I may be on The Road to Little Dribbling

Of all my Christmas presents last month, I think the one that has so far given me most pleasure is The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson.  He is an American who came to Britain some forty years ago and is still here.  He comments on the changes he has observed, good and bad, over the years.  He writes about his travels around this island, sharing some fascinating information about our history and geography as well as sharing his impressions of the places he visits.

Bill Bryson is a man after my own heart in many ways.  (Sorry.  I will try to use fewer cliches.)  I find him expressing views I did not know I had, as well as enthusing over the beauty of this country and the many good things we have.  Where I disagree with him, I have enjoyed reading his well written and thought-provoking remarks.  He also has a similar sense of humour to mine.  Perhaps we are both just grumpy old men.  I hope we are both interesting grumpy old men.

I may be tempted to quote a few lines or pass on a few pieces of information from time to time.  I will try to remember to give him the credit.  I am not a plagiarist: but if something is worth saying it is probably worth repeating.


Am I a ‘dark’ or ‘light’ crime-writer? ‘Hard’ or ‘soft’?

I have written previously about the division of crime-writers into those who write ‘whodunits’ and those who write thrillers.  Well, I have heard that, for some people, the important distinction is between a ‘dark’, also called ‘hard’, and ‘light’ or a ‘soft’ crime-writer.


What does it all mean?

  • ‘Dark’ or ‘hard’ novels contain a explicit, detailed descriptions of violence and a sense of looming, possibly supernatural, evil.
  • ‘Light’ or ‘soft’ novels tend to include more humour and have a more cheerful atmosphere.

Which do I prefer?

  • As I said about the distinction between the ‘whodunit’ and the thriller, I think you can be overanalytical.  There is a spectrum.  I tend to prefer those novels at the lighter end, but not exclusively.
  • I think there is a need for realism and real-life crime is not usually pretty.
  • However, our sense of humour is one the things we British are proud of and a writer, or a hero, without a sense of humour is not going to appeal to me.
  • If you think I have just contradicted myself, bear in mind that humour is also a part of real life.

What sort of crime-writer am I?  What about my forthcoming novel?

  • It will lean on the ‘light’ side.
  • I have allowed my hero to show a sense of humour.
  • However, there are moments of violence and fear.  It is far from being a comedy.
  • I want it to seem real enough for you to  feel for the victim as well as for my amateur detective hero and his sidekick.
  • The above points indicate the kind of crime-writer I intend to be.

Of course, different readers will gain different perceptions from reading it.  I hope they will mostly be favourable, whether they consider it ‘dark’ or ‘light’.

JHM Risk Management


Are my characters politically correct?

I have been warned that a lot of modern readers are sensitive to expressions of politically incorrect sentiments.  Even the villain should not say anything too offensive on certain subjects.  I have also been warned to choose my words carefully.  What was acceptable a decade or two ago would be considered out of place today.

I do not want to offend anyone unnecessarily and every author needs to choose words carefully.  So I should have no problem then?  If only.

I want to make my characters realistic.  Some will have to have attitudes and opinions that I do not agree with.  Some will have unfortunate ways of expressing themselves.

I myself find it hard to keep up with changes in acceptable terminology.  ‘Coloured’  is apparently unacceptable, despite the fact that there is still an organisation called The American Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.  Its leader was once Martin Luther King.

I said I do not want to offend anyone unnecessarily.  There are, however, people whom it is necessary to offend.  I do not intend to be so bland that I give no inkling as to my own beliefs or values.

Finally, although I believe words are important (!) I also believe you can make them too important.  You can worry too much  about what to call something rather than what to do about it.  Derek Hatton once said that some of his colleagues argued longer about whether you could call a manhole a personhole, than on whether one was needed in a certain location.

Jesus once accused his critics of “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”.


Is everybody happy? This should cheer us up.

There has been a report by the London School of Economics on happiness.

