Monday, 27 June 2016

The Oost by Dave Rigby

That damned wind!

It never stops. Everything creaks, windows, doors, roof timbers. But beyond that cacophony there’s something else, a guttural sound borne on the endless wind from the forest above.
Can I ignore that call, pull the eiderdown over my head and wait for sleep?  I know that’s impossible so I shiver out of bed into my clothes, into my coat, into my boots.

My fingers find difficulty in striking the match, in lighting and adjusting the wick of the lantern. Gloves bring blessed relief from the bitter cold.

The moon is not yet to be seen. The snow is deep, each step up to my knees, sweat dripping down inside my woollen shirt. Moving through the blackness, the lamp casts strange and troubling shadows, I try to listen beyond the sound of the permanently swaying pines.
That call, the one I’ve never heard until this night, is there uphill, to my left.

Under the shelter of the trees, the snow is less deep, but my steps are still slow, my body’s reluctance to move forward all too evident. Without warning, a shape flashes in front of me. There’s a flurry of feathers and I fall, hitting the frozen ground beneath the thin covering of snow. Winded, I lie still for minutes, my bones stiffening in the cold, praying the shape will not return.

Up on one knee, breathe, up on two legs, listen! Find the sound. It must be close to the pinfold.

I seek out the protection of the stone shelter, the sheep barely stirring as I enter their winter home. I sit cross-legged and wait, uncertain what to do. A voice in my head is insistent. I should forget what I have heard, turn for home and wait for the relief of daybreak, such as it is.  But I know, in the end, I’ll be unable to resist that siren call.

Suddenly it’s close, louder, deeper, disturbing the sheep, terrifying me. The lantern’s flame gutters and is extinguished. I seek some kind of protection in amongst the flock.  Ahead, through the arched entrance, there’s a sudden glow, ice-encrusted branches haloed by a thin moon emerging from dark clouds, a dream-like moment.

My momentary trance is shattered by the sound of movement through the pines. I cannot look away. It is with a certain relief that I see an elk centre-stage, antlers raised high, hunger in its eyes, nostrils flared. It is not the creature of my nightmares. But starved, they are unpredictable. As it bellows and paws the ground I want to shrink into the earth itself, amongst the tree roots and the burrows of hibernating animals.

The call is there again, spooking the elk which rears, eyes rolling before racing away downhill, branches shearing in its wake, leaving me to confront my fear.

No longer able to resist, I leave my sanctuary. As dark clouds slide across the moon, a pale light remains beyond the pinfold. I hear my mother’s voice reciting the saga of the Oost, a warning passed down from generation to generation.

Light and sound without form, curling its way inside, seeping through blood and tissue, taking control unseen.

Until this night, a story told in front of a roaring fire.

I stare transfixed into the pale light.  

Monday, 20 June 2016

Plaster Casts and Broken Plans by Clair Wright

Two weeks ago we had a minor family drama when our youngest, Oliver, (7), broke his wrist.  After a visit to the operating theatre and a night in our wonderful local hospital, Oliver was the proud bearer of a plaster cast, and apparently none the worst for his accident.

As I sat by his hospital bed, I mentally ticked off all the plans we had for the next few weeks which would now have to change – a dance exam, a drum exam, a birthday party at a climbing wall, another at a swimming pool, a rounders match. The list went on and on. I would have to choose my moment to run Oliver through this catalogue of disappointments. 

It had been an ordinary day in half term. We were visiting a local adventure playground with one of Oliver’s friends, we had a picnic lunch, and I was thinking it would soon be time to head home. Then suddenly, (and following a particularly enthusiastic shove from his older brother), Oliver fell from the zip wire. 

And everything changed. In an instant, we were spun onto a different course entirely.  

After a panicky phone call, a friend stepped in to help out with the other children. We set off to Accident and Emergency with Oliver cradling his arm, which was now a queasy, unnatural shape.

This was a problem Mum couldn’t fix – we needed the professionals. We allowed ourselves to be carried along by the well-oiled hospital machine. Oliver was surprisingly stoic as he was examined, x-rayed, plastered, and patched up, while I, in bewilderment, consented to anesthetics, surgery, and all the rest.

A broken arm is a very minor thing in the scheme of things. Friends have commented that for a child it is almost a rite of passage.  But it reminded me of the fragility of our grand plans and packed diaries. 

If this had been a work of fiction, we might have expected some warning from the writer that trouble was round the corner; a metaphorical rumbling of thunder on the horizon, dark clouds looming ominously. Real life is not like that. On the sunniest of days with the clearest of skies, the predictable plot we had planned can be sabotaged. 

