Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

25 November 2017

OATLANDER – Why I can never write a book straight (one of the zany posts)


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)



It happened again.  One little letter got switched around, and those little writer demons in my head let loose.

It started with a quote from an industry reviewer, regarding my time travel series starting with Rowena Through the Wall.  He said:  “OUTLANDER meets SEX AND THE CITY.”

Nice way to describe Rowena et al.  I’m very grateful to him.  But of course, when I quoted him, I messed up the spelling of Outlander.

So here’s a sneak preview of my next book:

OATLANDER

Claire (okay, lets change that to Flaire) falls through time and lands in virtually the same country she did in that other book.  The country that thinks using animal bladders for instruments is a really neat idea.

“What the heck,” says Flaire, looking around at all the sheep.  “This isn’t Kansas.”

“Ach no,” says ruggedly handsome and unmarried oat farmer, who might possibly be named Jamie (okay, let’s change that to –heck, nothing rhymes.  Tamie?  Bamie?  Okay, Balmy.  “And why are you wearing just your slip, lass?”

Flaire (looking down): “Blast. So’s I am.  Well, fuck-a-duck.”

Balmy:  “Canna no dae that, lass. Only sheep here.”

<We travel further along in the story, to the battle of Culloden, where Balmy and the local rebels exchange words.>

Leader of Rebels:  “Today  will go down in history, lads!  Grab yer spikes and pitch forks!  We go to spill English blood!”

Balmy: “Not on me oat field, ye don’t.”

“SCOTLAND! SCOTLAND! SCOTLAND!”  Rebels charge.

Flaire, watching everyone trip over sheep.  “This isn’t going to end well.”

Balmy:  “Back to Kansas, Lass?”

Flaire:  “Sure.  No oats though. We’d have to call this…Cornlander.

Balmy <scratching chin>:  “But that would be-“

Flaire:  “Corny?” 

Melodie Campbell writes funny books.  Mostly about crime.  Or maybe her comedy is criminal.  You be the judge. 
 
 On Amazon

03 August 2016

Writing to Remember


by Robert Lopresti

This one is going to ramble a bit, so I will let you know in advance what themes are going to keep coming up: Orkney and the human fight against oblivion.  How's that for a pair?

As I mentioned before, in June my wife and I traveled to Scotland.  I was particularly knocked out by the Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast.  We arrived via a six-hour ferry ride from Aberdeen. 

And that route is not recommended.  By the end of the trip I would estimate that at least a quarter of the travelers were sitting still (or just lying on the floor), afraid to move for fear of losing whatever might remain in their tummies.

So, if you go, take the other, shorter ferry ride, from Scrabster.  Longer road trip to get there but roads aren't as  bouncy as the North Sea.

Relief carving, Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney.



Orkney is a county, made up of about seventy islands, twentyish of which are inhabited.  The main island is called The Mainland, and that's where we spent most of our time. 

And speaking of time, the place is full of it.  We visited four prehistoric sites, where the past just leaps out at you.

You may wonder why these way-the-hell-and-gone isles attracted neolithic peoples.  One tour guide explained it this way: If the sea is a barrier then Orkney is at the far end of nowhere.  But if the sea is a road, then Orkney is a main highway stop.  The Vikings certainly took the latter view.  Maybe the new-stone-age (neolithic) people felt the same way.

But we can only guess about that  because they were, well, prehistoric.  Which by definition means they left no history, no writing.

And writing (this blog is about writing.  Remember?)  is a great tool against oblivion.  But not the only one.

Stennes
Take a look at the Stones of Stenness, an ancient henge, or ring of standing stones.  Whoever dragged these monuments into a circle and stood them on end was certainly trying to us - or somebody - something.  And most of them survived for 5,000 years until 1814 when a farmer named Mackay got tired of visitors trespassing and decided to doom them to oblivion.  He destroyed two of them before he was stopped - on Christmas - with a court order.

Maeshowe
About a mile away you will find Maeshowe, which is a chambered cairn.  That is, a hill tomb with rooms in it.   It's a few hundred years younger than Stennes.  The long tunnel entrance (you have to bend over practically double) is aligned with the sun at the solstice.  (And there is a new theory, by the way, that such entrances served as astronomical devices, blocking out excess light to reveal more stars.)

We don't know much about the people who spent 30 to 100,000 person-hours building it, or what they thought it meant, but we do know it was visited by Vikings (remember them?) about a thousand years ago.  We know that because they told us so by writing on the inner walls.  It is the largest collection of runes ever found.  The writers explain that 100 of them broke in through the ceiling to spend three days out of a snow storm.