It says, among other things, that people who are married or in long term relationships tend to be happier and live longer than other people.  This will surprise anyone who has listened to too many old-fashioned jokes about “the wife” and “the mother-in-law”.  Who is laughing now?


What else is important?

The Report also mentions depression and stress as major reasons why many people are not happy.  I have written about my contribution to stress on my Risk Management blog.  See:


Has anyone else been studying happiness?

I am aware of a lot of other research in the last decade or so, which began in the University of Mexico, into what makes us happy, which made a change from all the studies in the Twentieth Century into neuroses, psychoses, manias etc.  In other words, they used to study only people who were far from happy.

When I read some of the findings, I could not help being struck by the similarity with a lot of the advice given in the Bible.  Perhaps it was to do with following the Maker’s instructions.  They are just as valid, whatever your religion or other philosophy.

I will say something about each of the main findings in separate blogs starting soon.  I hope this will get us all off to a good start for a Happy New Year.

Is there a lot of social comment in my books?

There seem to be two kinds of reader.  Some like a mystery novel to concentrate on the whodunit and not stray into social or political issues.  Others are interested in digging deeper into the characters and the setting.  Agatha Christie or Ian Rankin?


What about me?  I believe in making my characters and settings realistic and credible.  I intend to set most of my books in Wales in the Twenty-first Century.  I hope you will identify with some of my characters and situations.    Even if you are English.

Does this mean that I will always be writing about poverty and ‘gritty realism’?  No!  The middle classes are just as real as the rest.  The suburbs are as interesting to me as the inner city.  I will be drawing on people and places I know.  Not all my acquaintances live in poverty.  Neither do they live in big country houses or on remote islands.

The Cardiff I know has a castle and a cathedral.  It also has its Marina and the Millenium Stadium.  I know farmers and coal miners.  I also know website designers and mobile ’phone salesmen.  I know people who claim to be descended from old Welsh heroes and can recite poetry in Welsh.  I also know people of Irish, Italian, Polish, Asian and Afro-Caribbean descent.  Even some English people.  I know a few words of Welsh and a lot of Wenglish, especially the Cardiff variety.

In Wales today there are problems of poverty, unemployment, social and individual injustice, race, class, gender and religion as much as in the rest of Britain.  None of these issues are the principal themes in my books but, if none of my characters were to encounter any of these things, it would be very strange.  I am not writing about a fantasy world or completely imaginary people.

I may yet set one of my stories in a country mansion or a barely-inhabited island.  But they will not be isolated from the problems and the opportunities of the modern world.

Do not forget, however, that I am writing mysteries, whodunits, thrillers.  Not political treatises.  I hope the settings will not get in the way of the stories but will enhance them.  My hero will be more concerned with finding the villain than with reforming Society.


What’s Missing from ‘How to Cope with the Church’?

Some of you have spotted a weakness in my book How to Cope with the Church.  https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903

One question it does not answer is: “Why bother?”

What’s wrong with being a Christian and not going to Church?  

I also failed to offer any advice to anyone who has chosen, rightly or wrongly, to live a church-free Christian life.  I will give both these questions the full answers they deserve in my next book or possibly in an e-zine article.  Or both?  Until then here are a few points to ponder.

What about me?

Before we start pondering, I want you to know that I had a struggle to get from believing in God to going to Church.  I remember some very unhappy experiences.  I am not a naturally religious person.  I am wondering how many of my bad experiences to share in my next book.  I will need to swat up on the laws of libel.

So now here’s what to ponder.

Firstly, ask yourself why you do not go to Church.

  1. Habit?  Is it time to rethink?
  2. Practical issues?  Family, work, transport, disability?  Have you really looked at the options?  For some people these are real issues, as I do know, whilst for others they are excuses.
  3. Emotional or psychological issues?  Previous bad experiences, negative connotations, unidentified fears?  Do these things need dealing with anyway, whether you end up in Church or not?

Secondly, think about what you may be missing.

