Kampot literary festival hopes to revive Cambodia’s lost art of storytelling

Atmospheric Kampot is hosting the likes of Jung Chang and Madeleine Thien as it seeks to rebuild Cambodia’s literary scene and defend its freedom of speech

The Manton Rempville Murders – Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with a certain amount of incredulity. He’d heard that 100,000 pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason and that reason was because the natural order of things, in Barnes’s mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation was only delaying the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. The ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.

Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw DI Colin Knowles’s Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’s Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles would find this crime scene very interesting indeed. Knowles was on a new diet and his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue. Even in the depths of winter.

Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times.

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly ten pounds lost.”

“How’s the gym going?”

“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”

“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather thinking you’re on a diet.”

“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine like though, very posh Sunday newspaperish, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who or what do we have over there.”

The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few weeks previously when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.

“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Morgan; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”

Knowles stood on what remained of the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Morgan had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.

“Dr Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?”

“We do, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”

“Any prints on the handle?”

“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”

“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”

“We’ll try Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”

“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using, “ said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”

“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he/she was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”

“They might be bluffing sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.

“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch them, that they murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”

“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”

“Agreed – they probably keep an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun Bingo.”

“It’s just like old times, sir.”

“Indeed it is, Barnesy, I just hope that this is the only body that Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”

Continues…

The Goat Parva Murders – Chapter 1

The stalker trained his binoculars on the ground floor lounge window where Danica Baker-Clements could be seen in her underwear watching TV. Danica’s blonde hair tumbled over artificially brown shoulders and the rhododendron branches twitched as the binoculars moved slowly over her complete loveliness. An owl screeched in the trees behind the stalker – the bird was catching mice in Doggett’s Field near the Baker-Clements’ house and had been disturbed. The warm night air was filled with the scent of honeysuckle.

The stalker was anticipating Mrs Baker-Clements removing her clothes during the evening as was the custom on Tuesdays and so intent was he on sharing every moment with her that he failed to hear the slight footfalls behind him. Danica Baker-Clements began to unhook her bra and the stalker’s breathing increased in intensity.

As the bra fell aside the stone hit the stalker’s skull rendering him unconscious instantly. He fell forward into the bush and then slumped to the ground, his glassy eyes surveying the lounge window but this time without binoculars. The assailant picked a bloom, placed it in the stalker’s mouth, and clamped the mouth shut.

For Rosemary, thought the assailant, the fight back begins.

Two minutes later Tim Armstrong cycled down the Baker-Clements’ drive and parked his bike out of sight behind the greenhouse. He was on time. He kept to the shadows created by the strong moonlight and soon knocked on the dining room window. Mrs Baker-Clements smiled, removed her last item of clothing, and headed to the window. They were seen only by a pair of lifeless eyes.

===========

The following morning Adelaide Hills was walking along the path between Doggett’s Field and the river when her retriever, Bingo, started barking madly. He was always energetic on his morning walk but today he did seem particularly fascinated with some footprints in the mud. She pulled Bingo away and they carried on towards the Baker-Clements’ mansion with Bingo looking back at all times.

“Come on, Bingo,” she shouted, “any more of this prancing in the mud and I’ll have to hose you down when we get home.”

Bingo ran off into the bushes near the Baker-Clements’ garden; a pheasant flew away towards the river. Mrs Hills then saw Carly Waferr heading towards her carrying the mushroom basket that accompanied her on morning walks during the week.

“Good morning, Carly, found a good crop this morning, have you?”

“I has,” said Carly, putting an arm across the top of the basket, “and you can’t have any. Unless you come for lunch of course,” she added smilingly.

“Oh thank you, Carly, I’d love to, as long as they’re not poisonous of course.”

“Be no poisonous mushrooms in them woods,” said Carly, “well not poisonous to me at least, but I’m probably immune now. I ate a couple this morn.” She moved her head around in an anti-clockwise direction for five seconds before shaking her head vigourously.

“Are you sure – you seem dizzy?”

“That’s just the hangover from the rhubarb and dandelion wine last night; Emma left for Edinburgh late so we shared a nightcap afore she went.”

“What’s she studying again?”

“Medicine – oh – look what your dog’s found – a shoe.”

“Bingo, you naughty dog, put that down immediately.”

“How come dogs never find pairs of shoes; just one at a time? My shoes need throwing away, so I s’pose I should head to the animal shelter and borrow a couple of their retrievers and let ‘em loose; hopefully they’d bring back a matching pair.”

“This is a good shoe – Bingo where did you find this?” Mrs Hills gestured towards the bushes and Bingo flew off.

Carly Waferr was trying on the shoe when Bingo returned with the other matching shoe.

“My prayers have been answered, thank you lord,” shouted Carly and grabbed the shoe from the retriever. “They fit, it’s my day today,” she added.

“Who leaves a pair of shoes for a dog to find?” wondered Mrs Hills as Bingo went back to the bushes.

“Ain’t seen any campers,” said Carly admiring the shoes, “and there’s no tents around, ‘cept those of Danica’s admirers at her back door.”

“Oh that awful woman and her loose morals – teasing the men with her low cut frocks.”

Bingo came bounding up with a belt.

“Sorry, Bingo,” said Carly, “I don’t need a belt right now.”