Ring of Brodgar, more standing stones.
Well, first of all, there is no way 100 people could have gotten into that space, much less all their weapons and supplies, so I guess that was just a round number.  But what fascinates me is that these travelers must have been new to the art of writing and terribly excited about it.  Because some of the runes translate something like this:

I carved this with an axe.

I carved this up high.

Carved by the best rune-carver west of the ocean.

They were not all so tautological.  The guide told us one of the carvings could be loosely translated:  

For a good time, call Ingehelda.

Right.  It seems odd that these ancient wanderers didn't use the opportunity to tell posterity more about themselves.  Like names and home towns.  But apparently that was not the sort of immortality that interested them.


Skara Brae
And speaking of immortality and the fight against oblivion, in the early twentieth century the land was owned by a man named Balfour.  He noticed that the roof was leaking (where the Vikings had burst in) and, blessed be his memory, he got it patched up.    Even better, he made sure the builders left a clear distinction between the old and the modern.  If he hadn't made those repairs, the place would probably be a mudpie today.

By the way, those original dry stone walls, built almost five thousand years ago?  Except where the Vikings bashed them, they still don't need repair.  Talk about fighting oblivion.


Standing stones in an Orkadian cafe.  Another shop had a dish called Skara Brie.
And then there's Skara Brae,  an entire neolithic village uncovered by a violent storm a century ago.  These are the oldest houses in the world with their original furniture - stone beds and "dressers" on which prized possessions were probably displayed.

If you made it through all of my prattle then you deserve a treat.  So here is Saltfishforty, an Orkadian band we saw performing in Stromness.  Enjoy.








20 July 2016

A Wee Stroll in Auld Reekie


Me in Stromness, Orkney. I have no photographic evidence I was in Edinburgh.
by Robert Lopresti

Last time I talked a bit about our recent trip to Scotland.  Well, actually I ranted about a mobile phone company I encountered there.  But I didn't spend all my time in Britain whining - or as they would say, whinging.

We visited one of my favorite cities; one that has plenty of crime and crime fiction in its history.  Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland (and, considering how the Scots felt about Brexit, it may be the capital of an independent country soon).

I visited the Writer's Museum, a 500 year old house now dedicated to exhibits on three writers with strong connections to Auld Reekie, as the city is known: Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson,  and Robert Burns.  (I had no idea so many photographs of Stevenson existed, and he died a young man, too, long before the selfie stick.)

Outside the museum an enterprising Scot named Allan Foster had set up the starting point for a Book Lover's Tour.  I didn't have time to take it but it promised to show you sites connected to the three gentlemen above as well as Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin,  Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, J.M. Barrie, and J.K. Rowling.  (Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter in Portugal, by the way, although several Edinburgh cafes might like to claim credit.)

We managed to have a drink in Deacon Brodie's Tavern, whose walls are decorated with scenes from the life of  the city's most famous civil servant. William Brodie was a distinguished tradesman and member of the city council, right up until 1788 when he was revealed to be leading a gang of burglars.  He hung for his crimes, but the story doesn't end there.  Some of the furniture he built resided in the house where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up, which led to a fascination that inspired him to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But Brodie was probably not the city's most famous crook.  That honor belongs to  two Irishmen, William Burke and William Hare.  They are often remembered as grave-robbers, but that is a serious injustice.  It is true they provided the local medical school with cadavers for autopsy, but these entrepreneurs never sullied their hands in a graveyard.

Instead, they killed the potential corpses themselves, guaranteeing fresh product, which brought a better price.  Burke, who did the actual smothering, was hanged in 1829.  Hare gave state's evidence and got away uh, Scot free, as did Dr. Knox who apparently never noticed how fresh his subjects were.  (Oh, Burke was dissected.  Poetic justice.)

That same medical school featured, somewhat later, a professor named Dr. Joseph Bell, who taught diagnosis.  His uncanny ability to size a patient up at a glance made a big impression on one of his students, Arthur Conan Doyle, who transferred it to the world's first consulting detective. 

And while it isn't technically about a crime, I can't imagine any mystery writer who wouldn't be interested in Real Mary King's Close.  This is a seventeenth century street that was covered over, more or less intact, during the plague, and  which you can now tour.  Educational and chilling.

Fun fact: the city of Edinburgh hired so-called "plague doctors" who were actually just men paid to take out the corpses.  The wise old city council offered very good salaries, since they expected most of the "doctors"to croak before they could collect.  However, the bizarre and bulky outfits the men wore to keep out the "bad air" they thought caused the plague were actually extremely efficient for keeping out the fleas that actually did.  So most of them lived till payday, much to their employers' consternation.  Proving, I suppose that management-labor relations have not changed much.