  • Teaching.  You can get that from books or the Internet.  Are you doing so?
  • Worship.  You can listen to recordings of religious music.  Is that the same as participating?
  • Interaction with other Christians.  Do you want it?  Do you need it? Perhaps you do not realise how that helps you grow spiritually.  Even if you do not get on with some of these others?  Especially them.

Thirdly, ask what God wants.  Oops!  That should have come first.

  •  Jesus never went to Church but he did go to the synagogue and the Temple.  He did tell his disciples to work together.
  • He also established the practice of sharing bread and wine.
  • There are many ways of obeying him in these things.  You do not have to follow the patterns of the organised churches.  Try a disorganised one if you like.

I will write soon about how to survive without going to Church if that is what you decide.  You could find some clues above.

No!  Not “up there”. I mean in the middle of this blog.

Finally, above all, remember that, unlikely as it may seem, God is on your side: he wants you to make it in the Christian life.  He’s helped me find a way.  He can help you, if you want.

Soap Box




Why are so many black people in jail?

This has been a bad year for people who care about the truth.  There was the Brexit Referendum.  Statistics and other so-called facts thrown around all over the place.  Poor old NHS!

Then the Americans had an election.  More of the same.  Lots.

More people should read my book How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics.  And think about it.  Everything I condemn in the book has been happening.

Go to https://tsw.createspace.com/title/4767398

And now, a report has been published this week saying that there are more black people than white people in prison in the UK in proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole.  It also says that black people seem to get longer sentences.

This information is interpreted as a sign hat there is discrimination in the Police and the Courts in their treatment of black people.

Of course, I could think of some people who would happily use these figures to ‘prove’ that black people are more likely to commit crimes than are white people, because they are inherently more criminally-minded.

I think both interpretations of the figures are dangerous and are examples of jumping to conclusions – the ones you had before you started.

How can they both be wrong?

There are many factors leading up to any individual’s incarceration and why some people are more likely to find themselves inside than others.

  • Were they innocent or guilty?
  • Were they unlucky to get caught?
  • Were they well served by their legal representatives?

Then there the factors causing people to commit crimes.

  • Individual.
  • Cultural.
  • Social.
  • Economic.

In particular, poor and uneducated people are more likely to commit crimes and more likely to be caught than richer and better educated people.  Black people tend to be poor and poorly educated.  They are also more likely to be the victims of crime.

Sentencing decisions are not simple and no two cases are exactly the same.  A non-custodial sentence may not be appropriate for a repeat offender, for someone who is unlikely to cooperate with the Probation Service, or who is of no fixed abode. We need to ask whether these pheomena are race-related and why.

Until we have gone into these questions of cause and effect and the interrelatedness of the different factors, we need to be very careful about drawing conclusions, especially if they reflect badly on either the judiciary or the black population.

Don’t be misled by statistics!

A horse’s tale


You may be aware that I have begun writing fiction, but what I am about to tell you really is true.  [I am in the company of John Cleese, Bernard Cornwell and the late Malcolm Muggeridge, to name only a few, in observing that some of the most bizarre stories in the world are actually true and outdo anything we would dare to invent].

A Little Horse.


I have mentioned before that I am fond of animals, particularly horses.  There is a miniature Shetland pony called Bea.  Oh, yes.  If you can imagine a typical Shetland pony, try to think of one about half that size and you will not be far wrong.  About as big as a big dog.

Bea had been ill-treated and half-starved before someone came to her rescue in 2015.  She was a bag of nerves, which is most untypical of her breed and evidence of her ill-treatment.

Now for the strange part.

Her benefactor took her to the Cheshire Dogs Home at Grappenhall near Warrington.  Don’t ask me why!

They took her in and the staff and volunteers have been looking after her.  She has made good progress physically and mentally but she has been diagnosed this year with a disease called Cushings, which is treatable with drugs.  These cost money.  There are also costs of the farrier.  Although she does not wear horseshoes, her feet need attention.  Then there are her teeth.  Yes, there are such people as horse-dentists.  The thing is that, due to the dogs’ home’s constitution, they are unable to spend the charity’s money on a pony – only on dogs, as you might expect.

