Gothenburg

Gothenburg

My latest book, Eat the Poor, came out last week, so I should really be telling you all about it and how great it is but, really, I’ve been doing that so much just lately that even I am getting a bit bored with hearing about it. All you need to know is that it’s a sequel to Something Wicked and it features Galbraith and Pole and this time there’s a werewolf. The werewolf is an MP (seems credible) so there is a smidgen of political satire. It’s a lot of fun. Just buy it. It’s £3.99 on Kindle (free on Kindle Unlimited) so it’s not like it’s a major purchase decision.

So what else have I been up to? Well if you follow me on Twitter (I’m @TomCW99), you’ll know that I’ve spent three days in Gothenburg. My beloved was speaking at a conference there and invited me over for the ride and, having never been to Sweden, I went along.

Gothenburg was interesting. It’s the second largest city in Sweden, but it has more the air of a sleepy county town than a bustling metropolis. It’s grown a lot in recent decades and now boasts a population of over 600,000 (a quarter of them born outside Sweden) but most of the new Gothenburghers live in suburbs. The centre dates back to the 17th century (although there have been settlements here since prehistoric times) and you can walk pretty well anywhere you might want to go in half an hour or so. Not that you need to walk anywhere: Gothenburg has buses running everywhere and a huge tram network, not to mention river ferries that are included on your travel card and loads of bikes for hire.

But where to go? It must be said that Gothenburg is not rammed with interesting places to visit and many of the sites are closed (or have very limited opening hours) in May. With unconscious cruelty, Trip Advisor lists the 14th best attraction in Gothenburg as the bus to the airport. Even the municipal authority’s guide to the delights of the city puts the Poseidon statue in the Top 15.

That’s him in the picture. (Don’t have nightmares.) In the end, it’s a fountain in a square. It’s not a particularly big fountain and not a particularly big square, which is odd when you realise that this was the venue for the Gothenburg World’s Fair. Never heard of it? Me neither. It was not, I think, one of the great World’s Fairs.

In fact, there are some fun things to do in Gothenburg. The municipal museum is one of the best I’ve seen, taking you through the history of the city from prehistoric times until today. And it has a Viking ship, dug out of the mud that had preserved it: much like the Mary Rose but about 600 years older.

A trip on the river is a joy and there are art galleries and museums – even a substantial rainforest, complete with monkeys and birds in the Universeum, the National Science Centre of Sweden. (I was sceptical and nearly didn’t go, but I’m very glad I did.)

What I (and most people, I suspect) spent most of my time doing was walking aimlessly around. It’s that sort of town. (You can even hire a local to walk round with you, in case a city full of relaxed people who mostly speak excellent English is too much to cope with on your own.) There are masses of parks, some nice canals, and interesting architecture. Most of the locals seem to enjoy sitting in the parks and passing time with their friends in the many restaurants that fill the place. In fact, the Swedes make a thing of what they call ‘fika’ which means (more or less) enjoying life with coffee, cake and friends.

It was that relaxed approach to life that struck me most about the place. In three days, I never heard a car sound its horn. Everyone drove slowly and if you were near a pedestrian crossing and even looked as if you might cross the road, cars slowed even further just to be on the safe side. We saw just one busker and not a single beggar. Graffiti was rare and litter almost non-existent. Gothenburg is making serious efforts to reduce car use, with considerable success. There are bike lanes everywhere and the air is noticeably cleaner than in London.

Some of this is government policy, some of it is infrastructure, but mostly it seems to be the character of the people. Despite all the cyclists, I didn’t see a single person in lycra. Nobody yelled at pedestrians to get out of their way or raced intimidatingly past their fellow cyclists. There were e-scooters on the roads, in the bike lanes, even on the pavements, but all ridden courteously and considerately. Clean and quiet, they just fit naturally into the Gothenburg street scene.

