I’m pleased to have Alan Blood with us today, author of Cry of the Machi – A Suffolk Murder Mystery. And in case you missed the post the other day, Alan has been kind enough to host a giveaway for an autographed copy! I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this awesome novel, and I’m thrilled to ‘sit down’ now and get to know the author behind the book! Thanks so much Alan!
For those who may have missed the review, can you tell us a little about your novel, Cry of the Machi?
‘CRY OF THE MACHI A Suffolk Murder Mystery’ is supernatural thriller which spans both crime and paranormal genres. The story essentially focuses upon an examination of the eternal conflict between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – set within the microcosm of an English (Suffolk) village around a Morris Dancing Side. The supernatural element is of a link between possible serial killings in the village and the ‘good’ forces activated by the ‘Machi’ (a female witchdoctor of the Patagonian Mapuche Indians in the dark forests of Chile) – connected to the ‘Squire’ of the Morrismen (brought up there as a boy) who has also learned some of her magical and shamanistic powers. A further crime element (and force of evil) is the involvement of the Mafia- as a ‘respectable’ New York crime baron comes over to reclaim his beautiful wife (Harvard English Graduate) who has left him to teach near this Suffolk village. Two of the murders are more obvious but, throughout the book, there is a degree of guessing as to who a ‘mystery murderer’ might be – and the hunt is on not for one but two serial killers! The British Police are not up deal with the paranormal and the indirect help of the Machi combines with the unlikely assistance of an ex-NYPD cop.
Much of the story revolves around Morris dancing, which you have participated in for many years. When did you first become a Morris dancer, and what motivated you to keep with it for so long?
I became a Morris dancer in the early eighties – and continued for about ten years : firstly with the Mayflower Morrismen in Billericay, Essex – where I lived and taught – and, secondly with the 1st Sedgley Morrismen – after moving to Wolverhampton, in the English West Midlands – where I, again, lived and taught.
I continued Morris Dancing because it kept me very fit – and invariably involved dancing out at old-world country pubs – and, of course, ‘sampling’ excellent beers ! There was also tremendous camaraderie and friendship amongst the dancers. I was first introduced to it by a Teaching colleague at Mayflower School, Billericay. (Many things in Billericay are named ‘Mayflower’ – because of the town’s close association with the ‘Mayflower’ ship – which carried the Pilgrim fathers to America!)
How and when did you come up with the idea for Cry of the Machi, and did you always know you wanted to incorporate Morris dancing into it?
How and when I came up with the idea for ‘Cry Of the Machi…’ is fully explained in the ‘WRITERS’ NEWS’ article that I wrote. Yes, I always intended to incorporate Morris Dancing into it.
You did a lot of research for you book, including heavy research inside the ways of the Machi, how long did it take, and did you travel for this research?
Having had the genesis of the idea for the book, I went to Chile where I visited the territory of the Mapuche Indians – (one of the most remote places in the world). Here, I witnessed traditional Chilean Dancing which bore an uncanny resemblance to ‘The Morris’ (I attach a photo of this). I carried out further research into the Mapuche culture, religious and shamanistic beliefs in the Museums and Art Galleries of Santiago. Back home in Wales, I further augmented this by widespread reference to many South American and Chilean websites where I discovered that ritual killings and shamanistic practices can still take place – and the idea of linking it to the imaginary Suffolk village and ritualistic killings around a Morris side was born!
This whole research process took about six months before the actual writing began.
In addition to Cry of the Machi, you’ve also written Once Upon A Castle, as well as poetry works, plays, and screenplays. How did you get your start in these different areas, and do you see yourself continuing in each?
‘Once Upon A Castle’ came about when my car broke down on cold November afternoon in a remote part of Northumberland ( which is England’s most northerly county) close to Bamburgh Castle. Whilst waiting to get it fixed in a nearby local garage, I wandered about this most beautiful, windswept place and could imagine the Vikings attacking from across the North Sea – as, indeed, they used to do!
Later, doing some reading in Sunderland public library, I discovered that there was another, more desolate, ruined castle along the coast – which was only accessible across fields. This started me thinking about weaving a plot about a real castle and a ‘ghost’ one – and so the story involves twelve year old twins (a boy and a girl) who are evacuated there in World War 11 and have amazing, frightening experiences – which even involve being attacked by Vikings – hence the paranormal ‘teenage’ novella : ‘Once Upon A Castle’!
An American publisher is actually interested in the possibility of republishing it in the States!
