A Few of my Favourite Things: Food & Swearing

Oh happy days! The Dark Peak series – which kicks off in June with No Good Reason – sees me back writing in Brit, and not only that but writing a novel whose central characters are a detective and an Accident & Emergency doc. Now, for those who might not know, shift work does weird things to a person’s diet (if you regularly eat your tea at 3 a.m., chances are you’re not sitting down to a balanced three-course meal) and it’s no secret that those of us who work shifts eat a lot of crap or, in the case of my cast of miscreants, just seem to eat a lot. They also swear a lot, which means that I get to do another one of these blogs for the folks who aren’t fluent in the foodstuffs and swearing capabilities of our beautiful little isle. Yes, it’s the No Good Reason menu/swearing guide, wherein I explain what the hell a Battenberg cake is and show you pictures of delicious pastry-coated items, and you get to go away hungry and cursing me.

This blog update is sponsored by Settlers Tums.

Chippy Tea

Takeaway Fish and ChipsIt seems fitting that the very first chapter of No Good Reason sees Detective Sanne Jensen and her best friend Dr. Meg Fielding treating themselves to a chippy tea. In their case it comprises fish, chips, buttered bread, and curry sauce (or gravy) with mugs of tea. When I say fish, I mean battered fish – none of your bread-crumbed imposters, please – and when I say chips, I mean thick, crispy, proper chips, not McDonald’s-esque “fries”. Lashings of salt and vinegar is essential. No vinegar = you’re doing it wrong.

Optional extras: Pickled eggs, mushy peas, and a barm cake (regionally AKA: a bap, bread roll, bread muffin, or batch) for making a chip butty.

chip barm

The “barm cake” is the source of much confusion/debate/argument in the UK with no two regions calling them the same thing. Along with the pronunciation of “scone” it’s possibly the most contentious food-related issue in the country to date!

Chocolate HobNobs

hobnobA practically perfect biscuit to accompany a mug of tea, the chocolate HobNob is an oaty, crunchy treat topped with milk chocolate. I’m not a dunker, but I am reliably informed that – if you’re that way inclined – the HobNob is something of a legend when it comes to surviving a dip in a brew. The special edition chocolate orange versions are also highly recommended.

Double Decker

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A layered chocolate bar boasting a base of cereal crispies and a topping of whipped nougat all covered in Cadbury’s milk chocolate. They’re sweet enough to send susceptible types into a diabetic coma, but as a treat they’re bloody lovely.

 

Quavers

QuaversA firm favourite in USA-destined snack packages, the Quaver is a twisty, curly, marvel of cheesiness. It makes for an ideal accompaniment to any packed lunch, where the crisps can be slapped in the middle of a sandwich to provide a bit of bite and liven up an otherwise boring butty (sandwich!).

 

Haribo

StarmixI don’t honestly know a single member of the ambulance service who doesn’t eat these little buggers in one variety or another. They’re sweets made for kids and appropriated by adults, and they come in a wide assortment of forms – jellies, liquorice, fizzy things, chewy things – all of them delicious. Probably invented for the sole purpose of pepping up night shifts, day shifts, and shift work in general. The Dark Peak series features what I like to think of as the Classic Haribo: Starmix.

Pasty & Sausage roll

greenhalghsA typical English dinner (known as lunch in the south) bought on the fly will often be a sandwich, but pasties and sausage rolls are also right up there when it comes to takeaway snacky options. A bastardisation of the traditional Cornish pasties, high street chain bakery examples are flattened and often quite depressing offerings of puff pastry filled with insipid and tepid meat-type substances. The best ones are crammed with meat, veg, spuds and gravy, or cheese and onion. Being a borderline Wiganer by birth, I’m more of a pie girl myself, but I do love a cheap and cheerful sausage roll…

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Greggs’ sausage rolls: they don’t come much cheaper than these!

