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What does $1.11 get you? A Sherlockian answer.

Well, looking at things like McDonald’s menus, $1.11 is not quite enough for a cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger copy.png

Starbucks? It will get you most of a multigrain bagel.


Not really a lot, is it?

But… if you want, you can buy a whole Sherlock Holmes adventure for $1.11 – and it’s not an ebook, either. It’s in a real hardcover printed book.

The catch? You can’t just buy one story – you have to buy eighteen at a time. But let’s face it, that’s only $19.99 for the pre-order price. And that’s a saving of $5 over the final price when the book is published. Over 450 pages of mouth-watering adventure.

No fat, no cholesterol, no gluten, and no HFCS. Zero calories, in fact. But a lot of old-style succulent Sherlockian goodness.


Loads of goodness in it, though.


So click on the covers, or click here and get yourself the new Sherlock adventures – told in the old style, by the man who’s been described as “the reincarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”.

And $19.99 will get you… (at Burger King at Halloween time):


OK, that’s pretty good value. But how long will it last you before you want another one?

Eighteen Sherlock stories will last you a lot longer – and you can enjoy them again and again, which is more than you can say for a cheeseburger!

The log-line


The technical term for the very short “elevator pitch” for a story, script, etc. Here’s a template:


From this site here. They say don’t name the protagonist, so I’m just using generic descriptions here. Of course, the formula could be changed and fiddled with, but it’s a good start.

So, let’s try to apply that to some of my books (note, these are not perfect, and could almost certainly do with improvement).

Beneath Gray Skies – When the Confederacy and the Nazis form an unholy alliance, a British secret service agent must prevent the Bismarck, a giant Zeppelin, from reaching the South, or else slavery will take hold in Europe.

At the Sharpe End – When he is given a package by a man who dies later that day under the wheels of a train at Shinjuku station, a British consultant living in Tokyo must fight off the yakuza, and the secret services of four countries, or else he and his friends will die very messily.

Balance of Powers – When Wall Street bankers are found shot dead in their cars, a financial reporter must find the truth behind a returning veteran’s reaction to the subprime mortgage scandal, or else dozens of deaths will occur. (Note: I don’t think the formula works as well here – the veteran is the main protagonist, but his conflict is an internal one)

Leo’s Luck – When he leaves his wife and finds his girlfriend in bed with another man, this white-collar criminal must find his own luck with a rock band possessing strange powers, or else wander the streets broke, homeless, and hunted by the police.

The Untime – In 1895, when a mad professor discovers dimensions beyond space and time, a Parisian journalist must stop him experimenting further, or else the Universe may collapse into a terrifyingly unknown state.

Hmmm… all of these need work. It’s hard – almost as tricky as trying to write article headlines.

The talk I actually did give…

I gave this talk at the Japan Writers’ Conference in Kobe in October 2015. The actual talk differed a little from this, but was basically an expansion – all the points here were covered, in the order here.


Stepping outside my comfort zone

I don’t want to turn this into an advertisement for my latest novel, but the conclusions I have reached are ones that I have reached as a result of writing the book, and I shall be referring to this at intervals throughout the talk. The talk is more about the mental processes of composition than the techniques of writing, and I hope it will strike a few sympathetic chords among those of you engaged in writing fiction, and give you something to think about. I hope we’ll have time for a short exercise at the end of the talk, and some discussion later on. Please don’t ask questions until the end – I tend to get derailed very easily and I don’t want to go too far off topic and then discover there’s not time left to say what I want at the end of the session.

To put you out of your misery at the start, the book in question is called “Balance of Powers”, and we’ll talk about the ways in which it is outside my comfort zone a little later. If I am in any way famous or well-known, it’s because I write Sherlock Holmes stories, very much in the style of the originals, and Balance of Powers is hardly that – set in the USA, and with a protagonist which is far from my personality.

But why am I associated with Sherlock Holmes anyway? Well, we all live in a very specific and very narrow comfort zone – Japan. The market for Japan-based genre fiction is limited outside the country – note I am talking here about genre fiction, not literary fiction, and there are some great authors of literary fiction set in Japan, some here at this conference. For genre, the two Barrys – Eisler and Lancet – have basically cornered the market in Japan-based thrillers, and all credit to them. We seem to be at last free of the von Lustbader-type ninja thrillers and we have a more realistic view of today’s Japan in their novels. Simon Collier has done a great job with his historical Milligan novels. And I’ve written one thriller set in Japan, which sells neither in Japan nor overseas. Sniff. Face it, Japanese settings are not a straightforward path to commercial success in the genre fiction market. Were they ever? I don’t know.

It’s now impossible for me to write a novel set in the contemporary USA or UK after so long away. At least that’s what I always said. When I left the UK, a “mobile” was something that hung from a child’s bedroom ceiling. The word “text” was a noun, not a verb. And the whole dynamics of British society have changed dramatically in the last quarter of a century.

