The Accidental Traveler

Today’s Dreaming Spies post has migrated over to the blog of some friends.  Murder is Everywhere is a blog where great crime writers talk about their view of the wide world.  They’re hosting me today, as I talk about how unexpected discoveries on the road lead to unexpected directions for the story.  “The Accidental Traveler” is over here.

Mary Russell’s War (twenty-six): The war touches home

Today’s Dreaming Spies Countdown post is another bunch of pictures over on the Pinterest page: peruse the sailing life of Russell & Holmes, over here.

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26 January 1915

It is difficult not to believe that the current state of the world was designed specifically to thwart the intentions of one Mary J. Russell. I fully realise how utterly absurd, and insensitive, and childish that statement is, but since October, when I began to come out of the misery that settled over me, the only thing I wished—the only thing that gave me any glimmer of light in a very dark tunnel—was the thought of listening to a kettle come to boil in my mother’s kitchen in Sussex. And now…

I know that innocent people have died. A small child was killed in her bed. I have no right to raise a voice in complaint at how the Kaiser has inconvenienced me.

But why could he not have waited, just a day?

Hours before I was to board the southbound train with my reluctant aunt in tow, bombs fell on England. At first, the belief was that these had been aeroplanes, although now the reports are of Zeppelins. Whether or not they were intending to hit London (as the Germans have been threatening) and were blown by the strong winds up into Norfolk, or whether they chose a lesser target for a trial run—or even if, as many say, they were attempting to destroy Sandringham, from which the King returned only yesterday—is of course the topic of huge debate. But however it happened, England has now joined with her European sisters in feeling the blow of explosives, and English civilians have now died along with those of France, Belgium, and the rest. In the wee hours of the morning, bombs and incendiary devices rained down on Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.

My aunt is convinced—ridiculously—that the Kaiser’s next goal will be the South Coast, one supposes with Zeppelins working their way across the empty farmland from Dover to Portsmouth, scattering incendiaries as they go. I have told her that in fact, London is sure to receive its share sooner or later, and we shall be much safer buried down in the country. She, no country person, is not convinced. She dithers.

So, I have written at last to Mr Mason, my mother’s farm manager, telling him in no uncertain terms that he may expect me to arrive in Eastbourne as close to midday tomorrow as the erratic schedule of the trains permits. (Whenever there is a particularly harsh battle in northern France, within a few days there will be trains diverted to the coast, to receive the surviving wounded and transport them to hospitals. I am not alone, in being inconvenienced by this War.) My letter to Mr Mason did not say specifically that my aunt should be with me. In truth, she will not. Still, I fear that she will follow on my heels before long. Certainly once the Zeppelins come into view over London town.

And if tomorrow morning Victoria Station receives a direct blow from one of these dropped bombs, well, that at least shall settle matters nicely.

Loading coal

From Dreaming Spies:

While the Colombo-bound passengers and day-trippers jostled noisily down one set of gangways and the coal and coconuts streamed up another, I retired to a deck-chair with my book. Holmes glowered down at the teeming dockside below. I pointedly kept my eyes on the pages.

Steamers were filthy, no way around it. All that coal burning in the depths came out in the smokestacks, and steamer guides of the period often urge the traveler to leave any precious or light-colored garments in the hold lest they be irrevocably stained by the combination of the all-pervasive smuts and the clammy effects of salt air. Of course, loading coal was done at every port, and was even filthier for those tasked with doing the job.

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23 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

The Curvature of the Horizon

For twenty-four days, my world had been 582 feet long and had a population of little more than a thousand souls. My rare ventures onto terra firma threatening more disorientation than relief, Kobe was the first time I had allowed myself to become conscious of a two-tiered horizon: one that vanished into the haze, the other that curved upwards in both directions. My eyes stuttered against the concept of distance, just as my legs searched for footing on the motionless docks.

