Born in Berkshire England to an old Reading family, having attended an English Public School and a stint at college, the author Patrick Brigham went into real estate. After the economic crash of 1989 he licked his wounds, wrote two books and in 1993 decided to finally abandon London, the UK's casino economy and he moved to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. As the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Sofia - between 1995 and 2000 - and as a journalist, he witnessed the political changes in this once hard core communist country and personally knew most of the political players, including the old Communist Dictator Todor Zhivkov and his successors, Zhelev and Stoyanov.
The natural home of political intrigue, Bolshevism and the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge, but for many of its citizens the transition was also very painful. Despite this, Patrick Brigham personally managed to survive these political changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece, writing mystery novels. A writer for many years, he has recently written four good crime fiction books including, Herodotus – The Gnome of Sofia, and Judas Goat – The Kennet Narrow Boat Mystery, Abduction – An Angel over Rimini, and The Dance of Dimitrios. He has also published a play called Judicial Review.
Confirming that the truth is very often stranger than fiction, Eastern Europe has proved to be Patrick Brigham’s inspiration for writing good mystery books. Much of his writing has been influenced by 20 years spent in the Balkans and the plethora of characters in his writing, are redolent of many past communist political intrigues in Bulgaria. But he also goes back to his English roots in his play, which is about money, greed and redemption.
If I could choose,my question would be, “Is the British appetite ready for a sudden influx of high calorie torment, or a continued and moderate consumption of continental angst?”
The first choice – and a somewhat mixed metaphor – is rather like a game of snakes and ladders, which rather depends on a roll of the dice to determine the outcome. Chance, because it is as unclear as a cup of lukewarm English tea to most of us – including the British government itself – what the positive outcome could possibly be.
The second choice, and more of the same, is about staying put in a known
environment, and continuing to benefit from a union which has so far proved to
be very successful over a number of years, and a bit of a no brainer, you might
say. Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
The alleged UK political elite has generally raised a Gallic finger, not
only to their voters, but unquestionably to each other. For affirmation of this sweeping statement, please hit the YouTube
button and watch Prime Ministers Question Time. Not exclusively on the subject of Brexit and
the future of one of Europes greatest and oldest nations, Westminster these
days is about political infighting, and dare I say it, personal malice and
Dominated by a very skilled and determined prime minister – but only in
the House of Commons – it seems to me that Theresa Mays politics are more Churchillian
in nature than one might presuppose. Never giving in – despite what her
parliamentary votes may tell her – she still sticks to the My deal, or No Deal mantra, rather like a deranged telephone
answering machine, knowing that a further parliamentary rebuttal is around the
I often wonder if it is her intention to quash Brexit, by attempting the
impossible task of trying to make it happen, and then failing dismally. If it
turns out that supporters of such a deranged suicidal attempt are a tad
disappointed, well, good!
It seems that Theresa May has worked her magic again, and turned much of the UK and Europe into simpering psychotics. By repeating her favourite mantra, like some deranged metallic speaking clock, we are informed each day that “It’s either my deal or no deal.”
Absolute bollocks, which any sane person must surely know, it takes me back to Monty Pythons Flying Circus, when – in one of their more alarming skits about a then-current TV panel game – a prizewinning contestant is asked, “What would you prefer, a kick up the arse, or a blow on the head?”
Any sane person would immediately reply “Neither,” but in the strange world of politics, where speaking gobbledegook is quite normal, Mays proposal has become a kind of irrational choice; an understandable translation being, “Would you prefer a bad choice, or an even worse one?”
In the end, of course, she has only one argument, which concerns the Will of The People, because the rest of her rhetoric is drivel. Full of false promises and demagogic crap, it is hard to forget how certain politicians – in fact, most – treated the referendum as a good laugh, and an opportunity to indulge in irresponsible sixth form debating society antics, making sure that today’s truths were cynically hidden from voters eyes and ears.
A government which couldn’t run a sweet shop, a Tory cabinet at odds with itself, an opposition which is tearing itself apart – whilst wise heads are ignored – all this adds up to the EU’s own project, to Divide and Conquer Great Britain. The imagined fate of the European Union itself – by a somewhat thick and a comically treacherous Conservative Party – it has tragically backfired, leaving a country in a total division, and gasping at the prospect of a bottomless black hole.
It used to be called The House of Commons, then as the EU progressed, it was renamed a Talking Shop, but anybody with two brain cells can now see how parliament has completely lost touch with reality and has become Britains very own Dream Factory. It now seems that, short of rediscovering an old DVD of Morecambe & Wise, or even our beloved Tommy Cooper, for amusement and light entertainment, the House of Commons will keep you in stitches – just like that!
The secret about fiction is not to go too far, because in essence fiction is the Suspension of Disbelief, and that is what this largely incompetent Tory government tries to do with the British public. Like many, I adore the theatre, the way that a skilled playwright can invite an audience to share his or her flights of fancy, so that – on leaving the theatre – one is left with higher thoughts about morality, and the human condition.
These days, the British Parliament and the government now seem more akin to Bertram Mills Circus. Of course, there will always be clowns, I grant you, but there are also trapeze artists, jugglers, a few performing bears, and even the odd elephant in the room as well.
The ringmaster – or Speaker of The House, as they call him – has his
work cut out to control the noisy gesticulating, and often mindless interruptions
made by these entertainers – most of whom believe that they are serving their constituents’
interests – but gifted with a loud voice, he somehow manages to keep order.