I have written poetry since my University Days – and I guess the first one was motivated by splitting up with a particular girlfriend, whereby writing a poem about it was quite cathartic and helped come to terms with the trauma ! I began to realise that poetry was an excellent means of conveying deep feelings and ideas in a most demonstrative yet economical way – and, being a something of a ‘political animal’, my poems developed as very controversial attacks upon all forms of what I perceived to be such as injustice or human stupidity. My international award winning poem ‘Contrite Can Cannot’ (about ‘Litter’) is a classic example of this – and can be seen on my website.
Regarding plays and screenplays I really had to work at the techniques involving much more complex structures than relatively simple prose writing (such as ‘stage directions’ for theatre plays and ‘camera directions’ etc for film/television screenplays – which are each different again !) I read several books on the matter – especially by experts like Syd Field and Lew Hunter (who directed ‘Lethal Weapon’). I discovered the importance of the ‘paradigm’ dramatic structure. The net result was that I wrote plays for BBC Radio and finally produced a screenplay for a full length movie entitled ‘Rogue And Royal’ – which tells the tale of the stealing of the British Crown Jewels in the reign of king Charles 11. The BBC like this but said it would be too costly to produce for TV. Moreover, I still feel that it would be better suited to the ‘big screen’! I have taken on board some good constructive advice and eventually hope to undertake a ‘rewrite’ to try and achieve this goal.
Who (or what) has been the biggest influence for your writing?
It is difficult to say what the biggest influence on my writing has been. Certainly, in terms of subject matter I have always been fascinated by all aspects of the paranormal/supernatural. I cannot accept that we can dismiss phenomena that we do not understand as ‘not existing’ in the same way that it is impossible to believe that earth is the only planet with life upon it ! I was, therefore, most impressed with Phillip Pullman’s trilogy of ‘His Dark Materials’ (although I had already written ‘Once Upon A Castle’ (although not yet published) – before I even read his first book –‘Northern Lights’) I have met Pullman – and these three novels are terrifyingly close to the realms of plausibility ! My intrigue with the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ somewhat links to all of this.
Your career was spent in Advertising, Civil Service, and Teaching, were you always a writer during that time? Or what spurred on the decision to pursue a career in writing?
I wrote fairly constantly (short stories, freelance press articles etc) throughout my Careers in Advertising/PR, Civil Service and Teaching. In the first two jobs, I edited various publications (especially the ‘House’ Newspaper of an electronics firm – involved on the periphery of the early U.S ‘Gemini’ space missions – handling photos of the moon et al – exciting stuff) ! At University, I subsequently edited my College Newspaper ‘Tom Bull’. (Incidentally, I left school at 16 and went to University at 21- earning the nick name ‘granddad’ – from the younger students !) I began more serious writing when I took early retirement – after 25 years of Teaching.
Are you currently working on another novel, if so can you tell us a little about it?
I have actually already written 6,000 words of a sequel to ‘Cry of The Machi’ – which many people have said they would like to see. However, I am still not entirely sure that I want to complete it because, although the final paragraphs of the novel point the way to this, it also leaves the reader thinking about the wider implications of good versus evil – and, although the former may have won the ‘battle’, here – the implication is that the ‘war’ between the two forces will never end. This, of course, reinforces the argument that there should be a sequel. However, another perspective is that like an enjoyable meal, a .pleasing book leaves a ‘doggy bag’ –but, in the form of thoughts to be pondered upon for some time after the book has been digested and finished. To write a sequel would, maybe, impede this process of allowing the readers to draw their own conclusions – and, thus, spoil it by trying to drag (pad) things out – only to fail to reach a final conclusion at the end of it all!
Some say eBooks will make paperbacks obsolete, what’s your take on the issue?
I do rather fear that the days of paperbacks are ‘numbered’ – which, as a literary ‘dinosaur’, makes me sad as I have always loved the touch, smell and very texture of books (both hardcover and paperback). However as ‘Cry…’ appeared as an ebook, I purchased a ‘Kindle’ – (and even had to pay for the download of my own book ! Being an avid bedtime reader, I find it so much easier to use the Kindle in terms of turning the pages (forwards
and backwards) – but it is essential to have the leather cover (incorporating the little reading, light) which the kindle easily snaps into and this converts it to a rather stylish leather bound book. I have regularly split larger books open – trying to bend pages back in order to read them! Therefore, as these attributes become better known to the reading public it is obvious that the ebooks twill continue to take over. Yet, I feel that the bad news is that, although paperbacks my die, hardcovers will continue (especially as they are objects of beauty) – even though many books now go straight to Kindle!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I am 67 now and in five years’ time I will be 72! This is another reason why I am not sure that I want to write more novels. (see, also, the answer to Q.8 – above). I do, however, intend to continue writing short stories and controversial poetry! There is a growing demand again for short stories (largely brought about by the current world economic situation – and here, in the UK many well-known novelists are reverting to writing short stories. I also intend to do more to my ‘screenplay’ – referred to in answer to Q.5 – above).