Gothenburg, it seems to me, will never set the world on fire. One of its main industries is the manufacture of Volvo cars, surely the world’s most boring automobile. Unlike Iceland, Sweden had no desire to ride the banking boom that eventually bankrupted its Scandinavian cousins. The Swedes have left their Viking days far behind (and, in any case, would have you know that most Vikings were farmers and traders and solid folk, just like their descendants).

I’m writing this on the plane back to London. I’ll be happy to get home, where people walk faster, motorists are always in a hurry and, despite the dirty streets and the dirtier air, there is a sense of excitement. Londoners will always be doing things: thrusting, struggling, hurrying ever onwards. It’s the energy that built an Empire and won two World Wars. But already I’m looking back at three days with the calm, clean, relaxed Gothenburghers and wondering if they aren’t better adapted to the world of today than we are.

Journal of the Covid Years: Unlocking. Or not.

Two years ago the tightest of the rules we had been living by for two months were finally lifted. We could now meet one other person outside, so long as we stayed two metres away from them. It should have made life easier, but it just seems to have made people more aware of the restrictions we were all still living under.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Yesterday was meant to be first unlock. There was a different atmosphere when I went for a walk in the park. Two separate groups of lads were attempting to kick a football, while staying 2 metres away. One enterprising teenager was meeting her boyfriend – sitting several feet away, each with a can of lager and a boom box between them. The boy was attempting to dance.

None of it looked much fun – mainly because the park was so cold. The mood was summarised in an overheard remark: “How many dates can you have that are just walking?”

For work, I joined a huge skype call with 53 staff, to be told that the PM’s statement won’t make any difference to us: “Carry on as before.” Mike has also been on a long Skype call with 80 others. The only good bit was when one Captain piped up: “The entire fucking Army is here and it’s so tedious I want to shoot myself”. The Colonel stepped in. “This is not the whole Army, just the brigade, and I suggest you mute your mike”. On such small snatches are we building our sense of community.

This morning, as we got up at 7.30, we watched a family of foxes greet the day. A vixen, followed by three fluffy cubs, emerged from a hole underneath our neighbour’s shed. There have always been foxes in our neighbour’s garden, but I’ve never seen them so relaxed, so early in the day, with three cubs. Wildlife is coming into its own.

Saturday 16 May 2020

The excitement of the day was that Mike was meant to be coming round. We had plans: he would arrive at 1.30pm and see us sequentially. Plans are so last year. Mike just rang to say that S is feeling ill and going for a covid test. If it is negative, he will come around midweek, for the first time since February. Since February we have cancelled one holiday, one Mothers’ Day and two birthdays.

Eat the Poor

Writers do pay a lot of attention to what readers say about their books. And what readers said about ‘Something Wicked‘, my police procedural with tango-dancing vampires, was that they wanted more. So I have taken a break from my historical fiction series about James Burke to produce another Urban Fantasy featuring old-school detective Chief Inspector Galbraith and Chief Inspector Pole, a vampire from the mysterious Section S.

A quick reminder of what ‘Something Wicked’ was about

The latest Galbraith & Pole adventure, ‘Eat the Poor’ sees our detective duo hunting down a werewolf that is killing on the streets of London. For Pole, as ever, the most important thing is to put a stop to the beast’s predations before people realise that it even is a werewolf. Once they begin to realise that werewolves are real, it’s only a matter of time before they begin wondering about vampires, and Pole has spent hundreds of years making sure people don’t think about vampires.

Galbraith doesn’t want people thinking about vampires either. Nor is he happy about the growing body-count in his city. Like Pole, he wants the crimes solved and the werewolf captured.

What neither of them know is that in his human form, the werewolf sits in Parliament.

When I started writing, the idea that you might have a werewolf in the Palace of Westminster seemed ridiculous, but I was happy to go for it in a tongue-in-cheek fantasy. Over the past few months, though, an MP turning into a wolf on the full moon is hardly worthy of note compared to some of the things that have been going on. And a werewolf is, arguably, far from the most evil creature stalking the corridors of power. So my story may now have slightly more of a satirical edge than it did when I started.

