Sporting crime

Athletics Heats 2008, Beijing National Stadium.
Olympic athletics 2008, Beijing National Stadium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning there is news of an Australian test cricketer announcing his retirement from international cricket after a serious injury. He said something to the effect that he couldn’t find such commitment any more. Translate into strine: ‘Can’t be arsed, mate.’

Now – of course he’s on the level and there’s nothing else behind his decision.

But what if…. what if a high-profile sportsman or woman has something to hide? What if someone unpleasant has put pressure on them? Maybe they surrendered to greed under heavy persuasion? Maybe family life gave them cause to break a lifetime’s integrity and sportsmanship… Competition + money + pressure = conflict = drama.

London has just had Wimbledon; it’s about to be overwhelmed by Olympic fever. The cricket is going on; football has just been European.

Rangers – one of the stars of the Scottish Football League – is going to know today whether or not it will be allowed to continue in the league  – nothing to do with talent, goalscoring or silverware – it’s the bean-counting and paper-shuffling that has been its downfall. No football fan will have missed the rows, scandals and battles over Manchester United and its ownership.

Dick Francis has earned a very good whack for decades with his crime novels all connected to horse-racing. Now John Francome and Jenny Pitman have joined him on the crime fiction shelves and the best-seller lists. All three writers were at the top of the steeplechase world – Francombe and Francis as National Hunt jockeys, Pitman as the first women trainer of a Grand National winner.

Ball-tampering and match-fixing scandals walloped test cricket for some years, with high profile, highly respected players caught taking bribes for cheating.

Now we have the Olympics. Drugs scandals are always in the offing, with athletes or their trainers finding ever more obscure ways of boosting performance, searching for substances that are still legal, and sometimes tipping over into law-breaking.

There is a lot of money at stake in sport. Take a massive amount of adrenalin and aggression in intensely competitive athletes, add in ambition and greed in those around them, taking part or spectating.

People are infinitely ingenious in finding ways to beat the system, cheat, steal, defraud and manipulate. All this gives the crime writer licence to do the same, on the page, anyway.

Not forgetting romantic fiction – love stories happening in sport add romance and sex into the heady mix of hormones in the sports arena. Bend it like Beckham, Gregory’s Girl and Wimbledon spring to mind immediately.

The Olympics is the pinnacle for most sports: it’s full of drama as they are. Add in money, ambition, pressures from all sorts of directions, the media spotlight, personal problems, family conflicts… you have the makings of the best and worst of human behaviour. That is the stuff of fiction.

Get writing.

Which sport do you think could take fiction by storm in the way that horse-racing has done?

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159 phobias to enrich your characters

Huh? phobias are enriching? Since when? Since you had fictional characters to feed.

159 phobias to enrich your characters, where do you get your ideas?
Photo credit: SlowTek

 

Phobias – overwhelming fear or hatred of things – can affect someone’s entire life and lifestyle, or can disrupt it disastrously. Both of these things are brilliant for fiction, creating the all-important conflict. 

Phobias can be funny, tragic, creepy, surreal, horrific, even quite charming – and can work in any context and any genre, depending how you handle them, of course. You need a light touch – if every character is neurotically obsessed with something, it won’t work. Now and then, though, a touch of phobia is a very handy device.

A romantic hero, terrified of chickens, could inspire a great scene with the girl of his dreams having to rescue him from a feathery fate – a turning point in the story, perhaps.

A crime fiction villain could be trapped by his fear of heights or of closed-in spaces; a detective could be forced to break through his fear of the same in order to save a potential victim or catch the murderer.

The possibilities are endless, and the available phobias are too. It’s amazing what people can be frightened of, and you have to wonder what sparked the apparently irrational fear in the first place. Rich pickings for writers!

I’ve listed 159 of my favourite phobias here, so have a rootle around and see what rings a bell for you. 

Do you have a phobia? Tell me how it makes you feel, or how it makes you act?

Better still – have you found a way to conquer it? 

Blockbuster love story to be written

A lifelong romance between a Yemeni shepherd boy and a Danish girl, this would make an extraordinary love story in print or on screen.

It was in Barry that Ahmed met his future wife, Christina: the blue-eyed, 15 year old daughter of a Danish seafarer. George Jorgenson was second-in-command on his ship, and was also the padre. Says Zane: ‘The Jorgenson family were very upset about this romance, and ordered Christina to give up this illiterate, penniless Arab. Knowing they would not be allowed to stay together in Wales, Christina and Ahmed eloped, with her family chasing after them.

