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Mystery drama

Mystery drama


 Link to Amazon book page for Alternative Outcome

About this blog

This blog is embedded as a section of my main website, www.peterrowlands.com. You can either browse blogs posts and upload responses from this blog section, or use the top nav menu to move around the rest of the website.

Link to Amazon book page for Deficit of Diligence

Read this. No don’t! Yes, do.

My new mystery thriller, Deficit of Diligence, is out now! It’s a sequel to the earlier Alternative Outcome, and follows the fortunes of downbeat journalist and would-be novelist Mike Stanhope as he settles into his new life in the West Country.

As you’ll quickly find out, he doesn’t actually get much breathing space. He’s soon on the move to the north of England, where a lot happens to him in a remarkably short time. His part-time boss has an assignment for him there, and he also has his own agenda – to find out more about a mysterious legacy.

But here’s a bit of a puzzle. I want to promote my new novel, but for people who haven’t read the first novel, the new one contains spoilers. So what should my message be? I want to say, “My new book is out, but please don’t read it – read the other one.” Yet that sounds daft!

Deficit of Diligence - link to Amazon book page

Deficit of Diligence – the new mystery drama from Peter Rowlands

I suppose it’s wonderful when anybody reads any book of mine, so perhaps I shouldn’t worry too much about who reads what, or in which order. But I don’t want to deter people from reading the first book by letting them find out too much about it in the second. Is this a problem for all series writers?

All I can say is, if you like the sound of my new book but you haven’t read the first one yet, you’ll find it will pay you to start there. But if you’re determined to lunge straight into the second, please don’t let me stop you!


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Voices from 1943

The diary

The other day, poking around in the loft, I stumbled on a remarkable diary – a real-life snapshot of what now seems a very distant past. It’s an account of a cycling tour of scenic Scotland by two women in their mid-twenties in July 1943. One of them was my mother; the other was one of her closest friends. I’d seen it when I was young, but re-reading it in the present day was like discovering it all over again.

They’d had it typed so that they could send it to loved ones away at war, and my family’s copy was given cardboard covers, which probably helped to preserve it. And what a revelation it is! We tend to see the second world war through the prism of black and white photographs, bombing and devastation, battles and retreats, successes and disaster. This is another view. The grind of war is there in the background, but the diary shows that for brief moments it was still possible for the lucky few to escape.

Cast of characters

What is most striking about the diary is its freshness and immediacy. Its two voices are united in recollection of something which to them was a real achievement. They’d cycled nearly 300 miles over some extremely challenging terrain, and clearly loved every minute of it. The grandeur of the Scottish landscape shines out, but equally striking are the many different characters they encountered along the way. “You really do live, and you meet all sorts of people,” my mother wrote afterwards. “You see the country so much better than when you’re motoring.”

They never intended the diary to be seen by the wider world, but it reads almost like a series of sketches for some long-forgotten film – perhaps a cross between Powell & Pressburger and an Ealing comedy.

The text is scattered with period slang that now seems quaint, and is infused with an acceptance of wartime experiences that seem alien to us, but had become part of daily life back then – frequent encounters with soldiers of various nationalities, the sight of military convoys (yes, even in the highlands), and amphibious aircraft on the river Tay.

Quiet confidence

Beyond all that, it’s an accessible, everyday account of two people operating outside their normal comfort zone, yet apparently never doubting their ability to accomplish what they’d taken on. Maybe their maturity was borne of the rigours of life in wartime Britain. Whatever the source, they convey an air of quiet confidence that rings out across the decades.

Does it add up to anything more than a curiosity? I’d like to think so – which is why I’ve decided to do something my mother could never have dreamed of; I’ve put the whole thing on my web site. It’s intriguing and engaging, and brings to life a largely forgotten aspect of social life during the second world war. If you take a look, I hope you’ll see why I was so entranced by it.

Click here to go to the first page of the diary section.

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The old normal – will it ever come back?

Musings on the upcoming publication of my latest thriller

Novelists, like most people, tend to take a lot for granted. Characters in books may differ in detail from one to another, and may do different things with each other or to each other; but they tend to do it on a known, unchanging stage. The scenery might vary from time to time, much as it would in a theatre, but that doesn’t change the basics. The stage is solid, and the actors simply stride across it, acting out their drama in the foreground.