Battenberg Cake

I like to include pretty (or pretty unusual!) foods in my books and there’s not much prettier than a Battenberg cake. A light, jam-coated sponge covered in marzipan, the Battenberg doesn’t seem particularly special until you cut into it. And then it looks like this. See? Lovely, isn’t it? :-)

battenberg

Eggy Bread

Us northerners don’t really stand on ceremony, and eggy bread is what French Toast is commonly called round these parts. It’s basically slices of white bread dipped into beaten egg (add a bit of milk to make your egg go further) and fried in oil. Being an ignorant peasant, I used to eat mine with tomato ketchup, but I now prefer to cover it in proper maple syrup, i.e. not that maple “flavoured” ice cream sauce crap.

eggy bread

Scone

The essential ingredient in any cream tea, the scone (say it to rhyme with “bone” or you’re saying it wrong!) is a little cake-type thingy that doesn’t really seem worth bothering with until you serve it warm and fill it with whipped (or clotted) cream and jam. Then it’s probably the most amazing thing you will ever eat, especially if you have a piping hot pot of tea to go with it.

scone

Bloody hell, I’m hungry now. Which, conveniently, brings me onto…

Part II: How to Swear in Fluent Brit

If there’s one thing the British are good at, it’s swearing. Far from stunting our vocabulary, swearing has broadened it, resulting in a far-reaching plethora of insults and epithets that go beyond the usual, dare I say rather mundane, “fuck” and “shit”. Here are just a few examples common to my profane little region.

Bloody: A mild but very versatile curse with many variations for usage – “Bloody Nora”, “Fat bloody chance”, “Don’t you bloody dare”. It is also easily combined with other insults, to wit: “You’re a bloody useless bugger”. Regional use may change it to “bleedin'” as in: “you’re a bleedin’ halfwit” – you’re not terribly bright.

Bugger/Sod/Git/Berk/Pillock/Twerp/Numpty/Wazzock/Tit: Genial insults that lack any real edge, and can be used almost fondly, i.e: “You’re being a silly sod”, “Poor old bugger”, “Don’t be such a berk”. Generally used to imply that the person is a bit soft in the head.

Bollocks: Often used as an expression of exasperation: “Oh bollocks!” but can be used to describe a telling off: “I just got a good bollocking”, or to add emphasis to a statement of denial: “Have I bollocks!”

Wanker: Loosely defined as someone who enjoys taking matters into their own hands (if you catch my drift), “wanker” is often used as a harsher insult, and is probably not one to say in front of your mum. Also: “Toss-pot” – similar definition,  less offensive.

Twat: Pronounced with two hard Ts (I have no idea where this “Twaite” business has come from), this is also quite an unpleasant insult, although it’s used so often around here that it’s lacking in impact.

Piss: Unlike Americans, who tend to use this just to mean annoyed, us Brits have almost infinite variations and usages for this term – something that has caused a fair amount of amusement and revision during the editing process! A few of the more common examples: “Piss off” – “Go away”, “Pissed off” – Annoyed, “Taking the Piss” – Having a laugh at someone’s expense, “Pissed” – Drunk, “Piss-Can” – An alcoholic, “Piss on his chips” – Annoy someone, “Couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” – Someone who is profoundly useless.

Ball-ache:  A tiresome or impossible task. As in “this is going to be an absolute ball-ache”.

Scrote: Often used by the emergency services to describe ne’er-do-wells or bottom-feeders, those lowlifes who make our lives so very entertaining. It doesn’t take a genius to work out its origins.

Feel free to add any omissions, or your personal favourites in the comments!

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No Good Reason Giveaway Winners

no good reasonMany, many thanks to everyone who entered the No Good Reason giveaway over the last few days, it’s been an absolute pleasure to chat biscuits and books with you all. Over 160 people gave me a shout for this one, and the two winners picked by the random number generator are: Julia Schriewer  and Mary Ayer.

Congrats to both and cheers again for the enthusiasm about this one :-)

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No Good Reason Giveaway

no good reason booksOh! Oh! I got books! Yes, I finally have my grubby mitts on my rather gorgeous author copies of No Good Reason, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for a giveaway :-)

To win one of two copies (signed or unsigned) and a delicious bag of Haribo sweets, just leave a comment on this thread – anonymous comments are enabled – or head over to my Facebook page and ‘like’ the giveway post on there. I’ll pick a winner when I wake up after my nights – say around noon – on Wednesday (13th May). Bonus points if you tell me what your favourite biscuit is.

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The Dark Peak in Pictures

Setting has always been a key feature in my books. From the Cascade mountains and wilderness of Desolation Point to the small town in Maine that I created for Tumbledown, location has been as much a character as any of the humans in the cast. With No Good Reason and the Dark Peak series, I’ve come full circle back to the Peak District where my first novel Snowbound was set. Although I enjoyed every minute of research I did for my two America-based books, returning to an environment I know and love and can describe with the confidence of someone who’s walked its muddy footpaths has been like putting on a pair of comfy slippers and settling down with an old friend.

