House sales and anal glands…

I have been a little preoccupied with household matters recently. Beloved Mr. B left last week to film in New Zealand. Alongside his declaration of undying love was the instruction to “sell the house”. I am not unduly fazed by these sort of ex cathedra decisions from my husband nor do I generally pay much heed to them, after all a great many complications can occur during his absence, which will render the application of his wishes as implausible but this time I was in complete agreement. It was time to move on!

It has been our desire for over twenty years to buy a house in South Shropshire, with at least five acres of land where we can create a haven for wildlife. What my husband dismisses with a regal wave of his hand, is that to sell our house requires an enormous input of labour; my labour to be exact. So, I started at the furthest bedroom and began the transformation. Ceiling, walls and skirting boards painted, carpets cleaned and all extraneous clutter recycled or donated. There I was, a woman in possession of a steam cleaner, disposable gloves and a plan. But as we know the ‘best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray’, or in my case, of ferrets and women.

IMG_2393 (1)Gus is our pet ferret and we’ve owned him since he was a kit and he’s now an impressive nine years old. He is an outdoor pet, never having been worked and lives in a large, two tiered enclosure under the sycamore. I would say that despite the odd burst of energy, Gus has committed himself to a twenty-three hour sleep pattern, rising indolently for breakfast and taking a short, lethargic constitutional in the afternoon. I am sure that Gus is extremely happy with this arrangement but to spice up his life, he is often brought into the house to have a play in the annex, which is accessed internally via one door. This enables me to separate him from out terrier Lily, who has a plan of her own for poor Gus. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to forget that he’s in the annex and leave him to it. Two weeks ago I suddenly realised what I’d done and went to look for him, predictably he’d found the pile of dustsheets to bury into and after a lengthy hunt I located him, much to his and my surprise. It was the element of surprise that did it for the future house sale, that and my head cold. Gus, being a card holding member of the mustelidae family, is equipped with anal scent glands, which blow off when the animal is shocked, threatened or generally irritated. Pleased not to have lost the wily fellow I popped him back into his pad and locked up for the night.IMG_1884

In full decorating mode the following morning I spread the dustsheets over the carpet and furniture in our bedroom and began to paint the ceiling and the walls. I love the smell of paint, it wakens the senses and clears the sinuses and, more relevantly, overwhelms the subtle, yet monumentally persistent stench of ferret anal gland secretion. An unpleasant, urine-like smell began to rear its ugly head about an hour into the decorating frenzy. Confused but committed I carried on, finishing late into the evening. I grabbed all of the dustsheets, admired my skill and fortitude and dumped them into the annex workshop. It was only when I got into bed that the smell began to permeate. There didn’t seem to be a source to the stench, or an explanation as to what it was, just the oily, musky smell of bladder weakness. The following day I shampooed the carpet, convinced that it was the source. It barely made a dent in the pong. I bought carpet freshener and ran the cleaner over it again but still the smell persisted, if anything it was digging in, seeping into the bed linen and the upholstery. I had to carry on with the decorating so, leaving all of the windows ajar upstairs, I spread the dustsheets over our leather suite and painted the living room ceiling. It must have taken me about an hour or so before the penny dropped. It was the dustsheets and Gus must have emptied his anal glands into them and now they were leaching the smell all over the sofa. I balled, bagged and binned them, drove to Homebase to purchase a bigger steam cleaner and a box of leather wipes. None of which made any difference.IMG_2397

Two weeks have passed and there is still a heady tang of urine around both rooms. It fades into your subconscious after a few minutes but I can only hope our early viewers are of a forgiving nature.

Screenplay or weeding?

