d have darn near nothing to discuss today.

You see, this has been a bit of a nothing week. After Gregg Hurwitz week last week, not much happened. I’m reading The Nowhere Man, Hurwitz’s second Orphan X novel. Really digging it and the character.

I’m also reading some Star Wars comics from the late 70s, specifically the months leading up to the release of The Empire Strikes Back in May 1980.

TV wise, I’m catching up on Magnum PI via my CBS All Access subscription. The move from Monday nights to Fridays pretty much screwed my airtime viewing of the show. When I went and reviewed the list, I realized I had only seen two episode. Now, I’ve watched six episodes in three days. Love being able to watch on my Chromebook at lunch at work.

Thus I didn’t have much to write about. Until Thursday.

No Time To Die by Billie Eilish

I’ll be the first to admit that I disliked the news Eilish had been given the opportunity to write and sing the new James Bond theme song. I’ve seen her on SNL and random other live events and I’ve been less than impressed. Even her rendition of “Yesterday” last week at the Oscars left me wanting.

Still, she’s on a terrific run. She’s following up her four Grammy wins—the four biggest of the night—with a Bond song. Bueno to her for having a moment. And, clearly, she’s popular.

But what kind of Bond song would she create? The Daniel Craig films, if I’m being honest, have batter .500. I really enjoy Skyfall and You Know My Name. I ended up only tolerating Writing’s on the Wall while watching Spectre. And I don’t like Another Way to Die, the theme from Quantum of Solace.

Fear not: the record for the worst Bond song is firmly set: Madonna’s Did Another Day. Too bad. Pierce Brosnan had some great theme songs and a bonus: kd lang’s Surrender, the best non-main-theme song of the entire Bond oeuvre.

So it was with great trepidation I dialed up Eilish’s song on Thursday night. I sighed at my son as I started the video. He left. I sat and listened.

By the time it ended, I had a verdict:

I didn’t hate it.

It was quiet, somber. Her voice actually seemed to fit. It had an elegiac vibe, pretty nifty considering this is Craig’s last bow as Bond. I actually liked the “Food me once, fool me twice” part, segueing directly into a short orchestral part.

There were some good Bond-music elements in the piece, especially the last chord.

So it looks like my opinion of Billie Eilish singing a Bond song was wrong. I do find it fascinating, however, that three of the five Craig theme songs were slow. Wonder what that means, if anything.

The New Batman Revealed

Also on Thursday night came the first images of Robert Patinson in his own Batman suit. Yeah, I only know him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Twilight movies. His casting didn’t bother me. He was new. He was different. I’m looking forward to the new Batman movie. I’ll wait to see the movie before I pass judgement.

But how did the suit look? I’ll freely admit I liked Ben Affleck’s suit in his two appearances on screen. It was very comic book accurate, the best we’ve had to date.

Here it is.

But in a real-world environment—the vibe Matt Reeves seems to be going for—the body armor suit seems appropriate.

We didn’t get to see a lot of Pattinson’s suit. We saw the symbol, which looked like it that bat-symbol could be popped out and used as a weapon. Interesting. Makes me also think of the Kevin Smith-penned story from Detective Comics issue 1,000 in which Bruce took the gun used to kill his parents, melted it down, and inserted it into his suit as a breast plate. Wonder if that’s part of it.

Pattinson’s cowl looks really fascinating. There are what appear to be stitching along the front, leading me to wonder if this Bruce Wayne doesn’t have the tech gadgetry of the Nolan films. I would actually like that. I like also how the eyes are either hidden in the shadow of the red-hued film or actually behind some sort of lenses.

Oh, and that Michael Giacchino music? CanNOT wait for that. Giacchino is great at everything he does. You heard his music for 2012’s John Carter? Great.

Assumptions Busted

All in all, it’s a week of assumptions being busted. Well, only one with Eilish. I’m an open book when it comes to Pattinson.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the last Craig-as-Bond film in a few weeks and am eager for Pattinson’s Batman.

What are y’all’s thoughts on both things?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Beau and Angel

This week, Beau Johnson takes on Blacky Jaguar.

Blacky Jaguar ex-IRA hard man, devoted greaser, and overall hooligan, is furious. Someone's made off with Polly, his 1959 Plymouth Fury, and there's not much that can stop him from getting her back. It doesn't take him to long to get a name, Osito, the Little Bear. This career bastard has Polly in his clutches, and Blacky doesn't have long until she's a memory.

The sudden burst of righteous violence gets the attention of Special Agent Linda Chen, FBI pariah and Blacky's former flame. Linda's out to get her man before he burns down half the Bronx and her superiors get the collar.

All roads will lead our heroes to an unassuming house in one of the worst parts of the South Bronx, where fists and bullets will surely fly, but maybe, just maybe, Blacky will find a better reason to fight than a car. The Fury of Blacky Jaguar is the story of friends, enemies, and one sweet ass ride.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


When I was – well, let’s say younger, because ‘young’ would suggest I’m now old, and I don’t feel old (though I am old enough to remember New Order when they were called Joy Division. I prefer The Order. More fun.)

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, not being old. Well, when I was younger I used to travel a lot with my day job, and one of my favourite things to do when I was travelling for work was to use my spare time to explore and engage with the countries cities cultures I ended up in. I figured the company dollar had sent me to Hong Kong. So okay: many of the other expats experience of HK was a triangle of their gated community, their office and various drinking dens in Lang Kwai Fong (a maze of narrow alleys full of bars and clubs catering to the expat community. The only locals in “The Fong” were usually serving the Gwai Lo), with occasional trips to the Hong Kong Sports club (again, mostly expats.)

