My New Book – Historical Crime Thriller – Black Danube

I have finished a labour of love. It took me months of exhaustive research to be able to write my new novel, Black Danube. I am trying to get an agent/publisher interested in it, so I am prepared for a long slog of pitching and being rejected. I posted some articles about my research a while ago, you can view them here:

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/forgotten-women-madam-dora-part-one/

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/the-man-behind-the-mug-shot/

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/the-inventor-of-crime-scene-photography/

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A bit of blurb 

To escape an abusive marriage Sophia Jäger becomes Leo Katz, a shy young man with a camera walking the streets of Vienna in 1899. Mingling amongst other immigrants, he successfully passes for a journalist and crime photographer until pathologist in training Lucy Strauss becomes the object of his affections.

When a series of macabre killings thrusts them into Vienna’s sordid underbelly of secret societies and corrupt officials, Leo risks revealing his true identity to save an innocent woman accused of the murders. Now, exposed and in mortal danger, Leo struggles with a choice. Should he confide in Lucy, telling her he is a she, hoping Lucy will love the person behind the disguise? Or, should he keep his dark secret, ending their passionate relationship forever?

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Anyway, I thought I’d post an extract from the first chapter. Hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment.

Black Danube

I stood on the platform of the Kaiser Franz Josef Railway station in bare feet. I had no luggage or hat. People ambled past taking side-long looks, shaking their heads as if to say, ‘Ah, another penniless immigrant. Vienna is going to the dogs.’

The top two buttons on my dark brown waistcoat popped open. I clutched at my chest, hunched my shoulders, and pulled my gaberdine tight to hide my defective attire. A high-pitched whistle blew and a cloud of light grey smoke surrounded me. Metal wheels scraping along the track screeched so loud I thought I would never hear again. Gradually, the noise faded. I wiped mist left by the steam train from my face and tried to focus. But my eyes were fuzzy as though I had indulged in an excess of alcohol.

I unfastened my stiff shirt collar to let in some air and scuttled to the exit. Once outside I halted in front of the grand pillared entrance. Not daring to move, in case I loosened more buttons on my constrictive garments, I observed the washed out faces of men and women walking along the street. They stared ahead not looking at anything or anyone. I blinked rapidly. They shimmered and faded becoming nothing more than ghost-like figures floating above the raised wooden pavements.

A swirling wind blew the phantoms away. It caught at my coat-tails, whipping them up and down so fast I almost took to the air. I held onto them until the gusts decreased and glanced down the steps. At the bottom lay my black shoes. Heels broken, soles ripped off halfway, they gaped open like the mouths of dying fish.

I stumbled down the stairs and crouched by my broken footwear. Rain pelted my neck and shoulders. I raised my head, and through the rippling water that slid down my lashes, saw gigantic eyes appear in every window of the massive grey station that loomed over me.

Standing quickly, I ran across the road, tripping over the newly installed tram lines. I stepped into a deep puddle, it splashed my trousers with blood-red water. I tore at the stained fabric with my elongated fingernails and ripped the garment from my legs, revealing white bloomers that flapped in the wind like an injured bird trying to take off. I attempted to cover the girlish underwear with my hands, but my fingers turned into dumplings and melted.

‘Kazab!’ Yelled an old flower seller dressed in a voluminous white high-necked blouse and billowing black skirt. Her face was so wrinkled it caught the water that fell in the deep crevices of her cheeks. She grasped a bunch of dead roses, held them before me and shouted louder than before, ‘Kazab!’ I put my hands over my ears but her cry of, ‘Kazab!’ was deafening. My knees buckled, and I fell to the ground. ‘Kazab!’  She screeched the word over and over. It pounded my head like rocks being thrown. ‘Kazab! Kazab!’

They say the truth hurts, and it does, for I am indeed a liar.

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If you want to know more about my books you can visit my website where you can download a FREE copy of Changeling Fog. A short story from The Song of Forgetfulness Sci-fi/Dystopian series.  http://oddlybooks.moonfruit.com/

Or my amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nicola-McDonagh/e/B00D4NAH0S/

 

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Forgotten Women Madam d’Ora – Part One

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought I’d post this story about an amazing pioneering female photographer that history has forgot.