Satirical or not, the story is mostly about having fun with the history of werewolves (I had to bone up on my 16th century French to read one early account), and following the growing relationship between my two heroes. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

‘Eat the Poor’ is published next week at £3.99 on Kindle and £6.99 in paperback. You can pre-order it now at mybook.to/EatThePoor.

Journal of the Covid Years: being alert

Every Thursday I post an excerpt from my wife’s journal written two years earlier. A few people have said how much they like this reminder of what was happening, especially as we are often being presented with official versions that don’t seem to fit our memories of the period.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Spring is merging into summer at an alarming rate. Pollen is strewn in snow drifts over paths. The cow parsley is knee high and roses are opening, suddenly and all together. I spotted red campion among the speedwells on the tow path.

We have discovered Hampton Court Home Park. We always knew it was there, but hadn’t ever gone in. We pushed our bikes through the expanse of grass and deer to find Oak Pond. It was just us, on a bench, staring at a single coot. But as the sun lowered and we merged into the still of the evening, we noticed the swan, sitting on a next of eggs, and ducks, and geese, and a kestrel hovering overhead, and parakeets, preternaturally green. How calm it all was.

Home Park May 2020

Yesterday was a bank holiday to mark VE day. We got on our bikes along the tow path to Kingston Bridge, and it looked surprisingly normal. Lots of people strolling along the river, enjoying the sunshine. Queues for Mr Whippy. Cyclists stopping to admire goslings. I’m now quite brown and ever so slightly burnt.

Mike and G spent the bank holiday more patriotically, in their front garden, with a BBQ and bunting, chatting to neighbours.  Mike said that the Army, after weeks of working from home (fortunately Putin had his own problems) is being brought back, though other stuff suggests that the Government is rowing back from ending lockdown. Who knows?

The shock of the week was an article in the Guardian, telling us that an MOJ cleaner had died of covid. Two of the guys who clean our office, F and C, were quoted as saying that they were required to work unnecessarily, not given masks and unable to take sick leave. Because the MOJ contracts with a separate company, we had all forgotten about them and no one cared.

Private Eye’s take on the cleaner’s death from April 2022

At our Wednesday skype meeting we talked about a whip round for F and C. But we don’t have any contact details. Could we ask the MOJ? And what about the union, quoted in the Guardian?  The management line was that the union were unofficial, and trouble-makers, and we shouldn’t contact them. What? The meeting ended rather inconclusively. I immediately emailed the union, though I don’t know if they will reply.

There is something very wrong with the way we have run the world. These attenuated chains of responsibility, where the MOJ no longer employs support staff, but contracts and sub-contracts to God-knows who, have made us forget the people we rely on. If we ever get out this, things are going to have to change.

Monday 11 May 2020

On Saturday I was up early. At 8.45 I walked straight into M&S to buy picnic food. Yep, they still have 3 little tubs for £7. As I walked back out, I found myself in the clothes racks and was hit by sudden nostalgia for clothes shopping. I had to pinch myself to remember that I don’t need any more clothes.

I walked back around the bus station, past the Bethlehem Chapel, which describes itself as “a Bible-Believing Church”. Up until now it has had the standard coronavirus sign outside: closed for the duration, live on in our hearts etc. On Saturday that had gone. Instead, a couple of apparently new signs: Sunday, 11am – Lord’s Prayers; Thursday – bible class, all welcome. Is lockdown falling apart?

It has certainly changed, as Tom and I discovered as we piled our luxury picnic onto our backs and cycled to Richmond Park’s Ham Gate. Outside were a lot of cars, with family groups removing picnic hampers. In a couple of cases, suspiciously large, three-generation family groups.

We left our bikes at the gate, found a shady tree away from the world, and enjoyed our feast. We then wandered very slowly, admiring groups of hinds, who have not yet given birth. We skirted around the closed Isabella Plantation, looking longingly over the fence at the vivid colours of azaleas and rhododendrons. “It would be really east to climb over just here”, Tom pointed out. But we didn’t. We are old and respectable and despite everything, have been pretty much following the rules.

