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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).

After five years of hosting the site, we’re going to take a step back from our weekly posting schedule to move to monthly posts as from June 2022. We’ll be posting on the first Sunday in every month, with a mixture of our #SecondThoughts musings on all things writing & reading, a focus on resources for Writers or Readers, a short story, a book review (with hopefully more indie authors put in the #IndieSpotlight) and, when we can persuade other writers – a piece on the intersections between their life and their chosen genre for #NowWithAdded….

Debs will also continue to make regular contributions from here to the Insecure Writers Support Group day on the first Wednesday of every month.

We started the blog because we wanted to practice writing stories, and to talk about what writing (and reading) means to us.  Over the last few years we’ve showcased a number of short stories of different lengths, genres, voices, and you can find these, together with all our other posts, via the Index.

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page, or our Twitter handles (above).

Not a big thing, but a million little things

Jaime Dill, who I worked with on my submission to Byline Legacies, has recently launched Full Mood Magazine, and the first call was Modern Epistolary:

We give little textboxes permission to hook our hearts and freedom to dictate our physical reality. We differentiate between what’s online and what’s “real life,” but are they really so separable? I want to see where the worlds blend. Give me your awkward work emails, your scandalous DMs, your wildest “new number, who dis?” I want to see the conversations that shake up the day, the past, and everything that’s coming next. Unlock the password and let me snoop around in the secrets on screen.

Jaime Dill, EIC Full Mood Magazine

The timing wasn’t great, but when is it? So I bashed this out in the last few hours before the submission window closed. Jaime was kind enough to say she liked it, but as it didn’t quite fit with the Mood she was aiming for, she passed. Which is why I thought I’d share it with you today. It’s a bit of an experiment…


Hey Bets, soz – I know it’s been a while. Been so busy with the village’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and Mum and Dad’s Golden Wedding, I really haven’t had a moment to call my own.  You ok?

Hey Roz! Beginning to think I’d said something wrong! Yeah, all good, ta.  How’d the wedding stuff go?  M&D alright? Did they enjoy themselves?

Yeah, they had a grate time.  The rest of us…not so much…

*great

Oh dear…do tell 🙂

Climbing a mountain with a gaggle of children I do not recommend. 

A mountain???

Dad proposed to Mum at the top of Helvellyn & they set their heart on renewing their vows on the exact same spot.  Madness! Neither as young as they think they are, but to be fair pretty spry and probably did the best out of all of us in the event.

They always seem so full of life, and they’re both out in the garden or on the allotment.  The rest of you…I can see how it might have been a challenge!

Ha ha I don’t think.  I might not run half-marathons but I’m fit enough thank you very much.  Mind you, Vi’s Keith seems to get bigger every time I see him – he had little beads of sweat all over his scalp just crossing the car park to the footpath.

*Snerk*

And then there were bacon sarnies for brekkie before we set off, brought to the car park by a local café that M&D like.  I might have felt a bit queasy halfway up, but Daisy looked properly green and Fizz actually puked.

Priceless!  I bet that went down well – did she have designer gear?

You know it!  Rubbed her feet raw with brand new boots that were expensively ill-fitting.

Self-inflicted – did she mange to avoid getting puke on her Armani walking outfit?

Let’s just say she’s not going to be able to exchange them.

Did you have a good day though?

Yeah – kids were a bit fractious about putting sunblock on, but they did well, and you should have seen M&D making their vows.  Can only hope that me and Bob are that in love when we get that far.

Too right!  We should get a coffee soon and you can give me the rest of the goss 🙂  Did you get some pics?  Would be good to see them 🙂

Sounds good – might leave the one of Daisy mid-spew tho 🙂


© 2022, David Jesson

#IWSG: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


The awesome co-hosts for the August 3 posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery – do take a moment to visit them.

August 3 question – When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

Neither. I can’t say I give either of these options much thought. For now, the stories I write are the ones which are in me, the ones which want to come out when I sit down at the keyboard to type, the ones where inspiration has struck, the ones I dream or daydream about.