So, given that writing about Japan was not a commercially viable option, and that writing about the home countries of my primary target audience was not on, what was left? Well, I could go off-planet with science fiction, or I could travel forwards with a utopia or a dystopia, or backwards in time with a historical setting. I chose to go back, and I was lucky in that I am somewhat of a Zelig writer, in that I take on the characteristics of other writers without having a personality of my own.

I’d always loved Sherlock Holmes in any case, and Sir Arthur’s style is not hard to imitate, for me, at any rate. The result is that I have, like Sir Arthur, found myself trapped in Baker Street with a somewhat sociopathic character and his long-suffering colleague. Conan Doyle desperately tried to get away from Holmes, and some of his creations are excellent, others not so much so. He killed off Holmes, of course, and brought him back to life by popular demand. I cannot repeat that trick, so I am forced to seek pastures new, since living in the last half of the 19th century no longer presents a challenge to me.

Now one thing we are taught as fiction writers, along with the rest of the dicta of the Raymond Carver school of creative writing, is “write about what you know”. Obviously there is some truth in this, but if we were to write only about what we know and have experienced at first hand, then I doubt if we would ever sell any fiction, and this shows in the sales figures of many self-published authors, and some commercially published ones as well. One purpose of fiction is to help the readers escape their everyday humdrum lives. Another is to help the authors escape their everyday humdrum lives.

So, after another novel, partly about what I know, including rock and roll, Indian food, parapsychology, financial crime, Japan, and a little romance, I ended up writing something very different.

In a Facebook conversation, a friend said “I’ve got a great idea. How about a serial killer who takes out those killers whom the police don’t touch?” Well, the idea of a vigilante is an old one, as I told him, but I wondered what would happen if the bad guys weren’t your usual run of criminals, but instead, the vigilante was pursuing white-collar criminals who were escaping the criminal justice system?

So, I had victims – and actually, I do know a little about the financial services industry and the mortgage scams of the early 2000s. I could describe their crimes, and to a certain extent I could describe them as people.

But my protagonist? Who was he or she going to be? In the end, I finished up with two protagonists – Major Henry Gillette Powers, formerly serving with the United States Marine Corps, and Kendra Hampton, a reporter for a financial services news agency.

Now Henry is African-American, and Kendra is female. I am not African-American – not even American – and I am not female. I have never served in the armed forces of any country (unless you count a couple of years as a teenaged cadet), and never been to Afghanistan, where I placed an establishing scene.

So, already, I am way out of my comfort zone.

Add to that the fact that I am writing about a geographical area (industrial Ohio) that I have never visited, and a group of people of which I am not a member. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Baker Street any more.

Now I have an advantage that authors in the past did not have – it’s called the Internet. If I want to find out geographical details, it’s easy. So: “Thought was action, and he spent the next twenty minutes hunkered down, hopefully out of sight, with the car parked in a side street between the hospital and the cathedral.” I’ve never been to Columbus, Ohio, in my life, but a friend who’s a native of the state recognised the place immediately. I was able to locate a diner along an Interstate, and even discover what the specialities of the menu were before sending my characters for a meal there.

And, together with the research tools like Google Maps and Street View that the Internet provides, I was able to call on another important resource provided by the Internet – and that’s friends. Since the book was set in the USA, and since the characters are American, it obviously made sense to write in American, rather than British, English. I can do this reasonably well, it seems, but even so, it was great to have a “native check”. I put that someone “rang off” after a conversation on their cellphone (I had to remember to keep calling it a “cellphone” rather than a “mobile”). Apparently they should have “hung up”.

As far as some of the main characters being African-American is concerned, I was definitely not going to go into dialect or Ebonics. My characters are intelligent, educated people, and though they swear a lot, and use language which my mother might not approve of, they are not Stepin Fetchit stereotypes. This was very much appreciated by the African-American friends who read through the drafts. So even though this was outside my comfort zone, I ended up comfortable.

As far as my female character was concerned, I had a few models to draw on – some people working in the journalistic field, and other. I like writing strong female characters, and I don’t hear complaints about them from my female readers, so I presumably do a reasonably good job there. I am now relatively comfortable about crossing gender boundaries, though I have yet to write a novel where the main protagonist is female, one of the co-protagonists in Balance of Powers is female, and I have written several short stories where the main character is a woman.

However, the comfort zone which I had the most problems stepping out of was the moral one. Actually, there are two moral ones.

The first, and the one that gave me least trouble, is the sexual one. I do not feel comfortable writing erotica (or reading it, for that matter, unless it is very well done indeed), but a little bit of sex was necessary to cement the relationship between two characters. Without going into explicit graphic detail, or without being too coy about it, I think I managed to get the idea over. I avoided any description of sex between the co-protagonist and her girlfriend, though. And if you’re expecting me to write the next 50 Shades of Gray, you’re going to be waiting a long time. But I am more comfortable with this now than I was – my previous book, Leo’s Luck, broke the ice for me on this, though I still regard this area as being somewhat outside my comfort zone.