My wife and I spend a lot of time hiking in the Peaks (rather conveniently, for my crime-thriller purposes, the Dark Peak is the area most local to us), so here are a few snaps from the last year or so to give you a photographic primer for this new series of books.

Laddow Rocks

laddow1I tend to change the names of locations, which means I can manipulate the surrounding geography to suit my purposes, but these are the rocks I had in mind for Sanne’s impromptu scramble in the early chapters of No Good Reason. Very reminiscent of the rocks on the book’s cover (which are actually from Stanage Edge), Laddow becomes Laddaw in the novel but pretty much everything else about it stays the same. The Pennine Way meanders close to the cliff edge, and the rocks look spectacular and damn scary no matter what time of year you visit. Needless to say, there’s no way in hell you’d find me scrambling down them.

 

 

Ancient Hills

The Peak District covers 555 square miles and is a protected National Park. In 1932, a group of ramblers embarked on the Kinder mass trespass, heading up onto Kinder Scout (the area’s highest peak) in defiance of the local laws, to protest about the lack of access for hill walkers. It would take another 17 years for anything to come of their act of civil disobedience, but hikers now have the “freedom to roam” once they’re across the open country boundaries.

crowden1

derwent

Feisty Sheep

Also enjoying the right to roam, the Peak District sheep are renowned for their attitude. Legend has it that they’ll steal the butties right out of your hand, although the reality is a little less entertaining: mainly they just run away.

cave dale sheep

These buggers had no intention of running away. The two to the left look like proper little bruisers.

Footpaths

The "path" up Blackden Brook onto Kinder Scout.   At this point, you're sort of following a waterfall and hoping for the best.

The “path” up Blackden Brook onto Kinder Scout. At this point, you’re sort of following a waterfall and hoping for the best.

Yep, there are some. Many of them are muddy, narrow, and bloody tricky to find. The Pennine Way (which stretches 268 miles between Edale in the Peaks to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders) is the famous long-distance trek in these parts and it’s paved or signposted in places, but if you want wilderness and navigational challenges then the Peak District really is for you. Way markers are heaps of stones, the bogs will suck you in down to your thighs, and the weather can change at the drop of a hat, leaving even familiar paths shrouded in disorientating mist. All good fun, then.

 

 

 

 

 

Grouse

Photo pinched from Katherine Bright, who has a much better camera than me.

Photo pinched from Katherine Bright, who has a much better camera than me.

“G’back, g’back” is a familiar cry on the moors: not a warning, but the cackle of the red grouse, whose sole intention in life seems to be scaring the crap out of unsuspecting hikers. These idiot birds launch themselves out of the thickets as soon as you approach, give you a heart attack, and then scarper.

Peat-Hags and Groughs

hags and groughs

A common sight – and obstacle – on the plateaus, peat-hags are the mounds left behind where water has created a channel (the grough). They’re an absolute swine to navigate around and through, and can hide some very wet patches of peat.

Inspiration for Names

rowleeI might play fast and loose with the geography of the area, but a lot of my place names can be found on a local Ordnance Survey map. The name of Rowlee, the main village in No Good Reason, was taken from an area around Derwent reservoir, while Corvenden Edge, home to Laddaw Rocks, is a play on Crowden where the actual Laddow Rocks are located.

The Snake Pass

snakepass1

The wiggly, treacherous road that links Manchester to Sheffield, the Snake Pass is a dangerous but spectacular route, best avoided on bank holidays – when the bikers will all be falling off it – and in inclement weather (when it’s likely to be shut by snow!)

Ancient Rocks

The Kissing Stones, the Boxing Gloves, the Salt Cellar, the Woolpacks, and the Cakes of Bread are just a few of the rock formations to be found on the hills of the Dark Peak. Great for clambering up, sheltering between, and picnicking upon, the rocks give shape to the summits, and are often named so literally that they act as obvious way markers.

salt cellar

The Salt Cellar above Derwent at sunset.

Four Seasons in One Day

The weather in the Peaks is notoriously changeable, something that can make a hike very tricky to pack for. Layers – lots and lots of layers – are the key, and it’s not uncommon to start a walk in shirt sleeves and end it wearing gloves and a woolly hat, but the seasons up there are truly spectacular.

IMAG4337

Autumn colours on Crowden

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Winter summits clearing in the mist above Crowden.

 

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A winter view from the top of Kinder looking down towards Kinder Reservoir.

 

Laddow Rocks in deep snow. A rare as anything chance to see them like this.