Then along comes a game-changer like coronavirus. Suddenly the whole context of storytelling is altered. Devastatingly, people who expected to live a lot longer are dying in their thousands. Meanwhile, world travel is vastly curtailed. Friends avoid touching each other. Strangers steer clear of each other in the street. Eating out grinds to a halt. The world economy totters. Social distancing may not always be observed as strictly as our leaders would like, but its very existence has meant a sweeping behavioral change in society. People are talking about a “new normal” which will presumably leave the old normal behind.

As a result, all past fiction suddenly looks outdated. Did couples really kiss when they’d only just met? Did people really flock to rallies, football matches, cinemas, restaurants, bars, marketplaces? Was there really a time when it was safe to go shopping without fearing unseen danger? It’s all so yesterday.

Reflecting the new reality

So what is the novelist of today and tomorrow to make of all this? To ignore it would be to deny reality in a way that verges on science fiction. Yet to reflect it presents a challenge unprecedented in modern times (yes, I know that’s a cliché) in the way the novel has to be thought about and constructed.

Ironically, the only kind of writing that is really immune to the effects of all this is science fiction. Just think of all the books and films that hypothesise a distopian world of disease and disaster. Maybe the new science fiction will end up imagining a world where there was no coronavirus?

Plenty of novels have already speculated about the possible causes of the pandemic. They’ve explored conspiracy theories and pointed the finger of blame at individuals and governments. More will doubtless follow as further information filters out in in the real world about the origins and spread of the disease.

But what about writers with a story to tell that has nothing to do with the virus? Are they now denied the opportunity to show people going about their lives as they did before – eating in restaurants, falling in love, travelling around freely, doing their jobs?

One solution might be for writers to set the action of their books in the recent (or not-so-recent) past, but there has to be a dramatic imperative to do that. To shift the time backwards gratuitously might solve the coronavirus problem, but it would risk leaving a question mark dangling over everything else.

In any case, a bigger question is whether readers would actually want new fiction that disregards or denies the pandemic, and implies that the “new normal” doesn’t exist. It’s one thing to read and enjoy a book that was written before the virus came along, quite another to read one that pretends it didn’t.

All these thoughts have been running through my mind as I’ve approached publication of my latest mystery thriller, Now or Not at All. This was written before the pandemic struck, but is only seeing the light of day now that we know all about it. A part of me almost feels I should be apologising for unleashing a book into the world that doesn’t take account of what’s been happening in it.

I’ve concluded that I can’t re-work the book any more than I can rewrite history. It reflects preoccupations at a moment in time – a moment that appears to have passed. Hopefully it will stand on its merits, regardless of what has happened since.

Where do authors go next?

What I’m wondering now is where authors go next. How long will it be before the characters in novels can stop worrying about social distancing, travel constraints and the sweeping changes we’ve seen in personal behaviour? How long before the fractured stage of our daily lives is reassembled, and we can take previous norms for granted again? I accept that the virus and its aftermath will offer endless opportunities for new dramatic themes, but I’m already yearning for a world where the time-honoured delights and struggles of daily life come back to the fore, and I’m not forced to take account of a once-in-a-generation disaster (at least, I hope it is) that skews the storytelling process.

Past upheavals had much the same distorting effect on literature, and many lasted a lot longer than the experts say this pandemic will. The second world war went on for six years, and much of the writing that came out of it inevitably took it into account. The war didn’t diminish the impact of the best of the work from that period, but it did cast a pall on the subject matter and the contextual backdrop.

Eventually the new peace reasserted itself, and writers were free to turn their attention to whatever other preoccupations interested them. I wonder how long it will be before authors in our generation are equally free to make their own choices of what they write about again, without appearing to evade and dissemble if they disregard the glaringly obvious? Let’s hope for all our sakes, not just for the benefit of literary freedom, that it won’t be too long.

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The challenge of getting noticed

How do self-published authors sell their books? The answer, in most cases, is through a combination of hard work and hard cash (the latter being for required for ongoing advertising and promotion).