That said, I’ve yet to make any attempts to query or get published, so… maybe best you don’t do as I do 😉

You’ll not be surprised to hear that I’m an out-and-out pantser and, while I’m learning how to incorporate planning in small ways into my process, the seed of my story has to do some growing first before I apply the rigours of planning to it.

Whether that story is an original one or what readers want will be pure chance, for I don’t think I could write to order. I imagine James Patterson won’t be recruiting me to his cadre of writers any time soon – and I’m as OK with that as he’d be 😀

I stress that I’m in no way suggesting my way is better or more pure of motive than any other – it’s just who I am, right now. The primary reason I write is pleasure – my pleasure. The way I feel at the moment is that, if it never goes any further than that, I’d be entirely content. As my writing party is my pleasure, if the outcome of my choice were to make me cry – so be it 🙂

I’m looking forward to finding out what balance you choose to strike in your writing, and whether it changed the further along the road you were with your writing?


© Debra Carey, 2022

#IWSG: Right Here, Right Now

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


July 6 question – If you could live in any book world, which one would you choose?

What an interesting question! I’ve sat at my desk ever since reading it, going on a mental journey through those books I love, and those whose worlds I’ve returned to over & over again.

I read a lot of works by Commonwealth authors – stories based in India and West Africa where I spent my childhood. The Harry Potter books get re-read (or re-listened to, as one of the few fiction audible adaptations I love is Stephen Fry reading these familiar tales). Jodi Taylor’s St Mary’s series are a fun romp where they all live together as if in some form of grown-up boarding school. Both are based in a boarding school type environment which is yet another experience I’ve lived. I read a small number of science fiction and fantasy and I enjoy the reading experience and find the world building quite amazing. But none of these are the book world I’d choose.

My choice would be London – current day London. I love our capital city and, although I spent a few years living in London in my early 20s, there was so much I missed out on – live music and theatre, more glorious parks than you can shake a stick at, a wide-range of neighbourhoods filled with cultural experiences a-plenty, the tourist sights, the places at the end of the tube lines, even the outlying districts where you have to catch a train and yet it’s not the suburbs. I can never have too much of the river and, now a photographer, I’d love to walk the streets with my camera and snap, snap, snap away. If I could afford to, I’d live in London again in a heartbeat.

As a result, I enjoy reading the Cormoran Strike books of Robert Galbraith (or J K Rowling as he’s better known) because Strike’s offices are right in the heart of Soho, and the majority of the action takes place in central London. I also love Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series because London – the city itself – is as central a character as the protagonist, Peter Grant. There are many other books based in London which I’ve enjoyed, but I choose these for their feel of current day London, which is primarily what draws me back whenever a new one is in the series is released.

Did you choose a fantasy, historical or contemporary world – I’m looking forward to finding out!

The awesome co-hosts are J Lenni Dorner, Janet Alcorn, PJ Colando, Jenni Enzor, and Diane Burton – do take a moment to visit them.


© Debra Carey, 2022

#Readers Resources: Read Across the UK – Part 4

For Part 4, I’ve kicked off with three books based in Oxfordshire – each one very different from one the other. First, a classic of upper class society between the wars, then a humorous time travel tale, and finally a psychological thriller. Completing the selection is a stray, unconnected collection of three.


England: Oxford
I have to admit that Brideshead Revisited from the pen of Evelyn Waugh, was a book I read only after I’d watched the TV adaptation – long, long after in truth. I watched the series upon its release in 1981, and only read the book almost 20 years later in 2019. I was smitten by the glamour, the campness, the vulgar display of wealth and self-indulgence displayed in the Oxford University years, and it was only later, as a mature reader, that I even noticed the depth of the tale. For a tale set between the World Wars, the casual homosexuality of those Oxford years is surprising, whereas in the post-Oxford years, it is the weighty guilt of Catholicism in an Anglican country which is most striking. The peculiarity of British class society is seen in exquisite detail, as Waugh depicts the gulf between the ordinary upper-middle class Charles, and the properly posh, rich folk. The only aspect of Charles’s personality we get to see with any detail is not just how much he covets first Sebastian – and then Julia – but how much he envies and desires the life their family have. In truth, the book highlights just how little of substance is present in Charles and, however much we might be appalled by the Flytes and their like, one cannot say the same of them.