In my new book, an Historical Crime Thriller set in Vienna 1899, my protagonist, Leo Katz, is a photographer. Whilst researching photographers from that period, I was delighted to discover that women were emerging as professionals in this field.

One woman caught my attention, Dora Kallmus. She was extremely influential in changing the way people posed for their picture. Dora’s unique style helped to popularise the celebrity portrait, and her fashion photography broke all the rules. Yet, History has chosen to forget her.

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Born in 1881 to a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, Dora was clearly a headstrong young woman and knew what she wanted to do. She befriended the son of the painter Hans Makart, and whilst assisting him in his studio, she discovered the wonders of photography.

In 1905, she became the first woman allowed to study theory at the city’s Graphic Training Centre,  GraphischenLehr-und Versuchsanstalt, and in the same year was accepted as a member of the Association of Austrian Photographers. Two years later she finished an apprenticeship with Nicola Perscheid, where she learned her craft.

Although she was not allowed to do the technical training, because she was a woman, that did not stop her opening her own studio in Vienna in 1907. She brought a fellow student of Nicola Pesrcheid with her, Arthur Benda, who would remain her technical assistant throughout her early career.

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Her studio Atelier d’Ora, became a sensation, and along with Arthur Benda, Madame d’Ora’s shop was the place to go for the fashionable and cultural elite of Vienna. Her new approach to photographing a subject, natural, relaxed poses rather than the stiff, grim images people were used to, made her photographs sought after. The artist, Gustav Klimt and his muse Emilie Flöge, being some of her most famous clients.

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Dora’s Middle Class Jewish background aided her in attracting customers. Her father, Doctor Phillipp Kalmus, a respected lawyer, brought clients from the civil service, government, and the banking world. With such a notorious profile, Dora landed the job of photographing the coronation of Kaiser Karl, King of Hungary. Now she was in demand by royalty and members of the Imperial family who visited her studio to have their portrait taken.

But it was through her cousin, the acclaimed actress Rosa Bertens, that Dora broke into what was to become her trademark work. Photographing the rich and famous throughout the theatre, music, fashion and art worlds.

News of her avant-garde work spread, and customers flocked to her doors. Now everyone wanted to be photographed by Madame d’Ora, whose unorthodox compositions were the talk of the town. Attracting famous dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Josephine Baker, and, Mary Wigman. Writers such as Arthur Schnitzler, artists, Gustav Klimt, actors, Maurice Chevalier, musicians, Pablo Casals and the composer, Albern Berg.

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Her keen interest in fashion photography inspired her to change the way the industry presented their clothes. She created new ways to portray models, and her fresh ideas were soon snapped up by many lifestyle periodicals such as Die, Madame, and Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode.

Madame d’Ora became Coco Channels first choice to capture her new creations in all of their glory. All this when she was still under thirty years of age.

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In Part Two, I will focus on Dora’s later career and how she developed not only as a portrait photographer to the stars, but how the traumas of the second world war developed her career as a documentary photographer.
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If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.oddlybooks.com
To view some of my photography go to: 

The Man Behind the Mug Shot

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Inspiration comes at strange times on occasions. It hit me quite by chance when I was cleaning the cat litter tray. Why not write a crime thriller set in Victorian times about a photographer who has to find out who has been committing a series of murders? Wow, I thought, no one has done that before, or at least, I’ve never heard of a book quite like that.

Next I needed to set it somewhere. Vienna. Why not? After all it was the place for art and music at that time. After a bit of research, I unearthed some very interesting information about the politics of the time and how it adversely affected the Jewish population of the city. A plot was forming. The protagonist is a photographer that gets caught up in a series of brutal murders of Jewish activists in 1899 and has to solve the case via the use of photographs.

Whilst researching the history of criminal photography for the book, as yet untitled, I came upon the name, Alphonse Bertillon.  A nineteenth century French forensic documentarian.

It is thanks to this man we have access to the recording and storing of the physical details of a criminal. Before his efforts, offenders were hard to keep track of. They could give false names and addresses, so finding those who recommitted a misdemeanour, was often impossible.

Enter Bertillon.