The Concrete Ceiling, by Peter RowlandsIn The Concrete Ceiling, the latest mystery in the Mike Stanhope series (out now!), Mike decides that if he focuses on the cash angle he may be able to shortcut the process. He spends a lot more than he should to promote his own book; but instead of ramping up sales, he quickly finds himself in all kinds of trouble.

In a way, The Concrete Ceiling is a mirror on itself – an offbeat look at the lengths writers of books like this need to go to in their efforts to find readers. And this means that in some respects it’s the most satisfying book I’ve written so far.

I’m relieved to say I’ve never faced the kinds of problem Mike encounters here, but like him, I’ve come to realise that getting traction for self-published books really is hard. I feel for him in his frustration, and I’ve enjoyed showing the world what it can be like. As he’s all too aware, it doesn’t matter how good your book is; people won’t read it if they don’t know about it – and putting it in front of enough readers to make a real impact is challenging. Very challenging.

Don’t worry; at heart Concrete Ceiling is a mystery thriller, not an essay on the trials of getting your book to market! It’s a breathless ride as Mike struggles to understand what he’s unleashed, and at the same time attempts to straighten out his tangled love life. His girlfriend is half-way across the world (and seems happy to keep it that way), but the new woman he’s fallen for is heading into a relationship with someone else. He has a lot to contend with.

The plot has some sudden swerves that may initially surprise you, but lead unerringly back to the beginning. Early readers have told me it’s the fastest-moving episode yet in the Mike Stanhope series.

All that being said, the underlying theme did give me the chance to air some of the issues that plague most self-published authors. A lot of those authors probably wish, like Mike, that they could simply dip into their pockets, spend as much money as they could possibly afford, and boost their book into the mainstream. I certainly do! But I sense that it would be an enormous gamble, and in any case I’m not sure where or how I would place my money. Hopefully not as injudiciously as Mike does; but then, he’s just plain unlucky.

Maybe this book about someone trying to promote their book will help me get a bit more exposure. Or maybe I need to write a book about a book about someone trying to sell their self-published book?

This could run and run.

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Book delay? Blame Brexit!

A quick apology to readers who have been looking out for The Concrete Ceiling, the next novel in the Mike Stanhope Mysteries series. It was due out in early 2019, but has been delayed until March. However, it’s nearly ready, and I hope you’ll find it just as engrossing as its predecessors. Watch this space!

If you’re wondering what happened, blame Brexit. I’ve been so absorbed by what’s going on in the UK that everything else seems to have been neglected. I simply can’t believe the massive harm the country is about to inflict on itself. I feel as if our government is wandering blindfolded over a cliff.

I wrote a thriller with a Brexit background a year ago, but what’s happening now is stranger than fiction. To tell you the truth, I’m hoping I’ll wake up one day and find it was all a dream – a bit like the death of Dallas’s Bobby Ewing, if you remember that far back. He was killed off in the series’ 1986 season, then brought back to life two seasons later by popular demand. His death, we were told, had simply been someone’s dream.

In the case of Brexit, it’s more like a nightmare. All the polls now show that if there were a referendum tomorrow, Remain would come out on top. People who were too young to vote last time would overwhelmingly vote Remain, so the balance is unlikely to shift. So why is the UK government doggedly insisting on implementing something that the majority of Brits don’t want, and will probably never want in future? It’s defies all logic.

It’s not too late for campaigners to push through with a second referendum, and that’s what I’m hoping for. Will it happen? We shall see.


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The Brexit questions the media fail to ask

Have you ever sat watching TV or listening the radio in mute outrage? I feel as if that’s what I’ve been doing endlessly for months. Almost every time there’s been an interview about Brexit, the interviewer has ignored or skated round the most obvious questions. I’d almost call it a conspiracy – except that then you’d mark me down as paranoid.

I’m writing this as we await the “meaningful vote” on the Government’s referendum deal on 15 January 2019. And I’m wondering how it can be that Britain is saddled with a Parliament packed with people advocating a policy that clearly no longer has the support of the majority of its population.

A lot of these politicians seem determined to achieve some sort of Brexit “because it was in our manifesto”, or because the public voted for it nearly three years ago. They don’t seem to care that there’s now such a strong groundswell of opinion against it. No wonder so many people have lost faith in the political process.

