Here’s why Danny Dyer’s royal ancestry is no surprise to me

Why is Danny’s ancestry in the news?

The BBC have chosen Danny Dyer of Eastenders to present a history programme for children. He has looked up his ancestry and found several famous people, including William the Conqueror. I assume something connects these two facts.

Why would I be surprised at his royal ancestry?

This is certainly not in any way a comment on Danny. What surprises me is that he has managed to trace his ancestry as far back as he has. Most people hit the buffers after a few generations. How diligently did your ancestors keep and hand on relevant records?

A cartoon man looks at a computer screen with a magnifying glass. Looking up his ancestry?
A cartoon man looks at a computer screen with a magnifying glass. Looking up his ancestry?
Why am I not surprised at his royal ancestry?

I wrote an article some time ago which shows how closely most of us are related. All of us in Britain, excluding recent immigrants, go back to the island’s original few inhabitants. Well, not original. Originally nobody lived here. Just when a few people had settled here, they all left because a lot of ice arrived. All our ancestors came here after the Ice Age. However, the population shrank a lot in the fourteenth century due to bad winters and the plague. The survivors became our ancestors. Since the population is much bigger now than it was then, the same people must occur on most of our family trees many times over, whether or not we know who they are.

Are you proud of your ancestry?

As we all have two parents, we must all have four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. The number must double each generation and, however far back you go, famous people, nobility and even royalty will all have the same number of ancestors as common people, and many of those ancestors will be the same.  Of course, if you could get the full picture, you would almost certainly find a fair number of rogues, vagabonds, ne’er-do-wells and lunatics as well as the great and the good, on your family tree.

This means that nobody has any right to be too proud of their illustrious ancestors or too ashamed of their notorious ones. We’re all in this together, Danny.

 

What’s wrong with the cover of my book, ‘Accounting for Murder’?

Don’t judge a book by its cover

That old saying is good advice, but I believe most people ignore it. In the same way, we too often judge people by their appearance, accent or other superficial features. They say the cover and the title are the most important elements influencing book sales.

What about the one for Accounting for Murder, Double Entry? 

The cover of Accounting for Murder: Double Entry
The cover of Accounting for Murder: Double Entry

 

For more about the book go to my books page or  the Amazon website

Why did I choose this one?
  • The title is clear
  • So is the subtitle
  • So is my name
  • It suggests accounting
  • It is reasonably modern (no bound ledgers)
  • The tone is bright/light like the tone of the book
What’s wrong with this cover?

Some people think it suggests an accountancy textbook, perhaps How to produce crime statistics for the Police or the Home Office, because it does not tell you it is a novel. If many people think that way, it will be bad news for me, in losing sales, and bad news for them in missing an enjoyable read.

What do you think?

I would welcome your views and any suggestions for an improvement.

How about this?

A detective with a magnifying glass. Should he be on the next cover?
A detective with a magnifying glass. Should he be on the next cover?

How true to life should fiction be?

Fiction on TV and in print usually reflects real life.

If you exclude some kinds of fantasy, you will probably find that most fiction writers try to make their stories depict life as it really is. However, we do allow some ‘poetic licence’to make a story more readable or watchable. Some people say that drama on TV is closer to real life than any ‘reality TV’ as the latter is so contrived.

What aspect of modern fiction is not real?

Most people have loved a lot of the recent dramas on BBC and some on ITV, especially Bodyguard. One of the few negative criticisms has been that Bodyguard and several others show women in important roles, such as home secretary and senior figures in the police. The critics point out that in real life there is still a lot of discrimination against women and that the successful ones are the exceptions. Most modern novels also show women in powerful roles, not just as victims or heroines to be rescued. I hope you like the way I dealt with my female characters in Accounting for Murder. What about ethnic minorities? Do provide feedback.

Accounting for Murder. Is this fiction realistic enough?
Accounting for Murder. Is this fiction realistic enough?
Why object to this kind of thing in fiction?

