Friday, 18 May 2012

Back from the sea

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been away for a while. In the parlance of crime fiction, ‘been away’ is often synonymous with a stretch in the slammer at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t apply in my case. It’s really been a combination of several different factors, including editing two books for my two main publishers, producing a collection of short stories, short ghost stories in fact, for The Endeavour Press, and knocking a rambling series of diary entries into shape for another almost full-length book for the same publishing house. Of which more next week.
            And in the middle of all this lot, I also did a couple of cruises, which had the effect of distracting me somewhat, but also meant that Internet and email access was difficult, slow and sometimes unavailable. For those unfamiliar with the system on board cruise ships, it uses a satellite link which is expensive for obvious reasons, and also slow, more akin to a dial-up connection than ADSL.
            The first cruise was on board the newly refurbished Saga Sapphire, and it’s fair to say that it was not wholly successful. It was the ship’s inaugural cruise, and that can often be problematic. In this case, it certainly was. The intention was to do a 23-day jaunt around the western Mediterranean, going as far as Venice, but about a week before the ship was due to sail from Southampton my agent contacted me to say that for technical reasons this was going to be abbreviated to 18 days, and with an altered itinerary. That necessitated a certain amount of rewriting, because on this cruise I was lecturing on the destinations. When I joined the ship, they were still having problems, and we sailed two days late, which required further adjustments to the route the ship would take. Finally, when the ship reached Valencia, the engineering staff discovered further mechanical problems which meant that the vessel would have to remain in port for some days, and the cruise terminated at that point.
            What was made very clear was the care that Saga took with its passengers, and the concern the company felt about what they obviously saw as their failure. The reality was that the problems were entirely mechanical in nature, and there was nothing that the ship’s staff could do to alleviate them. Every passenger received a full refund for the cost of the cruise, and all were repatriated to the UK by the route of their choice, and they were offered a hefty discount off their next cruise. The company genuinely could not have done more. The downside, obviously, was the aborted cruise, but the upside was the food, which was excellent, and the staff who were universally brilliant.
            The second cruise was on the Seabourn Quest, a genuine six-star ship, and that was delightful, with no problems at all. Even the weather was great, with flat calm seas and brilliant sunshine every day except the first, when we sailed from Venice.
            Anyway, despite the undeniable attractions of these two floating hotels, and the allure of the various ports we visited, I did manage to get some work done. The editing took up most of my time, because of the looming deadlines, and the Simon & Schuster novel in particular required a lot of work because of the difficulty in balancing the demands of the story with the importance of the historical events around which it was set. It was quite a relief to finally finish that and turn my attention to something a bit less demanding: the supernatural.
            Sanctuary is a collection of ghost stories that I’ve written over the years whenever the mood took me, and which I’d never tried to get published before, simply because short stories – apart from romantic short fiction for women’s magazines – are notoriously difficult to sell. But knocked together into a short book, and authored by Tom Kasey, they seem to work quite well.
And a few people are even buying the book, so I must be doing something right!

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