Meanwhile the media, who should be championing the views of the populace, are instead caught up in their own process. To take a simple example, when Theresa May’s Government says the failure to agree a Brexit deal would be “a catastrophe for democracy”, why do interviewers consistently fail to ask, “Why? Exactly what aspect of democracy would be undermined by taking stock, and testing current public opinion?”

In the BBC’s case, the organisation also seems paralysed by a terror of appearing to favour one side or the other. This is especially bizarre, given the rather contradictory fact that ever since the referendum of 2016, the BBC has adopted a base position that Brexit is inevitable. It may well have given air time to Remainers, but always with the prevailing assumption that their stance is dissonant, marginal and even heretical in some way. There’s been a hidden partiality in the entire tenor of its reporting, which rather makes a mockery of its supposed even-handedness.

Incidentally, on the day of the vote I noticed a typical example of this weighted reporting in an article on the BBC web site about the implications of the vote for the value of sterling. It suggested a small surge in its value if the doomed deal were approved by Parliament, and even went so far as to say that a delay in implementing Article 50 would also see a rise. But nowhere did it describe the implications for the pound if Britain were not to leave the EU at all. Why not? Surely that would see the biggest possible rise in sterling’s value?

I have every respect for principled Leave supporters. They’re just as entitled to their opinion as I am to mine. Of course they want to implement the 2016 referendum. So would I, in their shoes. But there’s a big difference between holding a view and claiming that it is supported by a majority, when in reality that majority has shrunk to a minority – which is what all current opinion polls suggest.

Admittedly, the claim that the Leave vote was influenced by lies and illegal spending is a nebulous one. It’s probably true, but hard to quantify – as is the belief that many people were voting against austerity and poor government, not against the European Union. Rightly or wrongly, voters in democracies are not required to explain or justify their decisions.

What is not tenable is the claim that it would be a “betrayal” in some way to disregard the result of the 2016 referendum by holding another. This is simply making a mockery of the very notion of democracy. It’s what despots do after they’re voted into power.

Sadly the media seem conspicuously incapable of pressing this piece of hard logic on politicians. So here are the questions I would ask Brexit advocates in their shoes – the questions I crave to hear, but so often don’t:

  • Given that nearly half of voters favoured Remain in 2016 in spite of the lies and disinformation spread about the alleged benefits of Brexit, how can you constantly claim that “Britain” voted for Brexit? What about the 48 per cent who didn’t, those who have changed their minds, and those who didn’t or couldn’t vote last time – perhaps because they were too young then?
  • Since the public know far more about the implications of Brexit than they did in 2016, why would it be wrong to allow them to restate their opinion in a second referendum?
  • If it could be proved that the majority of the public no longer want any kind of Brexit, would you still insist on implementing the 2016 referendum vote regardless?
  • If the 2016 vote was democratic, why would another one not be?

If I were in the interviewer’s chair, I would not allow evasions or distractions until I got answers to the above, or at least an outright refusal to answer.

That’s easy for me to say, of course, when I’m not in the hot seat. I realise a media interview is not a court of law or an inquisition, and politicians are not compelled to participate. The very process of conducting an interview and actually eliciting meaningful answers is a political one (with a small “p”), and I greatly admire the most skilled practitioners of the art. But even they are not immune to following the question sheet instead of probing for real answers.

History will not look kindly on those who have consistently failed to do that, and have allowed themselves to be obsessed with process to the detriment of substance.


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Where is this mythical pro-Brexit majority?

I’m a writer, not a politician or an activist. My fondest wish is to get my novels in front of readers. Yet as Britain stumbles towards the disaster that is Brexit, I’ve had to hijack my own blog in order to voice my anguish over this miserable, misconceived saga.

And as the UK Government embarks on a programme to convince the country to applaud the ludicrous Brexit deal it has just signed in Brussels (I’m writing this in November 2018), I can’t resist voicing my disgust at the cynical, manipulative, transparently dishonest and unrepentantly revisionist way they’re trying to convince the British people that it’s a “good thing”.

What I can’t understand is why so many politicians who claimed to be Remainers in the past are so determined to endorse this ridiculous so-called deal, instead of standing back and questioning why we need to proceed with Brexit at all. If they all stood firm and simply said, “Let’s not do this,” it would go away – and a according to recent polls, a reported 54 per cent of the population (at least) would give a wild cheer.