Bertillon,_Alphonse,_fiche_anthropométrique_recto-verso-1As a records clerk at the Prefecture of Police in Paris 1879, Bertillon became irked by the chaotic way they kept criminal data. He worked on a better system to store and classify offenders to make it easier for someone to find them if they re-offended. Using his interest in anthropometry, the scientific study of the proportions and measurements of the human body, he developed a recording system for detailing the size and shape of a criminal’s distinguishing facial features.

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These facial descriptions, classified the shapes, size and breadth of the nose, eyes, ears and other facial features, which he called, “Portrait Parle”. Although the coded lexicon he Invented to use alongside his method was too difficult to use and later abandoned.

However, his idea of “Portrait Parle” lead to his definitive method of identification and recording of a suspect/criminal in the shape of the Mug Shot.

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For the first time a criminal could be photographed alongside his or her name both front and side view. Therefore, their identity could be accurately logged ready for use if they re-offended.

Bertillon’s index card system along with the photograph of the lawbreaker, identified re-offenders better than any other system before his invention, and as we know, the Mug Shot, is still used today, alongside fingerprints, to keep detailed records of criminals ready for use if needed.

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Next time, I’ll be discussing Bertillon’s influence on what we know today as Crime Scene Photography.

Here is a little taster from my book. Please bear in mind that this is just a first draft you will be reading. 

‘Oy, oy, where do you think you’re going?’

An officer broke free of the policeman chain and put his hands on my shoulders. I brushed them away and stood firm. ‘I am expected. Katz.’ I held up my case, shouting above the raised voices, ‘I’m to take images of the crime.’

‘Ah, that stuff. What do you need to do that for? The case is solved. She murdered him in cold blood. Ghoulish is what I call that.’ He pointed at my camera. ‘Some say it takes the soul from the body and the dead can’t go to heaven.’ I shook my head and sighed. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t expect a Jewboy to believe. Your lot haven’t got any souls anyway.’

Aaron stiffened and blurted out, ‘Hey, that’s not true. Take it back.’

‘Or what? Bloodsucker?’

I grabbed Aaron before he lunged towards the policeman. He relaxed a little and hung his head. ‘Do not become aggrieved at this Gentleman’s outburst. They are just words. Nothing more.’ He gulped and raised his chin.

‘Ya. Gift of the gab your lot and no mistake. Go on, get going, join your Yiddish pals.’ He spat at our feet when we shuffled past him towards the murder victim.

It was indeed a gruesome sight. I turned to Aaron. ‘You must go now. This is not a fitting thing for a boy to witness. Go home and be with your mother.’

If you would like to know more about my books, please go to my website:4632622310_242x254

www.oddlybooks.com

Light and writing – part one – Inspiration

Let there be light. Why? Because without it nearly all life on this planet would cease to exist. It heats, illuminates, nourishes and gives life. It also inspires works of art. As a writer, I can use light in many forms, natural, supernatural and artificial to enhance my narrative. As a photographer, well, I wouldn’t be able to take photographs without it.

In this series about light, I will be dealing with the many forms it takes. From the glowing backsides of fireflies to the many ways human beings have found to illuminate the darkness.

Nature is amazing. We humans are, for the most part, in awe of it and have been ever since we crawled out of the primal ooze. Nothing stirs the soul quite so much as a beautiful sunset, a sunrise, a mass of twinkling stars, or the constant glow of the moon.

purple sunsetThe sun gives us light and warmth, stars make us wonder about far off worlds, the moon illuminates our darkness with its wide-eyed face looking down on us like a distant mother watching her children. No wonder creative minds have used light as inspiration.

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Many writers have used light to express happiness, love, hope, expectation and joy. Just listen to some songs, the word ‘light’ comes up quite often. ‘Light my fire‘ The Doors. ‘You lIght up My Life’ Debbie Boone. ‘Ray of Light’ Madonna. ‘Shadows and Light‘ Joni Mitchel, to name but a few. The same is true of literature: ‘Northern Lights‘ PhillipPullman. ‘The Light that Failed’ Rudjard Kipling. ‘Where the Light Last and other stories‘ Agatha Christie.

In my short story Glimmer, the protagonist, a young man resisting the drugs he is given to keep him ‘sane’, retreats into his own world and listens  for the voices that come from the stars.