This is where you come in.  Sponsors are needed specifically for Bea.  To become a sponsor, you need to donate fifteen ponds.  You know you can manage it.

Do not give me any money [I do not believe I just wrote that] – contact the Cheshire Dogs’ Home, 225 Knutsford Road, Grappenhall, Warrington, Cheshire, WA4 3JZ tel. 0844 5041212 or go to www.dogshome.net

The website does not mention Bea for the reason I tried to explain above, but you can contact them through it.  Go on – what’s stopping you?


What has Donald Trump got to do with historical fiction?

Donald Trump’s election has been one of the most divisive events in recent times.  It has engendered fear in some, whilst others voted for Trump out of fear.

As I am a Briton, you may say I am out of order commenting on American politics, but we are all going to be affected by whatever happens next in the USA and you may notice  that there are similarities with the Brexit vote, as Nigel Farage has so rightly commented.  (I never thought I would write “Nigel Farage” and “rightly” in the same sentence).

  • The unexpected.
  • The people who thought they were being ignored.
  • The deep divisions and anger.
  • Fear.
  • Immigration.
  • The rejection of ‘expert’ opinion.
  • You could possibly find a few more.

What can historical fiction writers contribute?

The long view.

British politics in the 17th and 18th Centuries were dominated by the fear of Roman Catholicism, especially as it was seen as an instrument of our enemies, France, Spain, Rome.  That was a major factor in the hostility towards the Stuarts and fear of their supporters, the Jacobites.

Notice that in the end we in Britain got over it.  By the 20th Century nobody asked you if you were a Protestant or a Catholic.  Nowadays we cooperate on lots of things.  I have joined with Roman Catholics in several Christian activities. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us.  All right, I admit it is taking Northern Ireland a bit longer to get with the programme, but it is happening even there.  Let us hope our fears of Islam can go the same way.


I remember words of wisdom from a Scot, David Steele, when he was the Leader of the Liberal Party, “The trouble with the English is that they never remember, and the trouble with the Irish is that they never forget”.  Let us learn the right lessons from the past, and not just keep old hatreds alive.

Soap Box

What can we mere novelists do?

Tell the truth!  But tell it, not like a history textbook, but as if we were there.  Make it real.  Maybe that can help us get over our divisions and mutual suspicions a bit quicker this time.  In his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell imagined a government controlling the way history was taught so as to prevent people discovering embarrassing or inconvenient truths.  It has been known in some countries.  We writers have a responsibility.

Finally, I would like to remind Americans, including Donald Trump,  that there was a time when immigration was strongly encouraged.  It was called The Slave Trade.  (Not a thing we in Britain can be proud of either).




The Dorset Book Detective – Interview

Hannah, aka The Dorset Book Detective, has just been kind enough to interview me by e-mail for her blog.  I thought the questions were very good.  I hope some people will like the answers.  Here is the interview, showing her questions and my answers in case you are interested.

  1. Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

I am working on a story about an accountant who is looking into some financial goings-on and that leads on into investigating a murder.  I hope this will be the beginning of a series, Accounting for Murder.  This first one should be out by Easter.

  • Money is often the motive for all sorts of crimes and an accountant’s skills are often very similar to a detective’s.
  • I am trying to make him a fairly ordinary man whom readers will be able to relate to. It is set in Cardiff, a place where I lived for several years.  Like me, he is an Englishman who loves Wales and the Welsh.  We both love animals too.

I have always had an enquiring mind.  Also, crime fiction has to have a structure.  The murder.  The investigation.  The solution.  Some other fiction writers can ramble a bit.  I think I would, if I did not have that structure to help me.  Within that, there is plenty of scope for variety and innovation.

2. What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

Probably an early Dick Francis one.  I love horses, although I do not follow racing.  I have now read most of his works.  I like the combination of mystery and thriller as well as the background detail.