Instead, they insist that their Brexit plan respects the will of some mythical majority who want it. What majority? A tiny majority of voters may have opted for Brexit two and a half years ago, but why does that mean we must disregard what voters want now, with their much greater understanding of the implications of leaving the EU?

Governments are happy enough to call snap general elections if they think the sway of public opinion happens to favour their party more than it did when they were voted into office – so by that standard, what is wrong with testing the current popular view of this infinitely more far-reaching measure? Why not check whether people really meant it when they voted to leave the EU, and find out how many of them would vote that way now?

It seems to me that there is absolutely no defensible argument to justify the implementation Brexit against the apparent wish of a majority of the current population – or to deny that population the opportunity to test public opinion in a confirmatory referendum.

Therefore I can only assume that the parade of pro-Remain MPs advocating Theresa May’s half-baked Brexit deal are revealing monumental self-interest – elevating their own political fears and ambitions far above the long-term best interests of United Kingdom. Shame on them!

Either that, or we’re experiencing a “King’s New Clothes” phenomenon of unprecedented magnitude, in which politicians are not merely disporting themselves naked because that’s what their leader is doing, metaphorically speaking, but are rushing like lemmings to follow their leader over a cliff. And that’s without confronting that other kind of  “cliff edge” – the no-deal Brexit scenario we’ve been warned about for months.

I have to assume they’re not that stupid … but if not, what am I missing?


If you see a book cover flagged up against this blog, and it’s for my novel Alternative Outcome, I have to smile at the appropriateness of the title. Ironically, that book has nothing to do with Brexit, but I’ve written another novel that does! It’s called Never Going to Happen, and it sets the Brexit debate in the context of a fast-moving thriller. It’s on Amazon, and was published under the pen-name Anders Teller.


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Democracy means democracy: why Brexit time-lag could prove Remainers’ salvation

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times: the Brexit referendum vote must be implemented because it represents “the democratic will of the people”. What utter, unmitigated nonsense!

When future generations look back on this whole fiasco, this is possibly the aspect they will regard as the most bizarre. How could a flawed, two-year-old vote on a bland, unqualified question – leave or remain? – seriously be considered a true democratic mandate? Why should the citizens of today and tomorrow have their futures dictated by something so insubstantial when it’s already in the past?

Hey ho, say the Brexit supporters; that’s democracy for you. Live with it. But they can’t escape the greatest weakness – but perhaps it’s also the greatest strength – in the whole concept of any referendum, and especially this one. Quite simply, it’s the time lag between the vote and its implementation.

Whether or not you consider the referendum outcome fair or reasonable, the fact is that it couldn’t be acted on overnight. There was a process to go through. As we all know now, that process was destined to take a minimum of two years and nine months. That’s the time lag between the vote itself and the date on which Article 50, Britain’s departure, is due to take effect in 2019.

No one can lay blame anywhere for this time lag. In nation-changing developments like this, such a thing is inevitable. There are so many issues to agree on, so many decisions to make; there’s so much new law to put into place.

“The Britain which is approaching the Brexit date is not the same Britain as the one responsible for that fateful vote “

But no one can deny the reality of the time-lag either. It has happened. Brexit supporters need to live with that. What it means is that the Britain which is approaching the Brexit date is not the same Britain as the one responsible for that fateful vote. Electors are now more savvy. They know what they’ll be losing by leaving the EU as well as what they might have to gain. They are far less ready to be taken in by lies about the likely outcome.

Opinion polls in the latter half of 2018 have repeatedly shown that in a new referendum the remain camp would stand a good chance of winning. So standing back from this, what do we have? A Government determined to implement a ill-informed decision taken more than two years ago, despite widespread and growing evidence that the majority of its citizens no longer support it.

What possible, conceivable logic could there ever be in any rational society for driving through a world-changing decision like Brexit on such an utterly flawed basis?

“What possible, conceivable logic could there ever be in any rational society for driving through a world-changing decision like Brexit on such an utterly flawed basis?”

That decision, moreover, could take at least a generation to reverse. Some people compare the referendum to an election vote, but snap elections can be called overnight, and the political direction of a country can shift in a blink. Brexit can’t. If we leave the EU, for many UK citizens it will effectively be forever.