The world will not end because I close my eyes. The sun will still shine, so too the stars. Yet the darkness behind my drooped lids tells me otherwise. I see a macrocosm made up of swirling silhouettes and geometric shapes that aren’t strange to me at all. This is where I live now, in x-ray blackness. There is peace in this non-colour.”

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H89AN1M

Watch out for Part two in the series: Religion and Light.

For more information about my work please visit my website: 

www.oddlybooks

Editing – does it ever end?

I have been editing a short story for my next anthology. It is based on the painting ‘Autumn in the village’ by Marc Chagall.

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When I’d finished and felt pleased with the result, I thought I would post a few paragraphs on Facebook. Ah, I saw a repetition of words and a slightly clumsy sentence and…Yep, I took it down and spent another hour editing one paragraph. Was I happy with the result?

Yes and no.

So I tweaked it again.

And again.

And…well, you get the idea.

So, as a writer, do we ever think, ‘Okay, this is it. This is perfect.’

I suppose we just have to let go and allow the reader decide.

But, oh, how I twitch and itch to change it!

Anyway, here is the beginning of my story – The Shivering Oak:

Coward.

To conceal yourself up a tree like a rat.

I did not hide. I was there for all to see. Lounging larger than the low roof I reclined upon. At least that’s how it seemed to me as I raised my chin to the sky and let the sun kiss it. Yes, even the heavens were on my side.

So, I waited.

I did not grow tired or hungry. I was nourished by the warm May winds that gently stroked my bare arms and lips, which were red. I painted them the colour of blood. But, when I glanced at my reflection in the darkened window of the building opposite, I thought they resembled the hue of the roses on my dress. Or perhaps they were nearer the shade of the berries on the bush that grew below your dangling feet. I noticed how the soles of your shoes were worn. Was that a toe? That pink protuberance that stuck out from the emerging hole? The twitching thing that made Genghis yank at his leash.

I sat up to get a better look. You struggled to maintain position on the creaking branch. One hand wrapped around the frail wood, the other clutching onto your fiddle. The same violin you used to seduce me at the Christmas concert.

The village hall was crammed that night with the young, old, and those in between. Forced to stand at the back, I peered over the shoulders of the tall men. I didn’t mind, though. It was good to be in the world again after all those years cooped up with dad.

I squinted when the lights came up and saw you standing stage right next to the accordion player. The drummer had far too much facial hair for my liking and for some reason I took an instant dislike to the piano player. I think it was because he kept winking at a young woman two seats down from where I sat.

You moved away from the clarinettist, who contorted his face and body so much when he began to tune his instrument, that I was forced to lower my gaze to avoid witnessing his grimaces. I’m glad I did, for when I looked up again, my eyes rested upon you. You were staring at the ceiling, instrument tucked under your arm, paying attention to something other than the music. Standing still all statue-like, I gazed at you and wondered if you had indeed turned to stone. If so, I’d place you in my garden by the dried up pond.

When it was your turn to play, you sparked into life as though switched on by an invisible flick. I may have drooled when your fingers slid right to the top of the neck of the violin. The shrill and lilting notes you played made my backbone dance involuntarily. You made me yours that evening, by the stroke of a bow on horsehair.

Hope you enjoyed this extract. Please feel free to comment. Thank you!

If you are interested in my short stories, I have a collection on amazon called – Glimmer and other stories.

Here is the link: http://bookShow.me/B00H89AN1M

Also my author website link: http://www.nicolamcdonagh.com/

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Pottering about with a Polaroid

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I was given a Polaroid camera today. Lovely present. I haven’t used one of these things since the late 1990’s. I always found them very difficult to use, in that the viewfinder is tiny and far away from the lens, so trying to compose a picture is tricky, especially when photographing something close up.

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With the photo below, what I saw  through the viewfinder didn’t exactly match up with the final version. Still, it makes a nice B&W photo of a sleepy cat.

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I had a lot of fun using the Polaroid camera, and will get the hang of it eventually. Pity the film is so expensive though.

I scanned the photos into my computer and fiddled around to create some different effects.

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Rasky polaroid

Does anyone else have a Polaroid? If so, do you use it regularly?