“It’s not fair!” wails Oliver in his bleaker moments. He’s right, of course. It’s not fair at all. But we can be grateful it was only a broken arm this time. It might be itchy and uncomfortable, but in a few weeks we will be back to normal.  In the meantime he is quite enjoying his moment in the spotlight, as class-mates write on his pot, and strangers cluck sympathetically. And for months to come, he’ll have a dramatic new tale to tell.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Author interview - Dave Rigby

This week the Writers’ Lunch grills author Dave Rigby about his latest detective thriller, Shoreline.
Harry Vos, your amateur detective is a rounded character with lots of life experience. How did you get to know him?
click here for details
His name was my starting point. I saw it in a newspaper and thought it was a good mixture of a very English sounding first name and a Flemish / Dutch sounding surname. Because I’ve holidayed in the Flemish area of Belgium quite a bit, I decided to base him there. I thought it would be good to have a man in his sixties as the central character, retired (like me) and not a professional crime investigator. That way I don’t have to learn about police procedural stuff. I can just allow Harry to make it up as he goes along (as I do!). I had a strong idea of his character from the start (unlike the plot which unrolled as things developed). Basically I envisaged a solid man but with a number of strong character traits. He’s dogged, stubborn, gets annoyed quite quickly and can defend himself if he needs to. But he knows when he needs help from others - such as Katerine and Ryck.
Shoreline has a distinctive sense of place and gives the reader something of a tour of Flanders. How did you create such convincing locations for the action? And why Belgium?
Having holidayed over a number of years in Brussels, Brugge, Gent, Antwerp and Leuven, I picked up a bit of a feel for Flanders and felt reasonably confident about basing the book there. Harry lives in a small town called Heist-op-den-Burg. A few years ago I visited the town with a friend (when we were staying in Antwerp) to watch the local football team playing Aalst. I thought it was an appropriate location for Harry. I think his heart is still in Antwerp where he lived until his mid-teens. But then there were particular reasons why the family moved away from the city to a rural area. Heist fitted the bill for their new location.
Flanders is small enough to be able to move round quite quickly from city to city so it allows for rapid changes of scene. Having written the book in draft, I visited a number of specific locations including the beach, near De Haan, (where the body of Moise, the migrant, is found) and Zeebrugge where the character Rodenbach is based, to get a better feel for these places. I made some changes to the draft as a result of these visits.  
I haven’t been to the Matonge area of Brussels, which features in the book, but I found some useful information via the internet on this part of the city.
The plot is contemporary and highly believable. How did you research the African end of the story?
When I started writing Shoreline, I didn’t know much about people smuggling – other than what I’d read in the papers. I did my research online for this aspect of the book, firstly to get a clearer idea of how smugglers operate and secondly to improve my knowledge of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I decided to focus on the DRC for this part of the story, because of the colonial link with Belgium and all its implications. I gathered quite a lot of information on geographical and historical aspects of the country, the languages and the mining. Then it was a question of what to use in the book in order to assist the story, without overloading the reader with too much detail.  
Do you have a regular writing regime or do you write when the mood takes you? Do you always write in the same place, or can you write anywhere?
It’s a regular routine. I write between two and six in the afternoon – not the whole four hours, I hasten to add, but probably two to two and a half hours. I write four or five afternoons each week. I always sit at the dining room table and write straight onto the laptop, with breaks for cups of tea and newspaper reading. My typing is fairly slow but it’s about the same speed as my thinking! I sometimes work with music on – but only instrumentals, nothing with words as that’s too distracting. I very occasionally write in the morning but never in the evening. (I’d never get to sleep if I wrote in the evening.)
Harry Vos has a fondness for Belgian beer and strong coffee. Which is the greater help to your own creative process, beer or coffee?
I have a great fondness for both! But I don’t drink either when I’m writing. The reward for finishing the afternoon’s writing will be a beer (Belgian or otherwise) – but only when it’s a drinking day. I have a coffee or sometimes two every day, but this is always in a cafĂ©. For some reason I never drink coffee at home. So basically it’s tea that keeps the writing going.
The story has a wide variety of characters, male and female. How do you come up with your characters’ names? Do you ever change a name as the character develops?
As I mentioned earlier – Harry’s name came from a newspaper article. The other names are the fruits of researching Flemish first names and surnames. I made a long list of possibles and then selected from that, trying to match the name to my idea of each character. I do sometimes change names part way through. (Thank goodness for the ‘find’ facility on the laptop.) The change is generally because I’ve come across a better name in my readings / viewings / travels.
Plot, character, setting, theme, and genre: which do you start with?
I usually start with a main character and a setting. With both Harry Vos in Shoreline and Ellis Landsman in Darkstone, I thought about their character traits and how they would react in specific situations. I knew what the setting for each book would be before I started writing. I always like reading books with a strong sense of place and try to create this in my writing.
For Shoreline, I knew it would start with the discovery of a body on the beach but I hadn’t planned what would happen after that! I decided fairly quickly to focus on people smuggling, partly because it’s such a high profile issue.
I don’t really think specifically about genre. But the murder mystery genre must appeal to me instinctively and it’s a good way of building a framework for the plot. Having said that, my third book, Disconnected, which I’ve just finished writing, is not a murder mystery.
I’ve left plot until last because I find it the most difficult. I learnt on my creative writing course that you should have a begin, middle and end clearly in mind before you start to write and that this helps to develop a plot outline.
As I don’t do this – I have to try and work out the plot as I go along and then go back and re-work it where necessary. I do quite a lot of walking and find these times very helpful for working out plots and solving plot difficulties.
Will we be able to read any more of Harry’s dangerous investigations? Any chance he might come to the UK?
I deliberately added the wording “A Harry Vos Investigation” to the front cover of Shoreline, because then I knew I’d have to write at least one more! I’ve got some ideas for book two in my head – but not quite a plot yet. As Harry’s daughter Kim lives in London, he may very well come to the UK, but the story won’t be set there.
Thanks, Dave. You may finish your lunch now. More coffee?

Shoreline is available from: Matador Books (, or other online outlets or bookshops.
Dave Rigby