Some people worry that a second referendum would throw the country into a new period of chaos, but this is simply a fear whipped up by pro-Brexit panic. If we voted to remain in a new referendum, we could simply halt the Brexit process, and life would go on as before. Yes, there would be a lot of rethinking and some pretty massive political fallout, but we’re still in the EU now, and we still would be after the vote.

If, on the other hand, by some strange quirk we voted again to leave, well, hard or soft, Brexit would be ready to roll. Again, nothing would be lost.

The time lag is the enemy of Brexit supporters, which is why they are becoming increasingly strident in shouting down anyone who dares to suggest a rethink and a new public vote. They’re determined that yesterday’s suspect vote should dictate the shape of tomorrow.

“The time lag is the enemy of Brexit supporters, which is why they are becoming increasingly strident in shouting down anyone who dares to suggest a rethink and a new public vote.”

So should we have any sympathy at all for the fact that the Brexiteers have had to hold their breath for two and a half years before they could get their way? No! Let’s just be thankful that the time lag was necessary. Think what would have happened if we’d somehow been forced to quit the EU the day after the referendum. Decisions of this magnitude need reflection, and arguably two and half years has barely been enough.

Meanwhile, young people are overwhelming opposed to Brexit, and the longer we wait to implement it, the more of them will be around to oppose it. No wonder the leavers are so worried.

“You can’t undermine democracy with more democracy” – David Lammy, MP

But what about the Brexiteers’ insistence that the two-year-old vote was democratic, and must be upheld at all costs? The MP David Lammy has knocked that one conclusively on the head. “You can’t undermine democracy with more democracy,” he’s pointed out. In other words, it can never be wrong to ask people if they’ve changed their minds.

Two years ago the Leavers were delivering a constant cry: “Brexit means Brexit.” It’s time to put forward another one: “Democracy means democracy.” In a rational society, democracy is a dynamic thing. It doesn’t simply stutter to a halt at the casting of a vote.

“In a rational society, democracy is a dynamic thing. It doesn’t simply stutter to a halt at the casting of a vote”

To put it another way, why should a generation of citizens have to suffer the outcome of Brexit for a decade or more, when in the two short years since the original vote it has already become increasingly clear that the majority don’t appear to want it?

That’s the truly democratic question we should be asking. And we should be asking it now, in a public vote.

Peter Rowlands


If you see a book cover flagged up against this blog, and it’s for my novel Alternative Outcome, I have to smile at the appropriateness of the title. Ironically, that book has nothing to do with Brexit, but I’ve written another novel that does! It’s called Never Going to Happen, and it sets the Brexit debate in the context of a fast-moving thriller. It’s on Amazon, and was published under the pen-name Anders Teller.


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“If Brexit goes ahead” – the referendum’s most insidious taboo

Has someone invented an infallible crystal ball? Reading a lot of Brexit reporting in the press and hearing it in the broadcast media, you would certainly think so.

Here's a book title that could turn out to have some prescience!

Here’s a book title that could turn out to have some prescience!

As far as I know, sitting here in September 2018, the United Kingdom has not yet left the European Union. That development is not scheduled to happen for nearly six months. Therefore no one in the known universe can predict at this stage how Brexit will eventually play out – or crucially, whether it will play out at all.

Yet every report I hear on the BBC, along with many that I read in newspapers, treats Brexit as an absolute, unstoppable, cast-iron certainty. Four little words are missing from all these reports: “if Brexit goes ahead”.

This reveals a terrifying flight of reason in the face of Political Correctness (yes, with a capital P and a capital C). The reporters writing these stories would never dare to suggest that any other future world event is bound to happen by immutable law. Yet somehow, rules of logic have been thrown away in the reporting of Brexit. Merely because there was a referendum on the subject more than two years ago, reporters and editors have apparently decided they are to duty-bound treat the implications of the vote with absolute, unshakeable certainty.

You only have to make a small leap in imagination to see the utter folly of this reasoning. Just suppose for a tiny moment that Brexit does not go ahead. It is possible, after all. The earth might be struck by a meteorite, for instance. Britain might have a general election. There might be a “no” vote in a second referendum. All these scenarios, whether likely or not, are possible.