Any tips on how to get a decent exposure when using it outside?

National Short Story Week on Kindle – Amazon

It is National Short Story Week on Amazon Kindle. So, to celebrate this wonderful event, I have reduced my anthology of short stories to $0.99 and £0.77 (or the equivalent in other Amazon territories)

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Glimmer and other stories is a collection of seven compelling and darkly humorous stories that deal with obsession, loss, redemption and hope.

In these tales of mysterious liaisons, supernatural intrigue, deathly hauntings and disturbing fixations, characters reveal hidden secrets, forbidden urges, untold yearnings and skills in necromancy.

Also, I thought you might like to read the beginning of one of my  unpublished stories that will be included in a second anthology – all based on paintings from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch.

The Shivering Oak was inspired by Chagall’s painting called Autumn in the Village

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Coward.

To hide up a tree like a rat.

I am not concealed.

I am here for all to see. Lounging larger than the roof I recline upon. Or so it seems to me from my high vantage point.

Weakling.

You are not invisible. I know where you are, and I can wait.

I shall not grow tired or hungry. I am nourished by the warm May winds that tickle my flesh and brush against my lips, which are red. I painted them the colour of blood. But, now that I glance at my reflection in the darkened window of the house opposite, I think they resemble the hue of the roses on my dress. Or perhaps they are nearer the shade of the berries on the holly bush that grows below your dangling feet.

Perhaps I should let Genghis off his leash?

No, I will wait and watch you struggle to maintain your position whilst gripping onto your fiddle. The same violin you used to seduce me at last years Christmas concert, even before we officially met.

The village hall was crammed. I was forced to stand at the back and peer over the shoulders of the tall men. I didn’t mind though. It was good to be in the hub of things after so many years cooped up with Dad. The lights came up and I saw you standing stage right next to the accordion player. You were staring at the ceiling, instrument tucked under your arm. When it was your turn to play, you seemed to be switched on by an invisible flick. How you came to life. I may have drooled when your fingers slid right to the top of the neck of the violin. The shrill, and lilting notes you played made my backbone dance involuntarily and I almost fell.

I wonder when you will fall. Because, fall you will.

The tree is shaking. You are loosing your footing. I hear the crack of branches snapping. This young oak cannot hold your weight. Not that you are heavy. You are not. I should know, I picked you up as though you where a cloud that time Genghis ran into your backside. The crunch your bone nose made when it met the pavement outside the village bakery resounded all the way to the church. Father Laurence made a rare visit to the outside world to see what the commotion was all about. Laura, your sister, Howard, the police constable, and several other members of the village parish council, made a ring around your fallen self and all, except for me, tutted and shook their heads. Father Laurence mumbled, “Ah, Peter, Peter, drunk again and so early in the morning?”

You gargled a bit then tried to stand, but fell again emitting another squelching sound, this time of gristle. I, all heroine-like, fluttered down to your level and offered my clean handkerchief. You took it in your left hand and held out your right for me to take. I did and felt the softness of your palm, a stark contrast to the thick-skinned roughness of your fingertips. I pulled you up as though you had no weight. You blinked and stared into my eyes and gave a little smile. I flushed at such an intense stare, then you snotted out some blood and my mood changed somewhat.

“Yeah, thanks. I don’t know what happened. I felt a thud and there I was flat out sniffing up dirt,” you said and tried to push the soiled kerchief back into my hand.

“No, no, you keep it.”

 “Sure?”

“Positively.”

“Well, thanks again.”

“Come on Peter, you are making a fool of yourself,” Laura said.

“How? I fell over, so what?” you said, your voice becoming shrill.

The gathered people began to murmur and look at each other as if to say, “He is always getting into trouble. Typical musician, they’re all bad.” I gave them a nasty look, and when Genghis tugged on his lead they shuffled away; remembering the devastation he caused the last time he broke free.

To get your copy of Glimmer and other stories, please go to these Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Glimmer-Nicola-McDonagh-ebook/dp/B00H89AN1M/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408436081&sr=1-2&keywords=glimmer+and+other+stories

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Glimmer-Nicola-McDonagh-ebook/dp/B00H89AN1M/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?