England: Oxford
To Say Nothing of the Dog from Connie Willis could’ve been tagged with Coventry, where the hapless historians from Oxford are sent over and over again to find the missing artefact. But, we’re sticking with Oxford, for the parallel tale where our resting historian finds himself in Victorian Oxford spotting Jerome K Jerome’s three men in a boat, while trying to remember what he was sent back to do. It’s a fun romp and I’ve included it here, as it’s a book I recommend to absolutely everyone as a hugely fun read. I will admit there’s not as much dreaming spires as you might expect however 😉

England: Witney, Oxfordshire
The Girl on the Train from Paula Hawkins was a massive bestseller, so much so that they made a film of it and set it in New York! But in the book, the central character, Rachel, travels from the Oxfordshire town of Witney by train into London – and it’s from the train where she observes the life of her ex and his new wife, as well as the seemingly perfect life of another couple. When the woman with the seemingly perfect life is killed, Rachel is interrogated by the police, as she was drunkenly in the area while stalking her ex and his new family. A psychological thriller where who dunnit comes as no surprise, saved by a remarkable portrayal of an alcoholic. Again, no dreaming spires I’m afraid, just suburban English homes viewed from a passing train – a sight familiar to all commuters.


England: Bath
I was absolutely convinced I’d read Persuasion, until I heard a clip of it read out and knew I’d have remembered those bitingly witting words from Jane Austen! So, I downloaded it immediately. The less likeable characters are portrayed with great detail and quite some relish, such that the likeable ones could almost be said to end up being less memorable. This tale of the only worthy still living member of the Elliott family having been persuaded to turn down a man she loved when still young, only to have a second chance eight years later, is rather charming. Bath and it’s architecture provides a pleasing backdrop to the sharp tongue of the ever marvellous Miss Austen.

England: North Yorkshire
Big Sky is the latest Jackson Brodie tale from Kate Atkinson. Brodie, a retired copper turned private detective, is now living near Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Whitby’s links with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the ruins of the clifftop abbey provide a suitable hint at something darker behind its rundown seaside town facade. With more than a nod to the Jimmy Saville revelations, we join Brodie in this tale where the outcome is his grim discovery of a paedophile ring. I read this at the start of 2020 and Atkinson’s description of the raw beauty of the rural area’s coastline has remained with me.

Guernsey:
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is a rather gentle and lovely book written by Mary Ann Shaffer (with the assistance of her niece Annie Barrows after she received a terminal illness diagnosis) despite being written about the period of the German occupation of the Channel Islands. Written in the form of letters between a young female author and members of a Literary Society on Guernsey, which had originally been formed as a front to permit meeting up during the occupation, I’m not sure how much of a feel I got for Guernsey, as opposed to Guernsey-under-occupation, if you see what I mean. But it is a charming and easy read.

Of the books covered this month, three are among my top rated reads – and David will tell you that I’m very mean in handing out my 4 and 5 stars – but all are decidedly good reads.

My list for the future is pretty chock full, but do add to it as I laugh in the face of that swaying TBR pile 😀


© Debra Carey, 2022

#SecondThoughts: From Ruritania With Love

Recently I’ve been listening to some of the early Ellery Queen novels – but that, perhaps, is another blog post.  I’m currently on “The Egyptian Cross Mystery”, the fourth in the series, which has very little to do with Egypt, but a fair amount to do with Central Europe, specifically the Balkans.  To begin with, the references to Central Europe are rather tentative, and I did wonder whether we were going to be ‘treated’ to a fictional nation – but that is not the style of Ellery Queen.