Not Holyrood Palace.  Just a nice picture.
One more Edinburgh crime.   The city's Old Town rides on the spine of an extinct volcano.  At one end is the Castle, at the other is Holyrood Palace, the Queen's official residence in Scotland.  And it was there that we visited the very room where David Rizzio, the secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley, and his followers.  A few months later Darnley left this world of trouble when the house he was sleeping in, also in Edinburgh, blew up.   Some say he was dead before the boom.  Some say his wife had a hand in it.

But we will have to give Mary the famous Scottish court verdict, Not Proven, which is said to mean "Not guilty, and don't do it again."

Those are some criminous highlights of Auld Reekie .Visiting it is something I do want to do again.

06 July 2016

Topping Up and Ticking Off in Scotland


Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye (also in the new movie The BFG)
by Robert Lopresti

My wife and I just got back from a lovely trip to Scotland.  In future pieces I will probably write more about that but right now I want to concentrate on something that has nothing to do with crime fiction, unless you stretch that to communication issues and petty theft.  Bear with me.  I will include some lovely pictures of our trip to ease the way, okay?

Terri and I are not big cell phone users but we knew we wanted to be able to call home, especially to check our messages.  We went to our Verizon dealer who assured us our phone was unlocked and we could buy the necessary sim card in Scotland.  He recommended a company called EE.

Glasgow Dunce Cap
So when we landed in Glasgow we found an EE store and told a salesman named Scott exactly what we needed.  But he couldn't figure out how to open our phone.  I don't mean he couldn't unlock the electronic system; I mean he couldn't figure out how to physically open it and get at the sim card.

So we talked about buying a cheap phone.  All we need is to be able to call the U.S., we explained.  Don't care about local calls; don't care about texting.

The Kelpies, near Falkirk
No problem, he said.  For ten pounds he sold us a cheapie phone.  A five pound "topping up" fee gave us 250 minutes of US phone calls.  Excellent!

That night I called and checked messages.  Took almost ten minutes.

Next day I tried again and was told we had no money left on the phone.  Problem.

We were heading off to Edinburgh, so we found an EE shop on Princes Street, the main shopping drag in the capital city, where mobile phone shops seemed as thick as plague fleas on a medieval rat.

Edinburgh Castle, seen from Princes Street
The saleswoman told us that  Scott in Glasgow had sold us the wrong plan and there was nothing she could do for us except sell us a different one.  So you won't fix your company's mistake?  No.  You won't give back our money?  There's nothing we can do.  No, I said, there is obviously something you can do.  Your company just chooses not to.

So we went next door to a Three Mobile Phone store (like I said, thick as fleas).  We told the whole sad story to the man there.  "Why didn't the man in Glasgow check Google to see how to open your phone?"  Good question.  It hadn't occurred to Scott, or to us.

Plockton Harbor
Three Man did so and quickly learned how to remove the sim card from our phone.  He put in his sim and found that it was useless.  In spite of what Verizon had promised us, our phone was apparently locked.  We discussed what Three could do for us but their plans were not a match for our needs.  So we thanked them and marched on.

Soon we came to a second EE store (we eventually passed three on Princes Street).  The salesman there contradicted the saleswoman at his neighboring shop.  There was nothing wrong with the plan; the topping up had somehow failed to register.  He spent ten minutes in the back, calling someone for help twice.  Eventually he came back and told us the topping up was now properly set up and he had added 15 pounds in time for our trouble.  It would take an hour to register and then everything would be fine.  I shook his hand and we went back to the hotel, happy.

Stirling Castle
But the phone still didn't work.

For the next few days we traveled through Orkney, the Isle of Skye, and Stirling.  All wonderful places, but not crammed with EE shops.  On the last day we returned to Glasgow and made our way back to the scene of the crime and, believe it or not, the original salesman, Scott.  He confirmed what the last man in Edinburgh had told us: the topping up had not registered.

So what could he do for us now?  Nothing.  He won't give us our money back?  No; we had received a working phone; it was fine for texting and making local calls.

Satan's willing handmaids
I replied that it didn't matter whether  the phone could text, make local calls, or swim across the river Clyde whistling "Will Ye No Come Back Again?"  He knew when he sold it to us that the only thing we wanted it for was overseas calls, and for that it was as useful as a paperweight.

But EE apparently doesn't stand behind its products, promises, staff, or services.  We were out fifteen pounds.  So my goal in writing this is to do them much more than fifteen pounds worth of damage.  If you are in Britain and need a phone, try Three or one of the other companies.

Enough of that nonsense.  Let's move on to bigger topics.  We were in Scotland during the Brexit vote and you may want to hear my observations about that important event.  Happy to oblige.

I predict that Brexit will drive EE into bankruptcy and the CEO will be reduced to living under the Forth Bridge on cheap blended whisky and spoiled haggis.  But if you want a somewhat more informative opinion, try this one by Luke Bailey and Tom Phillips.  It's hilarious and you will learn something.  "By this point, actual British political news was basically indistinguishable from a random word generator..."