If that does happen, then all the certainty about Brexit exhibited by the BBC (and of course by all the pro-Brexit politicians) will be exposed as having been based on a false assumption, not on any practical reality. All those confident pronouncements about “when Britain leaves the EU” will be seen for what they were – hot air. It will become clear that all along, the word “when” should have been replaced by “if”.

I am a lifelong supporter of the BBC, so it saddens me to single it out for criticism in this way, but on the subject of Brexit it has turned itself into a stubbornly insistent, if perhaps unwitting, apologist for the pro-Brexit camp. And all because of its pursuit of so-called “objectivity”.

I understand why this has happened; the BBC is terrified of being accused of breaking the impartiality obligation written into its charter. But I would argue that its dogged assumption that Brexit will go ahead it not in fact impartial or objective; it is based on a false premise.

The trouble is that the two pieces of wording have not been recognised as opposites. If used to qualify the content of news reports, the phrase “if Brexit goes ahead” would be seen as revolutionary and subversive, whereas “when Brexit goes ahead” is accepted as merely expressing the mythical “will of the people” (as determined by a close-run and deeply flawed referendum process). It is assumed to reflect a universally accepted reality.

It does not. “When Brexit goes ahead” is insidiously manipulative, and just as pointed in its implications as the “if” phrase would be. It treats as a certainty something which, however likely or unlikely, is at best a possibility. In fact in some ways it’s worse than “if”, since it postulates the outcome as inevitable, when at least the “if” phrase leaves room for doubt. “When Brexit goes ahead” is a silent killer – for the most part accepted and tolerated, rather than being seen for the hidden political statement that it is.

Unfortunately, the BBC can look for support to numerous politicians on both sides of the  divide – and that includes people who, even though originally Remainers, now claim to view Brexit as unavoidable, and obstinately parrot arguments about “the democratic decision of the people” in defence of their stance, as if a one-off vote two years ago had to stand for all time. It’s difficult to understand what fears or foibles might have prompted such people to become clairvoyants.

“When Brexit goes ahead” has now become so ingrained in the BBC’s thinking that it infuses its every utterance on this subject. Even when the organisation gives airtime to Brexit opponents, which in fairness it does on a frequent basis, there’s always an implication that these people are operating on the fringes of societal norms, and have little if any chance of getting their way … because “Brexit will happen,” come what may.

I’m a realist. I know the BBC couldn’t suddenly start inserting “if Brexit goes ahead” into its reporting. Such a move would instantly undermine the pro-Brexit cause in such a blatant fashion that the director general would presumably be fired within minutes.

Yet as momentum builds behind the drive to revisit Brexit, and even to hold a second referendum, I can’t help feeling disappointed that the BBC seems to be lagging so far behind popular opinion favouring a rethink on the subject. If the organisation could somehow weave a more genuinely impartial tone into its Brexit reporting, that would actually reflect the impartiality it is supposed to uphold.

Claiming that “when Brexit goes ahead” reflects objective reality is about as plausible as arguing that it is possible to predict who will win the next World Cup … or who will win Britain’s next general election.

Any takers?

My novel Never Going to Happen, written under the pen-name Anders Teller, explores the two sides of the Brexit debate in the context of a fast-action thriller that is also a mystery and a romance. More details here.

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Fixed in time?

Can a novel work if it’s set against unresolved real-world events?

What if, for instance, someone had written a thriller whose backdrop was the election battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – and the book had come out before the election result was known? Could that have worked?

I’m hoping the answer is yes, because that’s the approach I’ve taken with a new mystery drama, Never Going to Happen, which I launched under the pen-name Anders Teller in March 2018*. One of its underlying themes is Britain’s tortured progress towards leaving the European Union, and the book was released more than a year before that process sees any kind of resolution.

Does it matter? I don’t think so. First and foremost, this is a personal drama, a mystery thriller and a romance, and it includes themes entirely unrelated to the dreaded word “Brexit”. The twists at the end (and there are several crackers, if I might be so bold as to say so) don’t depend on how our real-life politicians conclude the Brexit process. Whether you read the book now, while the clamour is still going on, or five years hence, when we know how it all turned out, I believe you will experience the same satisfying and rounded story.