Are you an outliner, or no outliner?
I am an ‘outliner’ – but, having created a loose scheme for a book, I do not believe that intricate planning in prescriptive! Part of the enjoyment of writing a novel is ‘L.I.D’ (Let It Develop). By this, I mean that, as a story progresses, the author begins to interact with the characters, places and situations that he/she has created – whereby the characters become increasingly real and can, themselves start to lead the writer into new developments that had hitherto played no part in the initial outline. Philip Pullman has said that the fun of writing is when it becomes an adventure with unplanned actions leading the author into constantly new directions far away from the original scenario – but which ultimately add increasing freshness and vitality to the burgeoning course of the tale (s) – so that the finished product becomes so much richer!
What is your usual writing routine?
Notwithstanding what I have just said about the relative ‘flexibility of ‘outline’, my writing routine follows a fairly regular pattern. My day always starts with putting on the coffee maker – to provide the ‘sustenance’ of life! Then, being an insulin dependent diabetic, I have to go through the daily ‘ritual’ of doing a blood sugar test, insulin injection and recording the results – followed by checking emails, opening my post etc – all of which takes place before breakfast – which I then take around 9am whilst watching the BBC News. Following Breakfast – I usually get back to my desk to complete any admin work – generated by emails/post – and some writing – before taking a short country walk – (sometimes to feed the village donkey) – or a bicycle ride until lunchtime – usually around 1-2pm. (as a diabetic – daily exercise is vital). Then I will do a few hours more writing in the afternoon – and, some days, allow time to walk to the post office to catch the mail ‘collection’ (if there is anything to send) as appropriate. I then shower, have an evening meal – and relax watching television in the evening – before going to bed with Kindle!
If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be and why?
I have widely travelled much of the world – including the USA, Canada, South America, the Canary islands (off Africa) most of Europe and Greece, China and the Far East – as well as flying over all of Russia and Mongolia et al.
I would like to see more of Africa – and it is my intention to visit Madagascar – which is home to some of the world’s most rare and unusual animals – as I am also a very keen wildlife photographer.
What is the craziest thing you have done?
I have done many ‘crazy’ things – especially in my younger and student days – when I was something of a ‘hell-raiser’!
In 1964 and 1966, I hitch-hiked around Ireland twice. On the first trip, I was picked up and told off by a bus driver for walking along a dangerous border road near ‘Crossmaglen’. (‘The Troubles’ were just fermenting !) I was next stranded on Tory Island off the N.W coast of Donegal where we manned the bird observatory in the disused lighthouse and climbed the precarious high cliffs to put rings upon the legs of Puffins and other sea birds as part of a project to track their movements. On the second visit I met the youngest of the Clancy Brothers at a Limerick Folk Club and, upon invite, subsequently met their aged parents in their cobblers shop in Tipperary. As a student, I subsequently hitch-hiked around Europe and had many adventures, including being escorted back to the cheap ‘Gastof’ where I was staying (somewhat inebriated and ‘silly’) by some thankfully friendly ‘Polizei’ in Munich. (The daft things students do!)
Perhaps one of the craziest is when I appeared on stage in Pantomime as ‘Widow Twankey’ – (cross-dressed for the part) wearing a flame red wig with a large black ‘beauty spot’ on my cheek and displaying a large pair of artificial ‘boobs’(balloons) – singing a rather rude song – what a horrible sight and sound!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
When not writing, I am frequently out taking photographs – and I have a range of cameras, lenses and equipment. I also enjoy painting (mainly with water colours) and I do ‘scraperboard’ engraving – and used to sell these. (Art runs in the family – and my 30 year old daughter, Sally is Head Of Art in an English (Dorset) Comprehensive Secondary School.) I was also a folk singer and used to perform – especially when I was with the Morrismen!
I have led an extremely active, diverse and stimulating life – still do – and this is not anywhere near the half of it all of it!
And in case you missed the link at the top, enter the giveaway here!