Sunday 7pm was billed as Johnson’s big speech to the nation. “7pm!” I moaned. “I don’t do news after 6pm.” But it was a BIG THING, so Tom and I turned on the radio to hear what our leader had to say to us.

What the hell? What was all that about?

Everyone seems to have heard in their own message in the speech. Mike, who was expecting the Army to open for business noticed all the caution stuff. I was expecting caution, so heard “Get back to work, you lazy sods”. D was also bemused: “We were told to be lerts in the 1970s” she said. “So I’ve become one. And I definitely want to stay a lert now, with all this scary coronavirus around.” D said she definitely heard, “Go back to work on Monday. ” Tom and I went over the text of the speech to find it said “starting this week”. If he meant Wednesday, how hard is it to say Wednesday?

Afterwards, in an attempt to lighten the mood, we watched Nina Conti, the ventriloquist, doing an interactive show by zoom. We both love Nina Conti, but this didn’t work. The audience, at home on the sofa, sounded embarrassed and self-conscious, failing to merge into that single laughing group that comics rely on. And this isn’t the time to laugh at someone for being a “digital media strategist”. Everyone with silly made-up non-jobs is feeling bad enough right now without having a monkey enter their home to tell them how irrelevant they are.

Even the News Quiz didn’t cheer us up. The panel all laughing uproariously is not the same as genuine laughter from a studio audience. When we went to bed, we were still cross, and upset, and anxious, and unready for sleep.

Excellent reasons for buying ‘Something Wicked’

Excellent reasons for buying ‘Something Wicked’

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or reading any of my stuff on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that Something Wicked is on offer at 99p/99c. The offer started yesterday and runs for a week, so you have until Wednesday night to grab a copy.

It’s only 99p, so hardly worth spending time on your purchase decision. It makes sense to just buy it. But I know that people (and I definitely include myself) just don’t think like that. Wiser heads than mine say that nowadays you have to pay for advertising to persuade people to take up an offer of a book that is free. Which is fair enough, I guess. We’re all busy and a stack (albeit a virtual stack) of books in your Kindle can mean we’re likely to die before we read them all. And we can do without that sort of reminder that we are not immortal.

(Of course, if you were a vampire, you would be nearly immortal, so you could just read Something Wicked for the vampires and then you can fantasise about reading all the books you know you’re never going to get round to. Just saying.)

So why should you read it?

First up: it’s quite short. If you want to read ten thousand books before you die, Something Wicked will move you almost effortlessly one closer to your goal.

Next, it’s quite funny. (I’m going on the reviews here. No writer is a reliable judge of their own humour.) It takes a slightly sideways look at vampires. They still have the whole avoiding daylight, drinking blood thing going for them, but they quite like garlic and their main concern is just to be left to live quietly, sipping the odd drop of blood (they don’t really need that much) from people who get quite turned on by that. They do enjoy tango though.

This brings us to the third reason you should buy it. It’s got tango in it. They say you should write what you know, so a story about tango-dancing vampires was an obvious choice for me. And, given that I know lots of tango dancers who I have never seen by daylight, it’s quite likely that there’s a fair few vampires hanging around in our community. Anyway, you can have fun exploring London’s tango scene in between visits to the Victorian Gothic of Brompton Cemetery. (That’s worth a visit too.)

Did I mention that it’s a police procedural? If you were a solid old-school copper, how would you cope with teaming up with a vampire who has been investigating murders (and maybe committing the odd killing too) for hundreds of years? Meet Chief Inspector Galbraith and find out how he gets on with the mysterious Chief Inspector Pole.

And that, if you needed any more reasons to buy it, is the best reason of all. Galbraith and Pole were popular enough for people to sat they would like another story about them and the second Galbraith & Pole book, Eat the Poor, will be published later this month. You could read it without reading Something Wicked first, but you’ll probably enjoy them more if you read them in order. And did I mention that Something Wicked is currently just 99p?

https://mybook.to/Something_Wicked.