In that case, why have I featured Brexit at all? It’s because the subject has thrown up so many challenging issues – fake news, the rise of populism, the power of the internet to manipulate opinion, and above all, the belief that the referendum vote somehow legitimised the expression of extremist views and the entitlement to shout down dissenting opinion.

I thought these issues might make a compelling quasi-real backdrop to a fictional story – one about shadowy people who are trying to reshape the way world events will turn out.

Some readers might still argue that they want a “story arc” that is set within a known and settled contextual framework. They might rebel at the idea that the real-world events raised within the book should continue after the story has ended, and may not turn out as the people in the book would like.

As far as my book is concerned, my answer is that it sets its own bounds, and simply doesn’t rely on real-world outcomes. It isn’t really very different from other such books – it just has a slightly more contemporary feel.

Obviously it won’t be contemporary in ten years’ time! But I don’t think that matters. By way of analogy, dozens of films were made during the second world war: not just propaganda films, but also human dramas that used the war simply as illustrative context. Most were released long before the outcome of the war was known. The ones that over-played the sentimentalist, rabble-rousing themes probably sank without trace, but those that homed in on universal issues and enduring values had a much longer shelf life.

I won’t be so bold as to make such claims for Never Going to Happen, but I do think it deals with timeless themes that are not tied to Brexit or to any other specific world event.

*Never Going to Happen is now available worldwide in Kindle e-reader format from Amazon, and is also available from Amazon in paperback.

Read more at my publishing arm: www.tophampublishing.com
Link to Amazon book page: click here


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The heroism of the average man

Should we approve of everything done by the leading character in a novel? Should he or she be a “hero” in the traditional sense, or should such characters exhibit normal human flaws such as occasional bad judgement and indecision?

You might respond that it depends what kind of book we’re talking about. Perhaps heroic adventures do demand appropriate heroism, you might say. By contrast, arguably a book about “your average man” (whoever that might be) should portray average strengths and weaknesses.

But even pure adventures need conflict and crisis; and this, surely, means that heroes can’t always be invincible. If they were, there wouldn’t be any drama. So perhaps the only difference between “levels of perfection” in different types of book lies in the detail.

The reason I raise this is that one or two otherwise positive reviewers of my stories have complained that Mike, my leading character, can sometimes be weak and indecisive. They say that this has stopped them giving the books the highest rating.

Now it’s not up to me to tell reviewers what they should think of my books. I feel enormously indebted to every single one of them for taking the time to write about the books at all. I try to learn from any adverse criticism.

All the same, their point about Mike’s alleged failings has me slightly puzzled. It’s not as if he’s constantly bowing to pressure from others, or conceding in arguments and avoiding conflict. In many ways he’s quite tough-minded.

But I’ve deliberately given him a few flaws. He’s sometimes self-doubting, sometimes evasive, even a little naive when it comes to relationships. Basically he’s human, and that means imperfection. He wants to do the right thing, but can’t always decide what that is.

I would have thought that this sums up what most of us are like; and that’s precisely the point of my books. I’ve tried to create a character readers can identify with, and then I’ve aimed to get those readers wondering how they would deal with the challenges I pose for him.

Usually, by a combination of luck and perseverance, Mike ends up in the position where we want him to be. What’s more, he often notches up incidental successes along the way – saving a business in Alternative Outcome, for instance, or finding a buyer for publishing company in Denial of Credit. But he doesn’t pull these things off through conventional heroism; he does it by his forthright manner – his impetuousness even – and by reasoning his way through each crisis as it comes along. If anything, what redeems him is the heroism of the average man.

To me, each book is a twin story; it’s about my leading character’s battle against some kind of external adversity, and it’s also about his struggle to summon up the best in himself.

Some reviewers have kindly said they find Mike a very strong character – a surprising contrast to the views of those who are unhappy with him. This is very gratifying, even if (as I suspect) these more positive reviewers actually mean he is “a strongly-written flawed character”. That’s exactly what I intended. But as I said, I do listen to criticism, so perhaps my challenge is to ensure that Mike’s strengths and weaknesses continue to balance out to a character readers like and care about – someone whose story they want to follow.

I’m keeping that constantly in mind.

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© Peter Rowlands 2022



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© Peter Rowlands 2022





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About me

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