Monday, 22 April 2013

Writing: a portable profession

I'm glad I didn't become a cello player or a pianist. You can't do what you do best, and enjoy doing the most, whenever the fancy takes you. Nor, indeed, can you earn a living without your instrument, or your tools - have you seen musicians wrestling with almost life-sized cello cases as they get on and off a train on their way to work? Writing is a very portable profession. One of the joys used to be that all you needed was a pen and a spiral-bound notebook. Now, of course, it's an electronic device of some kind, which can still be popped into the pocket or handbag when not required. Writers can ply their trade anywhere in the world, language permitting, and commit random thoughts or profound revelations onto the page 24/7. Many a blockbuster novel is doubtless being created by pad-users or pen-pushers in snatched moments between hectic schedules and that brief escape from the real world is an invaluable therapy to stressed wanabees. Even if their creative efforts never see the light of day, writing provides pleasure and satisfaction and at no cost to the user! Finding the right word to express a sentiment, capture the flavour of a location, describe a character in the way you visualise them, is a challenge the real writer relishes. I've made the transition from feature to book writing which requires considerably more discipline to stay the course. It's far easier to complete 3,000 words by a deadline than the onerous 30,000-plus demanded for a book. My husband marvels at my ability to sit for hours at my screen, juggling acres of note-filled sheets of paper, piles of reference books strewn across desk and floor, and typing furiously without knocking my coffee over. I'll admit I'd have difficulty completing a novel, largely because I'd have no deadline to spur me on, no objective in view. That's not to say I'm not among the secret scribblers nurturing a novel which is unlikely to be published. Never mind. I'm enjoying its gestation, which is an ideal antidote to the biography I'm currently working on. The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is still out there,too, if you haven't already seen it. Hmm. Something about that title reminds me of the bad days when I have to miss our small ration of sunshine to stay indoors and work!

Monday, 16 May 2011

On the bench - for 650 years

It's 650 years since the role of the magistrate was created which has become the cornerstone of the British justice system. Today, justices of the peace still handle 95 per cent of criminal cases, and civil ones.
They were originally, in 1361, knights and landowners but as property and wealth ceased to be criteria, JPs acquired their image as hat-wearing, middle-aged, middle-class, largely female women who were paid for their time, which they aren't  Though the balance has gradually shifted to include a wider segment of society,  it's still more difficult to get more men on the bench because of their work commitments. 
Sentencing may have changed from being thrown into the duck pond or confined in the stocks, to the imposition of fines and imprisonment but the system is one of the few to have survived the centuries and remain an essential and effective method of imposing penalties on miscreants. 
In my book, The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, you can read more about this fascinating subject, including and the varied and imaginative, cruel and sometimes amusing ways people have dealt with those who step out of line.  It's available as a hard back and an e-book.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Make No Bones About It - Skeletons Are The Best Wedding Gift!

While all eyes will soon be focused on the Wedding of the Century, a book which exposes the Queen’s role in keeping prisoners behind bars indefinitely is steaming up the e-book popularity list.  The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is beating Bewrite Books’ record, outselling all other ebook editions in its catalogue over the past decade. My publisher thinks the nuptials looks suspiciously like a diversionary tactic on the part of the House of Windsor!  After all, what would the Royal bride think of a mother-in-law who is part of the quaint tradition of holding people in custody until the fancy takes her to let them go? 
To be fair, the system of indeterminate incarceration, originally known as ‘Detention At His Majesty’s Pleasure’, was written into the statute books in 1800 by an Act of the British Parliament during the reign of George III.  It became better known as ‘Queen’s Pleasure’ because for most of the 2010 years since, the turnkeys have been women – Queen Victoria for sixty-four years and the reigning Queen Elizabeth II for the past fifty-eight.
The A-Z is a catalogue of cruelty, but often humour and horror sit side by side - the first gibbets chopped off heads with such vigour that they often bounced like balls into the spectators. 
Of course, kings and queens have been known to wield their power to punish in all manner of ways over the centuries.  Fortunately, things are different now but it’s always interesting to have a peek among the family skeletons.  What do you buy the happy couple who have everything?  Ah, now I know what to send them!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Worlds Apart

I'm currently helping with research on a book to be published days after the Royal Wedding.  It's a far cry from The A-Z of Punishment and Torture but creating a book, whatever the subject, involves the same journey from inception to publication during which your world expands with the new knowledge you glean along the way.  I have to confess I had only a sketchy grasp of Royal liveswhen I started, but now I feel almost 'involved' with them.  They have stepped from my computer screen, and the newspapers and magazines I have used for research, and gradually become flesh and blood people, who laugh, cry, hurt and endure, just like the rest of us.  I suppose that's the joy of book reading.  Within those pages are other lives, with all their complexities, or similarities to our own, which enrich us with their contribution. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Rough Justice

Are you watching the fascinating series, Garrow, about the 18th century London barrister who champions the victims of the rough justice which existed in those days?  William can't bear to see women and young children being sent to the gallows for trifling offences.  Garrow was a real person who became a politician and judge and who reformed our advocacy system.  He introduced the phrase  'innocent until proven guilty', insisting that defendants' accusers and their evidence be thoroughly tested in court.
My book, The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, highlights some of the kind of cases Garrow would have defended and the lives he would have saved, had he been able.  We owe him a great deal.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Life is full of surprises ...

... and some of them are very pleasant.  It has been a joy to receive so many wonderful reviews of my book, some from old friends and journalist colleagues, and others from perfect strangers.  I realise the subject matter may not be top of most people's gentle bed-time reading material, but it seems that everyone has found some subject in it that has caught their interest - or made them shudder!   I'm delighted that the A-Z has been so well received.  Thank you.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Here At Last!

At last the day has come, and my ebook is out there in the ether.  It’s odd to have a book published which I can’t see or feel.  It was also an unusual experience to go through the production process with a publisher who is based in France, an art director who is in Canada and an illustrator in the North of England.  Not a word was exchanged between us, verbally at least, and any differences of opinion seemed to be easily resolved in the silent world of the written word.  (You can only shout by using CAPITAL LETTERS!)
My first foray into the world of ebooks forced me to think about their place in our rapidly changing world.  Our ‘convenience’ culture demands that everything in our lives - food, entertainment, information - comes with a wide choice and easy accessibility.  Hence the phenomenal rise in popularity of the ebook.  I love the idea that this way of  producing books saves many trees, as well as giving people greater, and more economical, access to books. 
Few of us have the time, or inclination, to plough through weighty tomes on serious subjects.   That doesn’t mean we’re not interested in historical facts. My book was written as an overview of punishments through the ages without sending the reader to sleep.   I can’t guarantee they’ll be no nightmares though!