‘My parents went first to South Shields – another deep sea port – and then to Liverpool, where they were married in 1934; my mother was 16, my father 26. By this time my mother had converted to Islam.’

It was soon afterwards that Christina’s family caught up with them, but seeing that the pair were married and they would not be split up, Christina’s family had to make a choice. Says Zane: ‘Instead of losing his daughter, my grandfather decided to make friends with this Arab gentleman she had chosen, and my mother and her family were reconciled.’

Read more…

Sugar, sugar

English: Sugar cane harvest at Marburg Sugar M...
English: Sugar cane harvest at Marburg Sugar Mill. Workers on the top of the wagons of sugar cane at Marburg. Postcard made by the Queensland Goverment to promote Queensland at the Fronco-British Exhibition, 1908. ‘1,728,789 tons of sugar-cane were grown in Queensland during 1906.’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1704 only 760 tons of raw sugar was imported through Liverpool, but by 1785 this had risen to 16,600 tons, supplying a dozen sugar houses in the town. Sugar arrived from Barbados and Demerara as a dark sticky molasses; treacle, syrup, sugar loaves and granulated sugar were all stages in the evolution of the refining process.

Another snippet to plunder – such a massive explosion of industry, and such a sticky one at that, is worth investigating. Sugar, which has a high boiling point, produced fierce burns, and many of the sugar houses were run by Germans, willing to work with the dangerous stuff when Liverpudlians weren’t.

Of all the sugar bakers and refiners in the town, the most famous was Henry Tate, whose sugar money founded the Tate Gallery.

Read more… 

British Wimbledon champion

Lottie Dodd, from the Wirral, Wimbledon champion, golf champion, archery Olympian
Lottie Dodd, archer, tennis champion, golfer

A story to write in time for next year’s Wimbledon? Certainly in time for the next Olympics, if not this year’s. Great marketing potential  – three sports in one.

Lottie Dodd (from Bebington, Wirral) was a remarkable sportswoman. At the age of 15, in 1886, she won her first Wimbledon tennis title – she won six in all. She won the British Women’s Golf Championship in 1904, played hockey for England, and won the silver medal in archery at the Olympics in 1908.

Plunder stories from real life

I’m posting some stories from various of my books – stories about real people in history, all connected to Liverpool, since that’s what I was writing about for eight years. Amazing true tales about extraordinary people, or people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. As far I know no books have been written about them so far, but if you’ve come across any, let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing your book about one of these folk. 

These true stories can obviously prompt pure fiction, but the mix of historic fact and fiction makes for a fascinating read. I’m in the middle of Iain Pears‘s book Stone’s Fall, which is all about capitalism, secret politics, and global industry set just before the First World War – a brilliant read even for someone who knows little and cares less about war, banking and politics; the industrialist John Stone reminds one of several possible models, and althogh I don’t know enough history to recognise which names and plot points are genuine, I assume that Pears’s research has been deep and broad.

One of my all-time favourite books is Harry Thompson‘s This Thing of Darkness, about the voyages of The Beagle and the friendship between its captain, Fitzroy, and Charles Darwin. Utterly fascinating – beautifully written, intriguing, very well researched, beguiling and touching.

A third recommendation is Anthony Quinn’s The Rescue Man, inspired by the visionary 19thC architect Peter Ellis and his revolutionary buildings Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook Street in Liverpool. Full of authentic detail, the story is nevertheless pure fiction; Ellis and his buildings are cleverly reinvented and renamed. 

Here are some unsung intrigues, scandals and anecdotes to spark your own fiction or faction. Have fun with them, and give me a nod in your acknowledgements page when it gets published – deal?

Fantastic true story – inspiration for yours?

Where do you get your ideas? Story from Astoria, Oregon, Flavel family
Deserted Flavel family house in Astoria, Oregon

An amazing story in the Daily Astorian, local paper for Astoria in Oregon. It reads like the transcript of a film – all it needs is dialogue: the fall of the house of Flavel.

An influential rich family come to degradation and violence, a deserted mansion full of mysteries, a missing heiress and lots of questions.

Any one chunk of this long story would inspire a novel, a play, a screenplay, a TV series – crime, mystery, thriller, horror, even romance.

If you’re searching for ideas, this story could give you the spur your imagination needs.

Read, be inspired, start writing. Let me know how it goes!