You might think that the complaint came from misogynistic males, who wanted to see women in their ‘proper place’, but you’d be wrong. The critics are mainly women who think it’s wrong to give young people the impression that the glass ceiling has gone away. You could think it’s now easy for women to rise to the top. This will lead to false expectations and thus severe disappointment. They want more dramas about women struggling to overcome prejudice. (It’s never easy for anyone to get to the top of anything).

This reminds me of the way black people have been depicted in fiction.

I remember the days when black actors complained that they were offered only roles which required a black person. These were usually in dramas about racialism. Of course, there have been some important books and films about the issue. However, black people complained that it gave the impression that they were always part of a problem. They were not just ‘people’. Lenny Henry once complimented Eastenders for allowing black characters to be involved in plots that had nothing to do with race. Others have expressed approval of the modern trend to show black characters in all kinds of roles. Some have played successful business people, politicians, professionals and police officers. That’s not fiction: they do exist, even if they are still the exceptions.

Can’t fiction help us see society at its best?

Showing women, black people or others in important roles can surely help encourage young people to be ambitious. They need not be defined by their sex or colour. It can also help everyone to accept social change. Nobody should think it odd to see a person in authority who is not a middle-aged, middle-class, white male.  It might also be good to remind some women and black people that not everyone else is a misogynist or a racist.

Society is changing. Let us writers play our part in hastening the change.

 

 

Would I have made a good detective in reality?

I learnt a bit about reality recently

As I mentioned recently, I encountered the reality of detective work, when I was talking to a former detective, who now writes crime fiction. I noted that his knowledge of police procedures and culture was an advantage. He recognised that my background in risk management was also relevant to my writing. I have spent a lot of my career investigating insurance claims, auditing accounts and looking for the real causes of accidents or losses. That is similar to my fictional hero Frank Hill in Accounting for Murder, Double Entry.

 

Accounting for Murder

What part of reality am I missing?

However, we agreed that I would not have made a good detective in reality. To be a detective in the police, you have to begin as a police officer in uniform, carrying out all sorts of duties. You would have to break up fights, drag bodies out of canals, search premises, search woodlands and chase cars. You would have to advise members of the public on all sorts of matters. It helps if you have limitless patience for tiresome people and the ability to defuse potentially explosive situations. Doc Martin would not hack it, and neither would I.

Is that the reality for detectives too?

If you could survive an initial period as a copper on the beat, would you then enjoy being a detective? Unfortunately, detectives also find themselves having to do a lot of the things I mentioned. Sometimes they are helping their uniformed colleagues, but, even in the course of actual detective work, life can get messy.

A detective with a magnifying glass. Is this reality or fiction?
A detective with a magnifying glass: fiction or reality?
How about a reality check?

If you think you are good at solving real or fictional crimes, and enjoy puzzles, don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion you’d make a good detective in reality. Think about all the other aspects of the occupation. I’ll stick to reading and writing about it.

Don’t give up the day job!

How do you cope with your vicar?

Why do you need to cope with a vicar?

If you have a problem coping with the church, is the vicar part of the problem? In some churches the title is rector, curate, priest, pastor or minister, but the point is that someone is in charge. If you can’t relate to that person, you will find it hard to feel at home in the church. I know, because I’ve had experience, but it’s something I didn’t cover in my book How to Cope with the Church or in my recent blogs on the subject.

My book: it does not say much about coping with your vicar
My book: it does not say much about coping with your vicar
What could be wrong with your vicar?

The issues I’ve encountered come in various categories.

  • Doctrine. You don’t agree with his/her take on the Bible or some aspect of church policy.
  • Preaching. Not ‘what’ but ‘how’. Over your head, patronising or just too long?
  • Leadership style. You find it too dictatorial, or too laissez-faire.
  • Management ability – lack of. Someone who is inefficient, disorganised or unreliable can be really irritating.
  • Personality. Too distant or too in-your-face? Too serious or a would-be comedian?
Do you need to change your vicar by changing your church?