Still, it got me thinking about Ruritania, and whether there is still a place for Ruritania in modern writing.  If Ruritanian Romances could be said to have had a Golden Age, in the same way as Detective fiction, s.f., and comics, then it probably started around 1894 with the publication of the definitive Ruritanian Romance, “The Prisoner of Zenda”, and petered out sometime in the mid-20th century.  The Second World War, together with the subsequent seismic changes in European politics, made small fictional states headed by an ancient royalty at risk from a rotten usurper largely superfluous.  Other issues were at the forefront of peoples’ minds.

Like any genre, there are certain expectations, and also variations whereby we can place an outlier within the grouping, even if it requires a little shoehorning.  Romance in this setting does not, of course, mean a Mills & Boon style story, but one of adventure, chivalry, and a certain idealisation of the world and how it should work.  In this respect the Ruritanian Romances are descended from the Mediæval romances of Arthur, Charlemagne, and other courtly, questing knights.  Examples of some outliers, that help give us the boundaries to the genre, include “King Ottokar’s Sceptre”, the Tintin story set in Syldavia, and the classic Marx Brothers’ film “Duck Soup” set in Freedonia. 

This is not to say that Ruritania has been swallowed up completely.  It lives on, both for the benefit of jurists, who use it as an example, in a similar manner to ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’, as well as for the fiction writer looking for a relatively neutral setting for a story.  Simon Brett sends Blotto and Twinks off to Mitteleuropia in “…and the Ex-King’s Daughter”, for example, although this is a story set in the early 20th century.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is an era spanning story, and whilst the majority is set in pre-war Zubrowka, the implication of the framing story is that the country still exists now.

So perhaps Ruritania is alive and well, even if the Ruritanian Romance is dead.  It’s possible that it might make a comeback (Ruritanian vampires, anyone?) but the specific characteristics of the Romance – plots to do away with legitimate heirs, for good or ill, thwarted or abetted by chivalrous adventurers – are probably past their sell by date.  Today we tend to look for more realistic heroes, those who succeed despite character flaws, or who are in some way redeemed.

But if the Romance were to be revived, what might we look for?  What might be different?  A royal lineage could be replaced by a politically dynastic family, and the long lost twin/look-a-like has probably gone full circle, navigating the far reaches of passe.  (Androids and other s.f. approaches have also been done before, but there is always a new twist based on emerging science and technology…).  Perhaps, given the current climate (if you’ll forgive the pun), something with an Environmental focus would make a good plot.

What do you think?  Should we get a visa for Ruritania?  Or should we just leave it in the history books?

© David Jesson, 2022

#IWSG: When the going gets tough, I want to smack Billy Ocean!

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. It’s an opportunity to talk about doubts and fears you have conquered. To discuss your struggles and triumphs and to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.


June 1 question – When the going gets tough writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end? If have not started the writing yet, why do you think that is and what do you think could help you find your groove and start?

External deadlines. Plain and simple, that’s the only way I’ve ever managed to tough it out. And seriously, whenever anyone suggests that I tough anything out, what I hear is Billy Ocean singing that song, and I want to give him a smack.

My reaction may be because the only reasons why writing gets tough for me is that either I’m struggling with my mental health, or with lack of time. I have an (almost) full-time administration job which pays the bills, and a part-time life coaching job which feeds the soul and will – hopefully, one day – also pay the bills instead of the admin job. There’s the usual family stuff, a blogging and photography hobby, and you have me in a time crunch. When I try to cut out the extraneous hobbies, it impacts in a negative way on my mental health. So, I’m never going to tough it out without an external deadline.

With an external deadline, what I find helps to keep the story moving along is to go to bed at night with the intention of dreaming about it. Even if I hit a troublesome spot and don’t know how to resolve it, my dreams have (so far) provided the answer. It does mean I have to be living the story in a pretty high intensity manner and writing for long periods every day – but that’s what works for me.