Laddow Rocks in deep snow. A rare-as-anything chance to see them like this.

 

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No Good Reason – Sneak Peek

no good reasonIn preparation for the release of No Good Reason in June, the good folks at Bold Strokes Books have just published its prologue and first two chapters over on its pre-order page. If you fancy a taster of the book that’s “Brittier than Snowbound” (TM – my editor) then hit the link or continue reading this post.

There are big old spoilers in here, obviously.

Continue reading

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No Angels Here – 12 Hours on Shift with a Paramedic

I’ve worked for the ambulance service for thirteen years, eleven of those as a paramedic, and the last four of those leading a dual life as an author. My books tend to resemble my world – medical themes, with police, doctors, chaos, and violence – and I’ve always tried to keep them on the right side of realism. Bearing that in mind, none of my leading ladies are uber-heroines, those striding, muscle-ripped superwomen so beloved of cop/doc fiction, and the central pair in the Dark Peak series are no different. Sanne and Meg are bright, intuitive, and good at their jobs, but they get knackered, get puked on, laugh at the wrong things, and fuck up just like any of us. No Good Reason and its sequel, Cold to the Touch, are without a doubt the most personal books that I’ve written. They don’t just resemble my world, they pretty much are my world, so I thought I’d give prospective readers an idea as to what twelve hours in my stinking old work-boots involves…

ambo1

6 p.m. Monday

I’m tired before we even sign on. We’re right at the end of our four-week shift pattern, and I’ve worked days all weekend. I’d fallen asleep on the sofa at 9 p.m. Sunday night, been poured into bed by my wife, and slept straight through for twelve hours. It hasn’t helped, though. My brain feels like porridge and my short-term memory is next to nonexistent.

The day crew hand over to us on station, tell us what they’ve used (“fuck all”) and what the ambulance needs (“just a willing crew”). We sign on a couple of minutes later. Our regular vehicle is being serviced, so we’re on a pool motor with no radio to sing along to, no mobile phone, and a reluctance to change gear. We’re immediately passed a job: ?Meningitis at the local Integrated Care Centre. I bet my Work Wife a quid that it’ll be a kid with a simple viral infection. Unsurprisingly, she isn’t tempted.

Our patient is a rosy-cheeked toddler with a high temp and absolutely no symptoms of meningitis. He has a small, non-blanching blotch behind his ear that his dad noticed two days ago. If that really had been a sign of meningococcal septicaemia, he’d be dead by now. We transfer the child to Accident and Emergency where the triage nurse rolls her eyes and directs us round to Paediatrics.

As soon as we clear, we’re given a purple response – the most serious dispatch code (cardiac/respiratory arrest) – that’s subsequently been downgraded by the paramedic on the Rapid Response vehicle. The patient is an Oscar-worthy pensioner throwing herself around on the sofa and hyperventilating. Her family had met the RRV in tears, convinced that she was dying. She walks out to the ambulance unassisted, seemingly afflicted by the dire medical condition known as PVS (Poorly Voice Syndrome). In deference to the Work Wife, I put my foot down on the way in, glad that I’m driving.

My WW and I swap about after every job, so I attend the 84-year-old Asian chap with metastatic prostate cancer who’s cared for at home by his family. He’d stopped swallowing earlier in the day, and his son is struggling to push fluids. When the emergency doctor didn’t show up at 8 p.m. as arranged, the son had phoned 999. The patient is in a poor state: emaciated, doubly incontinent, hypotensive, and agitated. He clings to my hand in obvious distress. As we’re wondering whether moving him will actually kill him, the doctor shows up and tells us that a new medication the patient has recently started might make him “pick up a bit”. It’s hard to think of an appropriate response to that, so we focus on transferring the patient to the vehicle, relieved when his breathing grows shallow and more irregular but doesn’t stop. We pre-alert the hospital and take him straight into Resus. The rest of the shift is so manic that we never get a chance to check up on him, but it’s unlikely that he made it back home.

Monday nights are typically busy, and this one is no exception. The A&E is packed, all the cubicles are occupied, and there are no beds on the wards to admit patients to. Government targets dictate that patients should be admitted or discharged within four hours, a target that’s been missed nationally for months. One of our regulars grins when I greet her by name. I’m amazed that the smell of her hasn’t been enough to clear the waiting room.