I have experienced all of the above, and, looking back, I can see that some of the issues say more about me than about the vicar. I learnt from each of them, even when I decided to move to another church, which I did only once, not counting times when I moved home, when I could not accept his High Church beliefs. Even so, I am glad of the experience, as it made me really question my own beliefs. What mattered? What did the Bible really say?

Does your vicar have good points too?

I have learnt that a lot of the qualities listed can be seen as good or bad depending on your personality. Can you learn to value different types of leader and see that nobody is ideal for everyone? Do you need to examine your priorities? By the way, some of these things are addressed in some churches by having team ministries, where one person’s weaknesses are offset by a colleague’s strengths.

How God answered my prayers for coping with my vicar.

I once had a vicar whose annoying features seemed to be getting worse, or at least they were annoying me more and more. It was mainly about inefficiency and personality. I prayed about it with someone who felt the same way but was coping better and God helped me to see the man’s good points, which were Faith and Love. Then I saw that the rest of it was far less important. Perhaps God wants to show you something similar, if you pray about your problems coping with your vicar.

What if none of this applies to your vicar?

There are some vicars who don’t tick all the right boxes but just inspire you and share their vision with you. None of the above apples to them. If yours is one, you won’t need any advice on coping, because you won’t notice their shortcomings.

 

When and why did I find it hardest to relate to the Church?

Do you find it hard to relate to the Church?

Many people, even people who believe in God, cannot relate to the Church. I wrote about this in my book How to Cope with the Church.  Some say that the one thing it lacks is an account of my journey. How did I learn to cope with the Church?

I wrote recently about how I learnt to relate to the Church at University and in the years immediately following. Two things happened next which changed my life dramatically.

  1. I got married
  2. We moved to Wales.

Marriage is a subject in itself. It certainly added a new dimension to the problem of relating to the Church as well as adding a new dimension to my life. Perhaps I will write about that sometime. But for now, Wales.

Why did the move affect my ability to relate to the Church?

In a few years we were to live in North, Mid and South Wales. An interesting experience (or three experiences, if you like) but with certain challenges.

  • Often, we were in a new place, new jobs and having to choose a church.
  • We found people in Wales had more attachment to their denominations than was usually the case in England, and were often suspicious of people from a different church background.
  • It was harder to get different churches to cooperate to put on events.
  • In some cases, Welsh-speakers regarded English-speakers with caution, especially in Welsh-speaking chapels.
  • A lot of people didn’t welcome change, of any kind.
  • Many people focused on the events in Wales in the early twentieth century, although not all interpreted them in the same way.
  • One church we went to for a time was more of a social club than anything.
What could we relate to?
  • The words of the Bible and most hymns were as true as they always were.
  • In the Anglican Church, the words of the liturgy, the set prayers, were as valid as ever.
  • In every church, we found at least a few people we could relate to. They cared for God and for other people more than for the institution.
  • Sometimes  we visited churches that were changing, even if it meant a bit of a journey on those Sundays.
  • We got some good teaching from books and tapes (remember them?) by preachers who could communicate.
  • We went to some Christian conferences to get encouragement and teaching.
  • There was something to learn from every church and every Christian we encountered. (One pastor said, ‘chew on the meat and spit out the bone’.)
  • We supported each other.

Note: that was many years ago. I believe the churches in Wales have moved on since I left. Was there a connection?

How did we relate to the Church when we came back to the North West of England?

I will write about that soon. Meanwhile, perhaps you want to read How to Cope with the Church?

If you are a determined atheist this book is not for you. If you are strong in the faith it is not for you either. If you are somewhere in between, if you have problems with Church, Bible reading, prayer, if you have not been for a while and are nervous about going back, if you have doubts and questions and do not like to ask, then this book could be just what you need. John Harvey Murray shares insights gained from experience in many different churches on the journey of faith and life. If he can cope, so can you.

How to cope with Church by [Murray,John]

 

Why did I often find it hard to cope with the Church?