Today is Sunday, which is blog day. It is also ‘loaf about’ day, ‘get the washing and ironing done’ day, ‘potter round garden day’ and ‘finish off the screenplay beat sheet day’. It is 11.30 am and I am staring at an acid blue sky, sipping tea and contemplating whether I should do a little bit of weeding before tackling these pressing issues. Resisting the weed cull, I’m now actually writing, skipping between the beat-sheet and the blog with an admirable sense of commitment, if not a heightened word count.

imagesWriting a screenplay is a very different experience to writing a novel. Both require clear visual descriptions and both rely on prose to achieve it. Each progresses through the use of dialogue and narrative and needs to have a well-structured story, with a beginning, middle and end and have believable characterisation. Theoretically the transition from one to another shouldn’t be too painful, particularly as they are both the same genre. However, whereas the e-reader or page is the only interface between novelist and reader, the screenplay is a sales document or a statement of intent, which will be altered and interpreted at every stage of its transition, if it is amongst the very few to get further than the optioned stage.

Once the idea is settled on the first stage is to write the treatment, this is usually about fifteen pages long and tells the story in prose form. It is often the first stage in acquiring development money for the project, so care needs to be taken to make this succinct but palatable. It should create visuals in the producer’s mind, without wasting time on too much description; you are not the set designer. It should also be realistic in terms of whether this is low budget or a studio breaker. If there are hundreds of authentic Tudor costumes, spaceships or dinosaurs this is not cheap. Low budget is generally contemporary, minimum sets, stunts, special effects and cast, a good example of this being ‘Blair Witch Project’.

Once your story holds together images (1)then you have to create a beat sheet. This is a working document and breaks the screenplay down into scenes. You’re not ready at this stage to start adding INT (interior)/EXT (exterior), it’s more of a list of events. It can be meandering or pithy, it really doesn’t matter because this is for you, the writer. Until you have created the first draft, everything you write is designed to help you hit the mark and bring the story to a close on page 95. Yes, it’s that prescriptive. The first act (boy meets girl) is designed to set the story and characters up but should end round about page 25, where an event will take place that will change the fortunes and path of the protagonist. Act two is the longest and should be about 45 minutes long. This is where the major conflict will take place (boy loses girl) and the final act will resolve and reveal all (boy wins girl). That’s very simplified but basically it. Structure is crucial in a screenplay.

If I can get the beat sheet finished by this evening, I will begin to map out the scenes tomorrow morning. This will involve a pack of small plain cards and a corkboard. Each card will have a heading, which notes whether it’s inside or out, day or night, where the action takes place and a brief summary of the scene. Every one will be placed in order, so I can get a clear idea of whether I have sufficient material, whether the story hits the beats and where the gaps are. If I don’t, this is the point that it will really show.IMG_2359

So, back to it but first another cup of tea and a little walk round the garden…Just to check on the state of the weeds.

A Day in the life of… DI Eleanor Raven

Eleanor Raven is the protagonist of The Safe Word and The Vault.

Born in 1982 and educated at Ryerson University, she was promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector for Toronto PD homicide division in 2011.

imagesI always start my day with a good breakfast, as I find lunch is a frequent sacrifice. I like a mixture of oats, granola, berries and a cup of black coffee. Generally, I listen to the local news and flick through yesterday’s paper. I’m out by the time the current edition arrives. Toronto is a city of weather extremes and at the moment it’s hovering around the 4-6 C mark, so trousers are a must (I only own one skirt!), lined, flat-heeled boots, jacket and overcoat. The city does not allow police officers to carry weapons off-duty but as cleaning and maintenance are time consuming and essential, I bring mine to and from duty in my handbag, when I remember to un-holster. I carry a Glock .19 and have never discharged my weapon, apart from on a firing range.

toronto rain

I usually get to my office by 7 30 am, at the latest. This gives me sufficient time to catch up with paperwork, check any reports or results that have been processed over the past twenty-four hours and drink my second cup of coffee as I review the murder board. Once my partner, Detective Whitefoot, arrives there’s not much in the way of reflective time. So, the half hour before he gets here is mine. The murder board is more than just a way of organising photographs, maps and names, it’s a method of sifting the evidence and allowing your unconscious brain to play around with the facts, create a plausible scenario or link people with motivation. I drop my mind into neutral and just wait for the processing to take place.