I’d love to learn what methods you use to tough it out – hit me up my fellow writers!

The awesome co-hosts are SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray! – do take a moment to visit them.


© Debra Carey, 2022

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: A #SecondThoughts book review

Much of what is known of Yanagihara relates to her day job as editor-in-chief of T – the New York Times style magazine, although a little more was gleaned via the interviews which followed the success of what has been described as the cultural phenomenon of her second novel. Interviews which were necessary as the ‘about the author’ section of that novel simply reads “Hanya Yanagihara lives in New York City”.


That cultural phenomenom was A Little Life. A book which divided people – a real Marmite book as we’d say here in the UK – people either adored it or hated it. I couldn’t blame those who hated it, for reading about self-harm and sexual abuse – especially the sexual abuse of a child – is not the way most people would chose to spend their time. It’s not how I’d chose to spend my time, yet I found it hard to put down. I am categorically not a fan of what is termed “misery memoirs” – avoiding them like the plague, yet I was blown away – absolutely convinced I’d read that year’s Booker winner. Sad to say, I was wrong.

At the time, I described it as the best book I’ve read for a long while, and I’ve not changed my mind nearly 7 years later. Despite the headlines being about his abuse and self-harm, the majority of the book tells the story of Jude’s adult relationships, where the focus is on friendship, love, kindness and acceptance.  But the big question it asks is whether the extent of a child’s suffering ever be healed by loving adult relationships? An emotional and moving tale, sad but beautiful, and one which brought me to tears more than once.  


I rarely pre-order books, but I did with Yanagihara’s next book To Paradise, rushing to finish what I was reading when it hit my Kindle on publication day. Written in three parts, each separated by 100 years, Parts 1 & 2 were full of promise.

Part 1 – set in the 1880s – is the story of rich and powerful family the Binghams, living in a grand house on Washington Square, New York, in a version of New York located in an enlightened group of states where the populace is free to partner with their preferred gender. The story focuses on indulged son David, torn between the nice man introduced to him with the aim of marriage, and the unsuitable man he falls in love with. Despite evidence that his lover is a fraudster, David chooses to follow him to California – located in the risky less enlightened states – to build a new life.

Part 2 – set in the 1980s – is the story of another David, a young Hawaiian paralegal in a relationship with a rich and powerful man called Charles, who now owns the house in Washington Square. This version of the 1980s also suffers from the impact of HIV/Aids – and the story of Charles and his friends living and dying, is played out against the story of David’s previous life and that of his estranged father in Hawaii.

Parts 1 and 2 only take up half the book, with Part 3 making up the significant portion. In Part 3, two stories are weaved together: Charlie, who survived a pandemic when a child, but was left with limited mental capacities by the medication which saved her life, and her grandfather Charles, seen via correspondence with his best friend some 50 years earlier. Set in the 2090s, Charlie and her husband live in a small apartment within the Washington Square house – once hers, now taken over by the state. In this dystopian future where harsh and brutal decisions were made to battle multiple pandemics, the government controls everything, up to and including choice of mate and fertility. Through Charles’s letters we see him drawn further away from scientist to government servant, and the impact that has on David – his son and Charlie’s father – an activist battling those choices. With a degree of inevitability, they come for Charles, so Charlie is left alone with the husband her grandfather selected for her. Unknown to her, Charles also begged his friend to get her out of New York and to safety – To Paradise.

Parts 1 and 2 flowed and worked well as standalone tales (which may or may not have been linked), but Part 3 felt more problematic, even as I read it. The story it told was a potentially powerful one, picking up many of the fears expressed during the current pandemic. But – and I hate to admit it – I skim read a lot of it, because the dystopian detail was so turgid and dense, it felt like we were being hit over the head with a sledgehammer to make sure we understood the point being made. I cried out for a damn good editor to have been let loose on it.