I promised to write about myself, so as to fill a gap some of you have found in How to Cope with the Church. I said I would tell something of my own journey. Here are some of my earliest memories of that journey.

What did I first find hard to cope with?

Firstly, I have never really been religious. I have never liked ceremony, dressing up or any of the obvious physical aspects of religion. My parents were not atheists, but were not regular churchgoers either. We went at Christmas, Easter (sometimes) and to weddings. The language of the King James’s Bible and the 1662 Prayer Book were as offputting as the hardness of the pews. In addition, I found kneeling uncomfortable, distracting me from whatever was being said. I was not sorry that my parents valued our time together, often going into the countryside. Therefore, they didn’t make me go to Sunday School (whatever that was).

What was easier to cope with?

When I went to Bristol University, I was amazed to find that quite a lot of people went to Church voluntarily, even getting up on Sunday mornings. Some students ran lots of Christian activities through the week. There were Bible studies and prayer-and-fellowship meetings. On Saturday nights, they held sessions of singing relatively modern hymns, followed by teaching from visiting preachers. It was all more relevant, interactive and understandable than Church as I had known it.

Did this help me cope with Church?

Yes. I gradually got around to going to Church too. By then I understood what it was all about more than I had done, but I still struggled. At least, I was accompanying some Christian friends. There were also quite a few other people of my age in some of the churches we went to. Some churches were experimenting with updated versions of the Prayer Book and the Bible. There were meetings after the evening service, where we could discuss the sermon or some other topic.

When did I almost fail to cope?

The years immediately following university were difficult. I moved to another town where I didn’t know anyone. After a search, I found a church with some young people, where services were in fairly modern English. It was, however, led by older men and was very conservative in outlook in many ways. They did not encourage us to question anything much. On top of all that, in hindsight, I think I was suffering from culture shock as I came  from the student World to the nine-to-five. I was dealing with people who were far more set in their ways than those I had been living among for the previous three years.

After about three more years, just as I was beginning to cope, big upheavals were to come to my life, including my church life. I will write about those, and how I coped, in another blog or two. Perhaps this series will help you get more out of my book, How to Cope with the Church.

How to cope with Church by [Murray,John]

If you are a determined atheist this book is not for you. If you are strong in the faith it is not for you either. If you are somewhere in between, if you have problems with Church, Bible reading, prayer, if you have not been for a while and are nervous about going back, if you have doubts and questions and do not like to ask, then this book could be just what you need. John Harvey Murray shares insights gained from experience in many different churches on the journey of faith and life. If he can cope, so can you.

 

What do people say is missing from my writing? Myself!

Who wants to know about myself?

You might have thought I didn’t need to write about myself, if you’re interested in what I have to say rather than who I am.  However, there are people who like to know all about the writers they follow. There is quite a lot on my website and on my business website as well as on my Linkedin page.

I am as I seem.

I am not hiding myself behind a mask
I am not hiding myself behind a mask
This really is myself with my book Accounting for Murder
This really is myself with my book Accounting for Murder
Why do I not say more about myself?

Like many of you, I expect, I think people who talk about themselves a lot are boring and probably egoists. To use a cliche, “It’s not about me”.  I’m more interested in what people have to say about whatever topic they are writing or talking about, than in what they do at work or at home.

What do I not say about myself?

The one thing some people would like is an account of my journey in life, especially my spiritual or religious journey. They wish I had included it in How to Cope with the Church.

 

Cope with Church

They want to know how I learnt to cope with the church. Did I make steady progress or were there ups and downs? (The latter. Oh, yes!)

Now prepare to read about myself – or not!

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about my spiritual journey. I hope this will add clarity and credibility to my blogs on faith, as well as to the book. For those of you for whom that subject holds little interest, I will still be blogging about risk, business, statistics and such, on my other site and I might publish the occasional article on this site on other subjects, to give some variety (for me as well as for you).

Watch this space! 

 

Punctuate: ‘caught by a real former detective fiction writer’

Are you caught out by punctuation?