  1. What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I worked as an accountant in local government for most of my career.  Before you all go to sleep or leave this site, let me say that, although everyone thinks accountancy is boring, most people like talking about money, and it was a good preparation for writing crime fiction.

  • For years, I did a lot of auditing, investigating wrongdoing as well as sorting out mistakes, which made a change from making them.
  • I spent most of my later career dealing with insurances. That involved looking into claims against the Council, most of which were… dubious.  If they had all been genuine, you should have seen someone fall on the pavement every time you looked out of the window.
  • I have always done a lot of writing: reports, memos, letters. We accountants do use words as well as numbers.
  • For the last few years, I have been self-employed, meeting a lot of people in business, which has taught me a lot.
  • It was to help grow my business that I started a blog and then wrote a few non-fiction books. I enjoyed that a lot and discovered self-publishing.  Some people enjoyed my writing.  That made me think writing fiction might be possible.

4. Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I am not sure.  Perhaps my readers will spot some that I was not aware of.

5. What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I am sure everything you read affects your writing in some way.  These are the ones whose influence I am most conscious of.

  • Val McDermid explains a lot about the psychology of murder, but I have enjoyed some of her earlier works which were more basic whodunits.
  • Ruth Rendell, especially in her Reg Wexford stories, makes her hero credible and normal. Not all detectives have to have damaged personalities and dysfunctional relationships.  I also love some of Wexford’s passing observations about life and how things have changed.
  • Reginald Hill, apart from writing great stories, has a marvellous way with words. He writes most eruditely, but his characters speak in earthy Yorkshire or Cumbrian.  There is humour in the way he expresses himself, without detracting from the seriousness of the story.  He also evokes the feeling of the places where his stories are set.
  • Speaking of words, PG Wodehouse could really use them and could create lots of plot strands, which he would bring together brilliantly in the end. A must-read for any writer.
  • Most recently, I have been enjoying some of the works of Peter James. His knowledge of police procedures and of the location, Brighton, is great.  His hero is another normal person, although one with an issue in his private life.
  • Finally, all crime writers owe a huge debt to Arthur Conan Doyle. Everything can be traced back to him.

Well, I hope there’s enough writers, but I know I am missing a lot out.  I do not claim to bear comparison with any of these, but have learnt something from each of them.

Apart from novels and stuff on the Internet, I read the Bible quite a lot, for many reasons.  As a writer, I commend it, because:

  • It is full of great stories and also contains some memorable quotes.
  • Reading different versions shows how you can say the same thing in different ways.
  • It is interesting to see how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story but with different styles and emphases and they all include and exclude different bits.

6. If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Any of the above.  However, I would be too in awe of them to collaborate much.  Perhaps writers are better on their own anyway.  You need to be yourself.  Great writing is seldom achieved by committees.  Meeting any of them would be a privilege.

7. Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

  • I hope Accounting for Murder will become a series. I have several ideas for more stories involving the same hero and his family.
  • I am likely to produce another non-fiction book next year, either about business or something to do with faith. Perhaps Things the Devil Doesn’t Want You to Know or A Sceptical Look at Atheism.

8. Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year/ early in 2017?

I have received several suggestions but I would like to wait until I have read the books in question.  I would not want to say anything rash.

9. Do you have anything to add?

There are four things I want to say.

  • My faith affects all my writing, and probably most things I do, but I try not to ram it down your throat. It is part of who I am.
  • I chose to make my hero an accountant because I would be writing about something I know and because I think it is time for another amateur detective. There seem to be so many police detectives around.
  • I also write historical crime fiction under a pseudonym. Let me know if the Dorset Detectives are interested in that.  I could do an interview in my other name.
  • If anyone has not got enough of me, there’s more at johnharveymurray.co.uk and for my professional life, see www.jhmriskmanagementservices.co.uk

Want to know more about The Dorset Book Detective?  Go to https://dorsetbookdetective.wordpress.com