There were other oddities. The first being the use of the same names throughout. A hint perhaps to there being familial links – but it was never made clear, and so felt like a distraction. The second being that the idealised nature of the group of states was demonstrated by its widespread acceptance of sexual choice but, while that acceptance included Asian races, it still specifically excluded Blacks – and that left me wondering why, and what point, if any, was being made.

On a positive note, I really enjoyed learning about Hawaii – the life, the history, the art, the culture – and I got to wondering whether this had started out as a tale about Hawaii, and then got hijacked by the pandemic. If always intended as a pandemic tale, I shall mourn the book about Hawaii that I missed out on, for Yanagihara is surely well placed to have written one.

Yanagihara describes Hawaii as the ‘imaginary homeland’ for all Asian Americans. She has lived there, and her parents met there – her father a native of Hawaii, her mother brought up there after her birth in Seoul. Both parents are creative (they were illustrators when they met) but her father is also a haematologist, and the family travelled across the US with his work. Literature, design, art, culture – these are loves she inherited from her parents.

Parts 1 and 2 felt well on their way to 5 stars, until Part 3 hit. I’ve vacillated between 3 and 4 for the book, ending up on 4. I feel my expectations were set exceptionally high by her previous book, and I’d have probably given this a 4 if written by an author new to me. But, to be honest, I’m still vacillating….


© Debra Carey, 2022

#SecondThoughts: Describing characters – the shallow stuff

I’ve recently read a number of discussions on general blogs about the type of books people prefer to read. While the split between character-driven and plot-driven plays a part in any such discussion I noticed that, even within the preference for character-driven, there appears to be a quite significant split between those who enjoy lots of rich detail and those who do not – with a surprising number preferring the “just get on with it” option.

Assuming, for now, that I’d be writing in third person or using a narrator, let’s talk about the shallow stuff – describing how my characters look.

How much detail to provide?

I started by asking myself what were the benefits of giving the full head-to-toe description? The obvious answer being that the mental picture my readers form will be the one I’ve drawn. From there I moved to how I might provide that description? A character such as like Pride & Prejudice‘s Mr Collins could prove a useful medium, being much inclined to dull discourses filled with mundane details. But as we don’t all have the sharp wit and deft touch of Miss Austen, there’s a need to remain mindful of the reader’s potential for being turned off by too long a descriptive passage. Clearly, this can be exacerbated where there’s a need to introduce a whole raft of characters at once as, if the same level of detailed description is applied to them all, I can see it proving overwhelming to the reader. And if I accept that many a reader is frustrated by being forced to wade through a lot of descriptive detail instead of getting on with the story, there’s a worry they may decide my book isn’t for them.

Perhaps then, a brief snapshot is the way to go? Enough to give my reader an idea of who everyone is, with more meat being put on the bones later, as and when it would be useful or relevant to the story or plot line.

Even though I struggle to see a scenario when this would be the case in a story I would write – I can see that if how the main character looks is vital to the story, opting for the head-to-toe descriptive option immediately they appear in the manuscript might be a good way forward (with other characters getting the brief snapshot treatment until otherwise necessary). One additional benefit of the single big brain dump when the character first appears, is I can then forget about the subject for the rest of the manuscript 😉

Returning to the concept that there’s a line to be drawn between enough and snooze in descriptive detail…. what other questions can I ask in order to ensure I stay the right side of that line?

When, why and where do you do it?

The first when question I had was whether to go for the full works immediately characters appear in the manuscript, or via drip-feed throughout. But, as I’ve already covered that under how above, I realised that further facts had to be established in order to decide my answer. Key to this is why the descriptive information is being provided -whether purely for background, or because it is relevant to the plotline. If the former, you can slip it in wherever it feels natural and comfortable but, if the latter, then the timing is key. To add one more question to this section, the where to do it could depend on whether it’s relevant to test my reader’s skills of observation. In most genres, I’d be inclined to leave it in plain sight, whereas with a crime/mystery/thriller tale, there could be a value (or simply just an inclination) to disguise it alongside a bright red herring or a shiny McGuffin or two.