One of those expats proudly advised me, on meeting for the first time “To be sure and visit The Great Wall. It’s a Chinese restaurant, but like what we have at home.” (Home was, if I recall correctly, Swansea) “None of that dodgy foreign stuff.”

Apart from goggling at the insensitivity and lack of adventurousness in the statement I was filled with admiration for the local Chinese Entrepreneur who retro-fitted a restaurant space and menu to resemble the sort of place and sticky-sweet, MSG-doused menu you’d experience after sixteen pints at the Rugby on a Saturday.

Unless, of course, the entrepreneur was actually a bloke called Barry from Pontypridd.

But I digress. More frequently, these days, it seems.

Anyways, I swerved The Great Wall, taking, instead, trips to the very edge of Hong Kong Territory and at one stage acquiring the paperwork to venture across the border into China properly. 

Let’s be clear: I’m not claiming to be The Gay Marco Polo. I think you’ll find that Marco Polo was The Gay Marco Polo. But I travelled. On buses filled with locals, who (in some cases) had very little English, but still more English than I had Cantonese or Mandarin. I journeyed to Istanbul and walked around the city, visiting the tourist highlights, and finding a bookshop off the beaten path that I had a taxi take me to so I could talk to a Turkish Booklover (I never claimed not to be a book nerd). My first business trip to New York inspired a life-long love affair with the city, and even a day in Athens was scheduled so I could squeeze a trip to the Acropolis in.

Then, three years ago, I was asked to spend a month in Johannesburg South Africa. I came. I sat in a hotel. I went to work. I had one of the most genuinely depressing months of my life. Brexit had just happened. My mother’s death the year before was still raw, and all that time alone in a hotel room made it almost physically manifest. The Fascist Orangutang – some months earlier- had acquired The White House. Things were generally shit.

I barely survived and swore never again.

Until, in December, my day job asked me to spend another month in the same city. I tried everything to escape it but in the end it was my husband who pointed out how a trip to Africa at the height of their summer had to be better than spending January in London with sleet snow darkness and all the psychological impacts that brings.

So I went, determined to use the time to write a book and to work out every single night, and that plan went well enough.

Then one of my colleagues asked what I was going to do at the weekend and I admitted I had no plans. “Oh you have to go to Cape Town. You ever been to Cape Town?” I admitted that no, I had never been to Cape Town.

“Well you need to go,” he said, opening his phone and – as I stood there wondering why on earth I would want to take a two hour flight away from a place I didn’t know to another place I didn’t know – he’d found my flights, suggested some accommodation and started proposing things I needed to see and do in my two day stay.

I found myself handing over my credit card while a bit of my brain said “What the fuck are you doing?”

The rest of the week passed and as I got closer to the day I realised I was anxious. I was getting a train to the station (“The easiest way,” my friend insisted). What if I missed the train? What if I got one going the wrong way? What if I got to the airport and couldn’t find the domestic flights area? Christ, I hadn’t checked in; what if that was a problem? What if I got there and my Uber driver was a violent mugger? What if the place I’ve booked is a roach infested dump in the middle of nowhere?

To make a long story short (“TOO LATE!” They all cried) I made the train, the flight, the pickup at the other end, the apartment I’d booked, and when I woke on Saturday morning I got my first view of my home for the weekend.

I spent the day on a hop-on-hop off bus getting a tourist view of the city, watching and listening to local buskers and bands play the most amazing music I’ve heard in a long time; I shopped for books; I shopped for a pair of swim shorts to wear when I tried out that fabulous pool at my apartment. I visited the amazing Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and a sense of peace – of genuine stop-dead- in-your-tracks tranquility – hit me.

And I realised I’d been afraid. And I realised that the fear wasn’t there before my mother got sick and died, and that the previous South Africa had been the first and pretty much only solo trip since then. And I’d been afraid of everything that could go wrong; had been catastrophising shit that – even if it were to go wrong – would be little more than an inconvenience.

And it was a waste of time. Because the worst thing had already happened. And I remembered who I used to be.

I sat down in the dappled shade of an ancient gnarled tree on grass as bright as emeralds and as warm as a fireside rug  and I opened one of the books I’d just bought – the biography of a South African comedian called Trevor Noah (on whom I’ve had a crush for ages, but of whom I knew very little) and I randomly flicked through it, and my eye fell on this:

And – although it’s hardly the most profound thing I’ve ever read – it struck a chord with me. I’ve been asked to do some things in my capacity as a writer this year. Talks, workshops, a prison and a school visit, and in every case I have said “Yes,” (Because Of course) and then become instantly aware of the low-level anxiety hum and of the voices telling me that I don’t know how to do that (without my even, in some cases, having ironed out what ‘that’ is) and it’s all from the same place that was telling me to just stay in my hotel in Johannesburg, maybe sit out on the deserted sun terrace. Order room service. Waste the weekend on existing instead of Living.

The fear.

The fear that will stop me doing stuff. That will do the one thing my mother would have been heartbroken by: stop me living my life to the full.

So: No more fear. No more regrets.

I'm back.


Derek Farrell was raised in Dublin and lives, now, in London where he writes The Danny Bird Mysteries, “Death of a Diva,” “Death of a Nobody,” “Death of a Devil,”and  “Death of an Angel” can all be purchased from the usual e-stores or directly from the publisher hereThe fifth, “Come to Dust,” is available exclusively as a free download from his website . The sixth – Death of a Sinner – is a Fahrenheit69 Tete Beche Novella and is published in a joint edition with Jo Perry’s “Everything Happens.” It can be purchased here.