As there’s no sign of us getting an official break, the WW and I treat ourselves to chocolate orange digestives and tea from a flask as we wait for our next job to be sent through. We used to be able to get a brew at the hospital, but the management long since stopped that. Still, it’s a poor paramedic who can’t get themselves a hot drink from somewhere, and most of us travel equipped now.

Two more red (immediate threat to life) responses follow. The first is a pregnant 27-year-old who’d vomited a single streak of blood. She walks out to the ambulance and her husband follows in the car, a scenario so commonplace we’ve stopped asking why they didn’t simply make their own way to A&E. No one in the UK is charged for calling an ambulance, so we’re often used as a free taxi service, and there’s a popular misconception that going in with us gets a patient seen quicker.

The second red is for a male complaining of “rocks dropping in his ears”. He’d phoned a national helpline for advice and didn’t want an ambulance. From his bed, he directs the WW to the kitchen drawer where he keeps his meds, and then yells at her for “rooting around”. He refuses to go to A&E, but we still have to take all his obs and complete paperwork before we can leave him at home.

It’s 11:21 p.m. and we’re en route to job #6. The WW asks for her glasses, announcing “Ah, I can see!” as she puts them on. I tighten my seatbelt a little. She’s been driving on blues for the last ten minutes.

We’ve slowly been dragged further out of our area all night, and we’re now 20 miles from our base station. The parents of our 16-year-old overdose have been told that her choice of tablets wasn’t life-threatening and advised to take her to A&E in the car. They did exactly that, but we’ve been sent anyway. We clear on scene, feeling like pillocks.

Job #7 is a 72-year-old female who “had chest pain earlier”. Earlier turns out to be six hours ago, when the doctor at the care facility had given her an aspirin and advised blood tests. Those bloods now indicate the patient had had a heart attack and, in a turn of events so backwards it’s mind-boggling, we’ve finally been called to take her to A&E. “Oh, we’ve had an outbreak of Norovirus, so she’s in isolation,” the nurse on the unit tells us. I promise her that I won’t lick anything.

The A&E we go to is so full that there are patients lying on beds by the nurses’ station with no privacy and little in the way of dignity. None of the staff bat an eyelid; it’s been like this all winter.

At 1:45 a.m. – almost eight hours after signing on – we land back on station for our first break. I eat half a tea-cake and some fruit, my eyelids drooping the instant I sit down. After exactly 30 minutes, our radios go off and we head out again to a 75-year-old female: “leg swollen after trapping it in a car door”. At least, that’s the information we’re given. On our arrival, she tells us the injury occurred eight weeks ago and she’d become panicky because her cellulitis was burning. It’s a typical 3 a.m. witching-hour call, and we spend half an hour on scene chatting to her. I make her a hot water bottle and a mug of apple tea that smells like old socks, and we leave her settled and reassured, with an appointment to see the district nurses in the morning.

Upon clearing, we receive our favourite message from Control: RTB – Return to Base. We’re both asleep within minutes of hitting station, the WW so insensible that she fails to hear the mouse rioting beneath the computer desk and mistakes her radio going off for her alarm clock, attempting unsuccessfully to snooze it.

Our 5:15 a.m. emergency will be our last of the night, and it’s local, so I tear-arse to it to stop us being diverted to anything out of area. Our patient is a drunk male who’d tried to walk to his sister’s to post her a birthday card, but decided to take a nap in the road. He’s lucky someone spotted him; the road is unlit and notorious for joy riders. There’s nothing wrong with him, but we take him to A&E to warm up and sober up. He’s pleasant enough, hasn’t wet himself, doesn’t try to clobber us, and is able to walk. Small victories, but victories all the same.

We clear at the hospital and make a mad dash to station, launching keys and radios at the day crew before we stumble to our cars. I get in bed at 7 a.m. and wake at 10:15. By 12:30 p.m. I’m still wide awake and so tired that I’m in tears. I have less than five hours before I have to go back in and do it all over again.

 

 

 

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Release Date and Cover for Cold to the Touch (Dark Peak II)

No Good Reason (the first in the Dark Peak series of crime thrillers) isn’t out till June, but time waits for no woman and I’ve been hard at work both editing No Good Reason and trying to get its sequel – Cold to the Touch – ready for submission to BSB. I had originally thought March, 2016 for Cold, but was pleasantly surprised (and slightly panicked!) to be told that the book will actually be coming out in December, 2015. So, um, let me be the first to wish you all a Merry Christmas :-)

I’m going to sit on its blurb for a while longer, but this is its rather lovely cover…

Cold to the Touch final 300 DPI

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