02 December 2012

Crime History– Archibald McCafferty


by Leigh Lundin

Losing a child affects parents in a myriad of terrible ways, some damaged worse than others. This is a story about one of them.

The birth of a son was one of the few gentle things in the life of Archibald Beattie McCafferty, a 24-year-old Scottish-born Australian with an extensive criminal sheet. McCafferty's marriage to Janice Redington lasted a scant six weeks, just long enough for her to fall pregnant. One evening, she fell asleep nursing her infant and awoke to the horror she'd accidentally smothered her own child.

Then things turned worse, far worse.

In and out of mental and correctional institutions, Archie McCafferty wasn't firmly seated to begin with, but the death of his baby unhinged his teetering mental balance. More than ever, he embraced drugs and drink. Combined with grief, they may explain his 'vision' seeing his son hovering above the child's grave. In his hallucination, his son told him he could be brought back to life if McCafferty killed seven victims.
first murder scene
first murder scene

Se7en Incarnate

McCafferty had forged a Fagin-like bond with a 26-year-old woman and four teens, a relationship that involved alcohol, dope, and thievery. He described his son's visitation to them and demanded their assistance in carrying out his gruesome intentions. They acted immediately.

The first victim they choked, beat and stabbed in a bar's back alley before they came up with a better plan. Posing as hitchhikers in the rain, the teens rounded up and shot two more victims, wrongly described as tramps. The car they seized from the third victim ran out of gasoline, forcing the gang to postpone the final kills until the following night. That delay saved lives.

One of the teens didn't trust McCafferty and he sensed McCafferty didn't trust him. Rightly fearing he'd become one of the seven victims, Rick Webster nervously returned to work at the Sydney Morning Herald. Glancing out a window, he spotted his fellow gang members waiting in a van. He correctly guessed they intended to kill him as soon as he stepped into the street.
arrest
arrest

Certain he couldn't leave the building alive, Webster phoned police and asked for an investigator to come to the newspaper office. When detectives grasped what Webster was telling them, they called in a team that swooped in and arrested the entire gang. Without question, Webster's call saved McCafferty's wife and her family.

In court, the news media compared the case to the Charles Manson gang. Throughout, McCafferty had to be drugged with a quadruple dose of tranquilizers. Candidly telling the court he'd kill until he reached seven victims, he was sentenced to three life terms.

Prison

Only 26-year-old Carol Howes escaped a guilty verdict. The four teens were sentenced to prison. Gang member Julie Todd hanged herself days after her 17th birthday.

in court
in court
McCafferty proved to be the hardest criminal in Australia's penal system. He was convicted of murdering another prisoner and, as part of an internal 'murder squad', may have been involved with three other deaths. Interestingly, he denied killing the inmate, but a disbelieving judge sentenced him to an additional fourteen years.

Over time, his rage seemed to abate. McCafferty gave testimony about corrupt prison officials and other criminals. Eventually, wardens moved him from a maximum security prison to a minimum security farm. He was admitted to a work release program and allowed him to spend weekends with his brother's family. A judge agreed to consider him for parole.

Meanwhile, parole officials discovered a legal wrinkle. When McCafferty's parents brought young Archie to Australia as a child, the proper paperwork for citizenship hadn't been taken care of. Technically, McCafferty was still a British subject, meaning the state could make him someone else's problem.

Escape the Past

McCafferty today
McCafferty today
Upon parole, authorities put him on a plane bound for Scotland along with his jailhouse bride, Mandy Queen. McCafferty changed his name to James Lok, whereupon he found work as a painter and then a toymaker. Against all odds, the marriage lasted– he'd become a family man. As far as Australia was concerned, the case was closed. And so it seemed for more than two decades.

Twenty-five years after he landed in Scotland, he again fell under the influence of alcohol. After a drinking and driving binge, he threatened his wife and police. That was peaceably resolved.

On a trip to New Zealand, authorities arrested and deported him for failing to declare his criminal past. But, when all is said and done, McCafferty, one of the more feared of killers, kept up his end of the parole bargain better than expected.

That Manson Label

Manson's motivations embody pure evil, self-serving to the extreme. His followers long repented and, harmless if not toothless, should be released. But Manson– I can't imagine him other than the self-created monster of malevolence, incapable of interacting with society in a rĂ´le other than predator.

McCafferty isn't anything close. Although branded as Australia's Charles Manson, the label doesn't fit. We can at least understand the sorrow and pain that drove the man. And, McCafferty made great efforts to turn his life around. Life's imperfect, but he, his wife Mandy, and the court system deserve high marks.