Laurence’s arrival is a kick-start. He hasn’t created a routine yet and has a tendency to flap around, particularly if he hasn’t dropped Monster off at k9. Today is one of those days and Laurence, who doesn’t seem to recognise the need for routine in others either, will spend ten minutes calling the dog, who is just doing his rounds. Monster makes his way through homicide, takes the back stairs down to the canteen, where I assume he is given his second breakfast, and then comes back. It’s not rocket science and it concerns me that my partner, whom I depend upon to save my life, hasn’t worked out that Monster needs fifteen minutes to carry out his own business.


It’s a slow day. With likely court appearances on the horizon for the Toby Adams case, I am getting my files and notes in order. It seems likely that the DA will be select three of his known murder victims to secure a first-degree conviction for Adams.

At 2.28pm we are called to attend a potential homicide in the Kensington Market region of the city. The patrol officers have already accessed the locked apartment and discovering the occupant in an advanced state of putrefaction, called it in. The body is male, probably over fifty, naked, apart from a pair of underpants and is sprawled between the bedroom and the kitchen. The cause of death appeared to be a gunshot wound to the jaw. The weapon, a small caliber handgun is discovered several feet away from a blood covered wooden chair. A quantity of dried blood has pooled below the chair and several footprints led from it to the victim. Although I have responsibility, as a senior investigating officer, to determine whether the manner of death could be considered suspicious, in this case the forensic investigators and the medical examiner all agree that, unless contradictory evidence is uncovered at the post mortem, it is likely that the victim took his own life. Having placed the gun near to his temple and pulling trigger, the bullet entered just below his cheekbone. He was probably unconscious for several minutes, when most of the blood loss took place. Regaining consciousness, he then staggered towards the bathroom where he collapsed and succumbed to shock.

bloody hand

I arrive back in my apartment at 9.43pm. I run my bath, pour a large glass of wine and let the day’s events percolate.

A Taste of Bangkok

bangkok My husband films abroad for most of the year and if I am to maintain any degree of familiarity, I do the same. I have travelled to North America, Europe, Thailand and Africa in his wake and all have been voyages into the great unknown. Generally speaking the visits have been fabulous opportunities to see wildlife and people otherwise only glimpsed at through media or zoo.

I have visited Bangkok on several occasions, discovering a world where sex is currency, street food should be avoided by delicate western stomachs and a trip in a local taxi could be your last.

street food

The Thais are predominantly Buddhist, their philosophy being that no amount of Health and Safety regulations are likely to interfere with or prevent that karmic moment when your number’s up. So, no seat belts or helmets are worn, though ironically the cabs have little shrines on the dashboard that will help to modify the bad karma imported into the car by unlucky foreigners! There is a horrible sense of impending doom everywhere, bundles of live electrical cables droop heavily onto pedestrian walkways, Rats and cockroaches skitter over street-side food counters, to the dismay of no-one, and motorcycles often bearing more than two passengers, zip along the wrong side of the road and take short cuts along the pavement. This is not a city for the faint-hearted or unwary.


Bangkok, renowned for it’s easy going approach to underage sex, transgender prostitution and open brothels is tempered by its less than relaxed view of drug taking. Getting caught with drugs on or in the vicinity of your person, can result in a long stay in the Bangkok Hilton. This is apparently an ironic title for a prison closer in standard to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell.
However, pushing aside the obvious risks posed, I ventured into ‘Nana Plaza’, the city’s sex mall. It was heaving with Western men of a particular age, education and girth. They sat at numerous open bars, sipping beer and waiting, what for I had no real idea. It could be that the choice was too great, or the constant sexual indulgence was taking its toll on clogged arteries and libido. Whatever the cause, having purchased my entry ticket in the form of a gin and tonic, I was ushered into what I could only consider to be a marketplace. The interior was filled with a central arena, where topless girls, all holding a card with a number on, paraded clockwise, while we (me and a number of paunchy male customers) walked round anti-clockwise. The system had an impeccable logic. You spent the minimum amount of time viewing and, having nominated the lucky girl, wrote down the number and handed it to one of the helpful administrative types that prowled the periphery.


I observed but declined politely.