More serious, from my point of view, was the violence committed by the major character. Although Henry Powers is basically a good man, he is a trained killer, and in the course of the book he commits half a dozen or more murders. Some of them are pretty nasty in the way they are carried out.

I am not a killer, trained or otherwise, and it was hard for me to project myself into the state of mind where I could wander around with a a Colt 45 in my hand and humiliate and take out the scumbags who had destroyed my family. Happily, I had made the decision not to write in first-person, but even so, I felt dirty and unclean after writing some scenes in the book. They exposed sides of myself which I didn’t know existed, and which I really didn’t want to know existed.

It was a very different feeling to inventing a villain for Sherlock Holmes to foil, which is more of an intellectual challenge. It was even different from making a major character in a book into a bad guy, which is what I have done in a couple of my non-Sherlock books. I ended up getting inside the skin of Major Powers, and it was not a comfortable feeling a lot of the time.

Do other writers experience this? I wonder. Frederick Forsyth did a brilliant job of portraying an assassin in “Day of the Jackal” – the man had few redeeming features, but was written with a sense of identity with the character – the reader has a very clear idea of how the man operates. Patricia Highsmith portrayed the talented Mr. Ripley – how far did she identify with that sociopathic character? You can probably think of some more for yourself.

In any case, although what I was writing was not a work of literature, I found that the character was far too clear in my mind, and far too close to me for comfort. If only for my own peace of mind, I needed a redemption scene at the end of the book, where the violence was discarded. I didn’t have the heart to kill off the character, though, even though he was a killer. I guess when Hollywood makes the movie, they’ll have to change the ending. But I did get quite attached to him, and I didn’t want him to exit the story in a box. I wasn’t attached to him as much as I was to the female characters, I admit, and I actually fell in love a little with one of them, but the fact that I was mentally cheering on a serial killer is, I think you will admit, a little frightening, even if you believe the victims deserved to die.

So what did I take away from all of this?

Firstly, it taught me to be brave in my writing, and not to be frightened of writing about the unknown. It actually proved to be much easier than I thought it was going to be to write about a place I had never visited and a society in which I have never lived. I don’t recommend writing about a society about which you know nothing at all.

Next, it taught me not to be scared of myself. Yes, there were aspects of the character which were disturbing, and which came out of myself, but by confronting those inner demons and realising they exist, but also that they are a very minor part of me, I feel stronger and more able to write about these things and to express them in future books, without becoming overly attached to them. Maybe I have exorcised those demons.

Incidentally, I also feel that writing about female characters and fleshing them out as real people has made me stronger as a person, and as a writer. I am not sure how familiar you are with the works of Carl Jung, and I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert in Jungian psychoanalysis, but one aspect of this philosophy is that we carry round with us an inner personality of the opposite gender. For a man, this is the anima. In my last three non-Holmes novels I have included a strong female character who is perhaps not the protagonist – I haven’t reached that stage yet – but is definitely a key element of the psychological structure of the book. Including these characters has definitely strengthened the books, and has helped me write better, and with luck, to understand other people better. As to whether those characters seem real or not, you’re going to have to read the books to find out.

So all in all, working outside your comfort zone is certainly a tough task, you will end up a better writer, and maybe a better person at the end of the day. Write about what you don’t know – stretch yourself, and at the end of the day, you will know. Live dangerously, and not comfortably.

The speech I didn’t give


(standing on the terrace, 35 floors above London)

Last week, I attended a fabulous event in London,on the 35th floor of the Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, to mark the launch of the biggest collection of new Sherlock Holmes stories ever. There are three volumes, and my story, “The Lichfield Murder”, is in the first. All royalties are going to Stepping Stones to help preserve Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house. There was a possibility that I might have to say a few words at the event. In the end, I didn’t, but this is what I would have said:

Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good evening to you all.

If you go to Rye in Sussex, you may visit Lamb House, where the revered author Henry James once lived, and view manuscripts and proof copies of his famous works. There are other similar shrines to great literature: Batemans – Rudyard Kipling, the vicarage where the Bronte sisters lived and worked, and so on. There is a long tradition of famous literary houses in this country.

But for me, visiting the house in Rye was not about Henry James. This house was the model for Mallards in E.F. Benson’s popular Mapp and Lucia series. I venture to say that the six “non-literature” works describing Lucia have given more pleasure to more people than the whole of Henry James’ works. My feeling is that as well as commemorating literature, we should learn to celebrate the popular: let’s mark the places where those who have given entertainment and delight to so many have lived and worked. For example, to name but a few: Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, Ian Fleming, and of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes has been an inspiration and a source of enjoyment to millions around the world over the years. Professor Challenger, to those who know him, anticipates Michael Crichton brilliantly. And for the few who know and love Brigadier Gerard, we have the perfect un-self-aware anti-hero, convinced of his own superiority in every aspect. Sir Arthur has given so much to the world, and it is only fitting that we should remember him and mark his achievements by helping to preserve the house which he built and loved.