“Where’s he finding all these things,” said Adelaide, “is there a suitcase around?”

“Does you think…” said Carly, “that Danica’s having sex outside with one of her friends and these are his clothes?”

“Alfresco fornication you mean?”

“Alf who,” said Carly, “is he new in Goat Parva?”

Mrs Hills raised her eyebrows and followed Bingo into the bushes.

Carly was trying on the belt when she heard Mrs Hills scream.

Sounds like Danica and this Alf character have been discovered by our Adelaide, thought Carly, I’d better hurry up, I don’t want to miss anything.

As she started towards where the scream had come from Mrs Hills came running towards her.

“He’s dead,” she shrieked, “Clem Shapiro’s dead. I’m calling the police; he was bird-watching by the look of it,” and she headed home following Bingo, who was carrying a glove that he didn’t want to share with anyone.

Carly went to see the body.

“Got your just desserts, Clem,” she said, “someone found out about you and the birds you were watching.” She looked through the rhododendrons and saw the Baker-Clements’ house.

A peep show for perverts more like, she thought and headed back home to cook a mushroom omelette for her Wednesday morning breakfast.

=========

Colin Knowles was eating his breakfast of black pudding, baked beans, and two fried eggs when his mobile phone rang on the kitchen counter. Knowles hauled his overweight frame to an upright position and having run his fingers through what remained of his brown hair, he answered the ringing summons.

“’Allo, Barnesy, what have you got for me?”

Rod Barnes, his assistant, replied in his normal clipped tones.

“Dead bird-watcher, sir, up by Doggett’s Field. Lots of blood and the body has been interfered with after death by the looks of it.”

“Charming, Barnesy, I was just having my breakfast as well – these people have no sense of timing, no respect for people’s eating habits. I will be there when I have finished eating.”

Knowles rang off and returned to the table but decided not to have more ketchup on his black pudding after all – why did people get bludgeoned to death so much – he couldn’t eat breakfast any more without thinking of previous cases. He moved the black pudding to his cat’s bowl – Gemma would love that after hunting in the garden and catching nothing as was normal. Poor cat.

Knowles belched and lit a cigarette before remembering what his doctor had advised and put the noxious weed out by burying it with the others in the rubber plant by the door. Gemma came in through the cat flap looking upset and Knowles rubbed her head, before Gemma smelled the black pudding, rushed to her bowl and tucked into the food. No murders for her to remember, thought Knowles, other than two mice. And that rabbit. He was brought out of his reverie by the phone – it was Barnes again.

“Bring some wellies, sir, it’s muddy around here.”

Knowles had them in his hand already; somehow Doggett’s Field was always wet even in the height of summer. He got into his Land Rover and set off to Goat Parva, a place he’d always regarded as strange and immoral.

Continues…

The Manton Rempville Mystery – start of Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with incredulity. He’d heard that a hundred thousand pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason. The natural order of things, in Barnes’ mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation only delayed the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. Besides, the ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.

Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw Detective Inspector Colin Knowles’ Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’ Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles, his boss, would find this crime scene interesting indeed. Barnes had heard that Knowles was on a new diet and that his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue even in the depths of autumn.

Taking care not to get his highly polished shoes muddy, Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site, slightly disturbing his short, brown hair. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times since the murders in Goat Parva. As he came towards him, Barnes noticed that even though the Inspector had lost weight, he still wasn’t able to tuck his Marks and Spencer shirt into his trousers.

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly fifteen pounds lost.” Knowles gripped his much reduced stomach with some pride.

“How’s the gym going?”

“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”

“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather than thinking you’re on a diet.”

“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine-like though, very posh Sunday newspaper, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who do we have over there?” Knowles pointed in the direction of the photographer and Forensics team, who were investigating the crime scene.

The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few months before when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.

“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Pritchard; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”

With his hands in his trench coat pockets, Knowles stood on the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Pritchard had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr. Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.

“Dr. Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?” Knowles would have rubbed his hands with glee if they hadn’t been warming up in his pockets.

“We do indeed, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”

“Any prints on the handle?” Knowles looked hopeful when he said this.

“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”

“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”

“We’ll try, Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”

“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using,” said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”

“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”

“They might be bluffing, sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.

“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch him, that he/she murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”

“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”

“Agreed – they probably maintain an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs. Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun, Bingo.”

“It’s just like old times, sir.”

“Indeed it is, Barnesy. I just hope that this is the only body Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”

Steampunk festival in Lincoln – in pictures

The cathedral city plays host to the Asylum Steampunk festival, the largest and longest running event of its kind in the world

1984 – Stage Play

I went to see the stage version of 1984 on September 4th at the Playhouse Theatre.

The production last 101 minutes and was an emotionally draining, but ultimately fascinating piece of theatre. As well as being an accurate condensation of the book, the play asked how much of the 1949 novel is true today and audience members’ answers will probably vary depending how much interaction they have with ‘the authorities’. The use of strobe lighting, video, and quick changes of scene left me giddy at times, but my awareness of being watched was certainly heightened – after leaving the theatre I did notice how many security cameras there are around London. The scene with Winston in Room 101 was harrowing and not for the faint-hearted.

If you should ever have a chance of seeing this play, go and see it. If not, please read the book and see for yourself whether you recognise the modern day. It won’t be “the worst thing in the world” you will ever do.