What might you leave out…. and why?

Moving on from what distractions I might add, I’m wondering if what I might choose to leave out could be as relevant. As with everything, I guess the question remains, what would be my purpose?

My final question is what happens if I write in the first person? How does my reader get a description then? Do I remain the only character undescribed, or should I use some device to get the job done?

What do you advise?


© Debra Carey, 2022

The Documents in the Case: a #SecondThoughts book review

I’ve recently fallen in love with going to the library again.  The TBR pile is teetering, and most of the books that I’ve bought recently have been to do with aspects of writing, or of engineering, as I try to bring both my text book on materials characterisation and the shared novel with Debs to a successful conclusion (and start thinking about the next projects…).  But I can just about justify getting books out of the library, although I may be in danger of developing an L-TBR pile… The problem*, of course, with going to the library is that one way or another, you end up browsing.  Either it is deliberate as you attempt to take stock of what is new, or you are deliberately looking for something specific – which is not there – and you end up tripping over something else that grabs your attention.

*I use the term in a loose sense: it is not a problem per se, but there are a range of difficulties that can arise.

A little while ago, I wrote a review of ‘The Appeal’.  If you read the post, you’ll recall that I spotted it in the library and picked it up because I’d heard a lot about it.  The conceit that provides the structure to the story is that it is formed from a selection of emails that have been made available to two pupils of a barrister.  He wants them to review the documents and come to a conclusion as to whether or not the right person was arrested for a crime.  In my review, I likened it to the earlier book ‘The Documents in the Case’ by Dorothy L Sayers.  I also mentioned that whilst I’d heard of it, and whilst I’ve read several of her Lord Peter Wimsey stories, I’d not read this one.  Back in the library, looking for something else, I spotted the Documents in Case, and the Appeal still relatively fresh in my mind I thought that I would give this a go.

Sayers is perhaps best known for her detective fiction, although she did a lot more than this, and in her detective fiction, she is best known for Lord Peter Wimsey.  Her record in this regard might owe something to her status as a founder member of the Detection Club, an organisation that probably deserves a post of its own.  (The English Heritage Blue Plaque outside a former residence probably doesn’t help either, labelling her as a ‘detective novelist’).  Together with some of the brightest stars of the Golden Age of detective fiction, Sayers set out to refine the genre, and having done so to experiment with it.  For example, a group of members wrote a joint detective story, each taking responsibility for a chapter, and then passing it along to the next person, who must build the story in such a way as to incorporate all clues (either proving or debunking them).  Each contributor also wrote their own solution to the crime, which remained sealed until the mystery was complete; these solutions were included in the book, for the general reader.

What I hadn’t realised until now is that Documents is itself an example of a shared piece of writing, the co-author being Robert Eustace (a pseudonym for Dr Eustace Barton, who also wrote medic-legal fiction).  The epistolatory novel was not invented by Sayers, but this is certainly a piece of experimental writing on her part, a departure from the formula she was developing with Lord Peter.  It is interesting to note that she herself was unhappy with the final form of the book.  Coming to it as a Lord Peter fan, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected.  It lacks a great deal of the humour to be found in Lord Peter’s adventures.  Then, too, I felt that some of the material presented was something of a cheat: the documents collected are various, but several represent quite lengthy statements from some of the involved parties, solicited by the son of the deceased, who is attempting to determine if his father has been murdered.

On that basis, I don’t think I can offer a general recommendation to hurry out and get a copy.  Still, if you happen to be interested in detective fiction and are looking for something a bit different, or if you happen to stumble across it in a library whilst browsing for something else, it’s probably worth a couple of hours of your time.

Have you read Documents in the Case?  Would you recommend it – or not?  What’s the most unusual detective fiction you’ve read?

©David Jesson, 2022

#FF Prompt: The Story – Paranoia

The Long Straight Road

“I don’t wait to sit in here anymore. I don’t like being spied on by everyone going past.”