Ship's deck, curving up

Unlike Mary Russell, I’ve never been on a cruise. And although the cruises offered by National Geographic or up the rivers of Europe have their appeal, the very idea of being trapped in a floating Disneyland would have me eyeing the lifeboats. So researching shipboard life for Dreaming Spies was a matter of the second hand (an amazing number of books were written about cruises during the Golden Age of the twenties and thirties) and the immobile. The photo is taken on board the Queen Mary, where the decks do indeed curve up and give an odd effect to the idea of “horizon.” The Queen Mary is now a very pleasant and fascinating hotel in Long Beach with a marvellously helpful and informative Commodore, who showed me about and answered a lot of idiotic questions.

If you’re near Long Beach, do drop in and challenge your horizons.

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24 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

Fan-letters and haiku

This post isn’t strictly about writing Dreaming Spies, but is one of the things that happened afterward….

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Some years ago, I got a gorgeous, and literal, fan-letter from a woman who liked my books.

Evelyn's fan-letterI always like letters from readers, and I always answer them—but this woman had a degree in Japanese history of the Twenties, and she offered to lend a hand if ever I needed help. So, into a safe place went her letter, filed against the day I would actually write the Japan book.

Four years passed. I did my research (ie, I went to Japan) and wrote a first draft, then dug out her letter and wrote her a hopeful note to say, remember how you offered…? And the letter was returned, unforwardable.

But this is the day of the web search, and although there were probably eighty bajillion “Evelyn Thompson”s out there, when I narrowed the search down by adding “San Francisco” and “Japan” eventually up popped a person listed as a butler at the Japanese consulate in San Francisco. Butler?

So I wrote to the Consulate, and they very kindly, instead of dumping it into junk mail, forwarded my email to Evelyn. She had moved to Japan. Rural Japan. And yes, she would be happy to lend a hand.

I sent her certain passages of Dreaming Spies, she made gentle corrections to various idiocies, suggested phrases (although alas, I fear one or two typos snuck in), and proved a friend across the Pacific.

And when the Dreaming Haiku project (mentioned in yesterday’s blog post) came along, well, she was willing to tackle that as well.

With the true spirit of the academic, she went on to note the stricter rules of the proper Japanese haiku, and asked if I wanted the poems changed to agree with them:

I can do that [she wrote] but what concerns me is that if they are very different from your originals, someone who knows enough Japanese to read them but not all the tricksy conventions of haiku will think you got a bad translation and might send you indignant letters.

So my question to you is, would you like more “authentic” poems that are less related to your originals, which might invite criticism (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), or more literal versions that might make a few haiku connoisseurs roll their eyes? It’s entirely up to you; neither my professional/scholarly nor my personal ego will be affected by your choice.

My reply? Her choice. And I believe she went with academic purity.

My original poem:

A spy dreams of clouds

Glimpsed through a drift of petals:

Two pilgrims in white.

Foreign boots hit hard

Moss paths of the Rising Sun;

A land wakes from sleep.

Her Japanese:








Which literally translated back into English would be:

Spy dreams

Peeking through the falling petals

To see pilgrims.

Treading on the moss

Foreign boots in the rising

sun, awakening.

She then sent me her ink brush calligraphy:

Foreign boots hit hard  A spy dreams of clouds








Fun, huh? In the meantime, I had been working with my artist friend Jean Lukens on a frame for the haiku. In September, she came up with a magnificent piece of art to frame this absolutely mundane bit of poetry:

Haiku frame low res

So, these are the parts of the poster:

The delicately colored frame by Jean Lukens

A haiku couplet about Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Translation and calligraphy by Evelyn Thompson

Photoshop magic by Robert Difley

And it all came out like this:

Dreaming Haiku

Dreaming Haiku

If you like this poster, and would like a full-sized copy of it, try entering one of the two contests I’m running: visual and verbal, Russellscape or haiku.

I talked about the Russellscape the other day, here. And just as I demonstrated there that I am no artist, so I will freely proclaim here that I am no poet, yet I’ve produced dozens of haiku for Dreaming Spies. Mediocre haiku–but surely for the chance of a hardback book and this drop-dead gorgeous poster, you can do better?

Click here for details about the Russellscape contest or the haiku contest. Entries close February 10, to give me a week before publication to judge. I look forward to seeing your inspiration!

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25 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here.

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.