The meaning of the title depends on the punctuation. Try these two examples.

  1. Caught by a real former-detective fiction writer.
  2. Caught by a real former detective-fiction writer.

The first means I was caught by a former detective who is now a fiction writer, whilst the second means I was caught by a person who used to write detective fiction. I expect you could find other ways of punctuating it to give other meanings. As a writer, I have to be careful how I punctuate my sentences. I also value my editors, as they always spot something I had overlooked.

In which way was I really caught recently?

I met a detective-fiction writer who is a former detective. When we discussed reasons for creating an amateur detective, which I have written about previously, he caught me out by spotting one I had conveniently forgotten to mention. As a real detective, he knew all about police procedures and the culture of a police station, but if I wrote about a police detective, I would undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes, damaging my credibility.

A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
Won’t I be caught by my readers anyway?

Of course, even an amateur sleuth has to deal with the police. Do I not risk being caught by my readers when I make incorrect assumptions about the police? As I write in the first person, any such mistakes can appear to be due to my character’s lack of knowledge in that respect. And police procedures are less central to my plots than they would be if my hero was a police officer. This does not mean that I don’t try to be accurate and realistic as far as possible. It just gets me off the hook.

Have you caught me yet?

Have you read Accounting for Murder, Double Entry? If so did you spot any clangers regarding police procedures or anything else? I would like to hear from you. If you haven’t read it, now could be a good time, before the sequel, Old Money, comes out.

Buy it here on Amazon or here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it.

Accounting for Murder

DOUBLE ENTRY

When former athlete Patty Rogers decides to divorce her unfaithful husband, Ray, she calls on accountant, Frank Hill, to find Ray’s conveniently missing investments. The trail leads from Cardiff to the financial heart of the City of London and to Aberystwyth, where the mystery turns into a murder. The police regard Patty as their one and only suspect. Frank and his teenage daughter Jane try to find the real killer, unaware of the dangers they are facing from corrupt accountants, racist thugs, a dog-fighting gang, uncooperative policemen and Ray’s mistress, a pop star with many faces and a rock-solid alibi. To see justice done they will need all Frank’s investigative skills and Jane’s youthful energy. And more.

 

 

 

Is time another advantage for the amateur detective?

Do I mean time in fact or fiction?

I have written about reasons why we need amateur detectives in real life as well as in detective novels. Now I will look at the different perspectives amateurs have from the police when it comes to the question of time.

Is crime-solving time limited?

I suppose you will agree that time is important for anyone solving any crime and especially for serious crimes. You may know that the police believe that the first hour is the most important and then the first twenty-four hours. Criminals can destroy evidence. Physical evidence can be lost or damaged naturally or accidentally. If out of doors, the weather can wash away clues. Some people keep CCTV footage for only short times. Memories are best when fresh.

Detectives should not waste time

You will probably agree that the CID should make the most of the first hour and the first twenty-four to secure evidence and follow up leads as quickly as possible. They are likely to be in a far better position than any amateur in that respect.

Risk DiceA man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
A man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
How is the pressure of time a bad thing?

There is a lot of pressure to solve a case in that first twenty-four hour period. If the police identify a prime suspect by then, it is likely that all attention will focus on that person. They are not likely to follow other lines of enquiry beyond that point. This is even more true where the press are taking an interest. A press-release saying, ‘we’re following a number of leads’ is not what anyone wants. There is a strong incentive to ‘wrap the case up’ – which is not the same as solving it.

What is different about an amateur’s time?

Amateur detectives rarely have arbitrary timescales imposed upon them and don’t have the press to worry about. They may need to solve a case before a wrong conviction occurs, but the deadline will be the date of the trial, or of the appeal, not the next press conference.

What about cases that take a very long time?

Some cases take years to solve. Others are re-opened after several years, either because they were not closed in the first place or because of allegations of a miscarriage of justice. Cold case reviews work on a different timescale and will be the subject of another blog.