It is therefore with great pleasure, and not a little humility, that I find myself in such distinguished company tonight, joined in the cause of Undershaw. I would like to thank David Marcum for inviting me to participate in this wonderful project, Steve Emecz for bringing it to fruition, and to Stepping Stones for their sympathetic approach to the problems involved in making Undershaw both a memorial to ACD, and a place where children can live and grow.

Thank you very much.


(a performance by “The Deductionist”, Ben Cardell – I was the victim in this “Cluedo” simulation)

Stop thief!


Perhaps I’m jumping the gun here, but it seems that we may have a crime on our hands. [Note: there are only three classes of people allowed to use “we” as the first person singular: royalty, editors, and people with tapeworms. In this case, it’s my publisher and me.] Not just me, but lots of writers, if our suspicions are correct, are in line to get ripped off.

The other day, I made a lot of sales on Amazon India. Someone had bought all my Sherlock Holmes books as Kindle editions. Yes, all 12 titles. And guess what? They all got “returned” the same day.

Now, one title bought by mistake is an accident, but wouldn’t you think that Amazon would take notice of 12 titles being bought and returned in one day? I would have thought so, myself.

Our suspicion is that whoever bought those titles will strip the copy protection (DRM) from them, and then either sell those titles themselves, or pass them on to another site to distribute as pirate copies.

We may be wrong – the thief may simply have copied the files, stripped the DRM and will read them at leisure. Whatever, it’s still theft.

Amazon have been informed, and, as one might expect, it’s Somebody Else’s Problem. Amazon India’s business.

We’ve put out a watch on the Internet for these titles to re-appear somewhere. We will see what happens. But in the meantime, if you have ebooks out there, beware of the “returns policy” that Amazon operates. It’s a standing invitation to get ripped off by these content thieves.

Review: Andy Borger’s “The Angel Corps”

The Angel CorpsThe Angel Corps by Andy Boerger

What goes round comes round:

Usually this saying refers to bad karma, where evil deeds come round to bite the perpetrator in the backside. Boerger takes the opposite approach – do good to others, and others will do good to you. The Angel Corps is a call, not to arms, but to helping others, and in the process, to realise one’s full human potential.

The little acts of random kindness that Boerger describes go all the way from rescuing worms from hostile baking-hot concrete, to bolstering a timid child’s self-esteem, or even saving the life of a young woman, trapped in a blazing inferno.

We all have the opportunity to be (non-sectarian or even non-religious) angels where others are concerned – Boerger points to many areas where an angel’s helping hand can make life easier for others – and thereby open the door for others’ helping hands at times when we need them. But that’s not all – by helping others, we help ourselves grow, hence the statement that this is a self-help book about helping others.

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Review: Declan Hayes’ “Japan’s Big Bang”

Japan's Big Bang: The Deregulation and Revitalization of the Japanese EconomyJapan’s Big Bang: The Deregulation and Revitalization of the Japanese Economy by Declan Hayes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not often I give a book such a low rating, and I think it might be as well to explain why. The author has experience of economic upheavals, according to the back flap blurb, and has impressive-sounding academic credentials, but his writing style doesn’t show it at all.

In an attempt to sound “hip” or something, he ends up using words like “buffoon” to describe the Japanese MoF bureaucrats, and makes statements about them that make me surprised that the editor at Tuttle actually let them go through without referring to counsel. Of course, everyone is entitled to feel that MoF staffers are indeed idiotic, or even crooked – but the repeated references to the “no-pan” restaurants etc. and the general insulting of the Japanese establishment, however justified, get a little tired and boring after a while.

When you are talking about capital reserve adequacy, etc. (as Hayes does), this sort of language is inappropriate. Hayes comes over as neither an academic economist nor a journalist, but as a staid academic wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt.

The facts are probably accurate (if lifted from other unacknowledged sources – including books I have read) – a bibliography and an index would also help. There appears to have been relatively little editing applied to the manuscript – not sure exactly why I say that, though.

The general tone of the book is the attitude of Captain Renault in Casablanca: “I am shocked, I tell you, shocked”, while knowing all the time that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. The supreme irony of this is that it praises Nasdaq, etc., and was written at the height of the tech bubble, just before it burst. It also praises the US and UK’s deregulation and the securitisation of mortgages – moves that led, less than a decade later, to the near melt-down of the world’s financial system.

There are other books available on the deficiencies of Japan’s financial system in the 1980s and 1990s. Try Gillian Tett for example. Avoid this one.

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