Two large red spots had appeared on Rebecca’s cheeks – yet Jim ploughed on.

“But it’s what we agreed. You’d have the front sun room, and I’d get the one at the back to use for my office.”

“No Jim, you agreed. The back room was the one you wanted, because it was quieter without the sound of traffic, and you could avoid interruptions from anyone coming to the door. You just assumed that I’d agree, because I always do. But I don’t like it, I really, really don’t. I hate it in fact! Why don’t you give it a try and see how you like living in the village fishbowl?”

This time, there’d been a worryingly high pitch in Rebecca’s voice, far higher than her normal register – yet all Jim gave in return was a sigh. Without another word, Rebecca left the room. Shortly afterwards, there was the muffled sound of a door’s bang somewhere upstairs.

Jim wondered what on earth was going on with Rebecca. Normally so calm and measured, this wasn’t like her at all. With a shrug, Jim went back to his office where he heard the extension give a reassuring “ting”. Thank goodness, he thought, she’d be calling one of her friends so he could get on with some work.

Rebecca had seemed better at dinner, and even checked the details of his next trip to the London office. They’d passed their usual evening in front of the TV, and Jim hoped it was just a blip in their otherwise quiet and peaceful life.

A week later, Rebecca dropped Jim at the station, where he caught the early train to London. Jim called out a farewell as he left: “See you at six!”

And at six, there she was, waiting in the usual spot. But as soon as they pulled into the driveway, Jim could see something was amiss. The front sun room was…. wrong. Going in, he’d gasped aloud, for Rebecca’s sun room was now filled with the furniture from his office. As he turned to rail at Rebecca, he saw instead her friend Jenny in the doorway, hands on her hips, and with a look that dared him to say the wrong thing. Seeing which way this was going, Jim decided to accept things for now, and prove to Rebecca that there was nothing wrong.

His desk faced out through the big picture windows, which gave him a nice view looking right down the long straight road that ran up to their house. That road then rounded the corner and on the village main street. Apart from the odd delivery, which Rebecca dealt with smoothly and swiftly, there were remarkably few disturbances in fact, so Jim thought he was going to win this disagreement hands down.

Except, whenever Jim looked up and out of the window, someone was walking towards their house and they would look right into his office. Jim didn’t know whether to ignore or acknowledge the walkers. He’d tried both, but never got any reaction – something he’d found odd to be honest. Unsettling even.

Summer and then Autumn came and went, and Winter was well on it’s way. The clocks having changed, it was dark more of the time, so Jim had the lights on in his office. Now the people walking along the road were hidden in the shadows and he couldn’t see who they were, but he knew his desk lamp put him into a spotlight. He started to pull the blinds, but it felt odd, not knowing who was out, yet knowing they would be looking in.

He stopped sleeping properly, and had taken to having an extra drink or two before bed to try and relax. Rebecca had tried to ask if anything was wrong, but he’d brushed her away. He decided to book an appointment to see a doctor in London, even though he felt foolish, but he didn’t want anyone in the village knowing his business. Hopefully he could get some sleeping pills and everything would return to normal. The problem he couldn’t avoid though was how much he was drinking – so much that the glass recycling box was positively overflowing, and he’d noticed that Rebecca barely touched a drop these days.

Unexpectedly, he’d broken down when describing what was happening to the doctor. He turned out to be someone who’d known Jim a long time – an old rugby friend in fact – so although it could’ve been awkward, he’d shown Jim genuine kindness. He’d sent him away with a prescription, and gave him the telephone number of a therapist. Jim had cried that night as he told Rebecca about it.

“My doctor said what I’d experienced was paranoia” she told him, “but it all stopped once I moved out of that sun room. I think we should regard that room as out of bounds for us both.”

“Or move house?” suggested Jim, surprised to realise that he meant it.

“Yes, let’s. It could explain why it was below market value.”

© Debra Carey, 2022