Some people can’t take no for an answer, and the star of the show – the obnoxious Theresa May – is no exception. Rather like any Prima Donna, she can’t stand criticism, and as a result spits venom and hurtful remarks at anyone who deigns to disagree with her fantasy solutions, to the UK present Brexit conundrum.
Not only does she shout down any
disagreement with a lot of irrelevant piffle, but the contempt she shows to
each and everybody, even made Good Queen Elizabeth
– with one of her delightful off stage remarks – recommend further thoughts of
There is a difference between fiction and fantasy, because the former is creative, and the latter delusional, but Brexit has gone one stage further, and now resides within the realms of total denial. Most of Europe is laughing at the UK government’s antics and so-called British democracy. Especially at the lies and blatant drivel – which is still being bandied around – by those who have come to believe that the British are a bunch of thick, half-educated and gullible fools, who will believe anything they are told. Let us hope that in future there may be an honest government which can actually govern, which in truth, might be better left to Brussels.
My views are not always popular, now the internet is swamped with ‘How To Books,’ mostly written by people who don’t really know, but know a lot about SEO and publicity. It almost seems that – if you don’t choose Murder Mystery or Young Adult Romance as a genre – you are a dead duck, and you better wise up! But in a world which dreams of instant gratification, and overnight success, how much of this is true?
In an interview on Greek TV last night, author Hillary Mantel quickly discovered that her two interviewers were not fawning numpties, but a couple of well-read critics; now her books have been translated into the Greek language. Greece is a cultured country, with many popular indigenous authors, and despite their internal political and financial problems, they do look outside the box.
Hilary Mantel was very honest about her own work, and made it quite clear that short of a memoir or two, she only writes on subjects she finds personally comfortable, and about things she is familiar with. She also admitted that – up and until Wolf Hall, and Bring Up The Bodies – she had always had very good reviews, but had not sold many books. She told viewers that ‘the numpties’ often asked her how it was that she had become an overnight success, to be told that she had been writing and publishing books for fifty years.
So, once again, we find ourselves as writers, gifted with the ultimate reality check, and faced with every writer’s dilemma. Do we write about what we know and understand, or do we join the queue, and trot out cheap fiction, which is treated with as much respect as a spam sandwich or a magazine about lipstick?
What am I writing about today? I am fictionalizing my former life, unmasking some very unpleasant and shallow people from the past, and having a good laugh!
I have been strangely quiet over the Christmas holiday, New Year and my birthday in January, but having now returned home to Greece from London, I have a few final remarks to make about Brexit, and the moral decline of the political classes in the House of Commons. I won’t go over old grounds – my views are very clear – but why do people like Theresa May and her cohorts, continue to insult the intelligence of the British MPs? Unless she is a good judge of character, and they are really quite stupid, what is so terrible about remaining in the European Union, and of openly discussing it?
I have likened it to a very short play, called A Very Peculiar Choice:-
I have watched the debate in Parliament with interest, and in each and
every speech, either for or against PM Mays horrifying EU draft agreement, none
have had the guts to try and kick it into touch, despite Party whips, mandates
or policies. They all seem to want to engage in elegant and contrived rhetoric,
where their thin and ambiguous words, hardly touch the sides. Are they all jobs-worths?
In or out of the horrid deal, does not mean the end of life as we know it, it means UK stays where it is in the EU, and to prosper as before. Before we had to listen to speculative, mendacious, and the downright lies of certain politicians – excluding Michael Gove who seems to have a brass neck – who seem to have gone away on holiday; and if they had any sense at all, would bloody well stay there.
Spring has sprung in Northern Greece, the signs of winter are disappearing and I no longer have to light my pellet stove in the evening, to keep warm. But that is not the only change, because once again as an author, I am moving away from my usual murder mystery genre with another stand-alone novel, and into the realms of literary fiction. Why the change, I should explain?
I had a life before moving to South Eastern Europe, and I had a life before I moved to London in the 70s. In fact, when I seriously started writing in the late 80s, I believed that the past was all there was. My then warts and all novel was to be about my early life, a rather haphazard marriage, the tragedy of an early divorce, the consequence of near bankruptcy, and my ultimate comeback.
As a young man, it was hard enough for me to deal with all these problems then, but later on it became even harder for me to write about it; I was still far too close. This all happened nearly forty years ago, well before my first attempt at this cathartic novel, which I fondly imagined was going to knock the world of publishing dead. But then I put it away, filed it under the past, and then promptly forgot about it.
Recently opening a bulging box file, having first removed the dust and cobwebs, I rediscovered the early attempt of my great novel, only to find that – far from being cathartic and serious – it was rather funny. From the typed foxed pages, there seemed to be a very little tragedy in my early life, just change. Through the consoling prism of maturity, it now transpires that things which once hurt me, now only amuse me. ‘Did that really happen? What a fool I must have been?’
What was good, was to rediscover strong characterization, and even a good plot. After all, it was my fictionalized history, so there must have an element of truth in it, although, my warts and all prospectus seemed very little like the new me. Perhaps, after all, the book is about misplaced ambition, youthful endeavor, romantic fantasy, jealousy, rage and intrigue? Or maybe, it is a book that explains how we all feel when we are young, fall in love and make mistakes. I will ask you again in a few months time when it is finished!
In Jean Anouilh original stage play Becket: The Honour of God, and ultimately his 1964 film – with Peter O’Toole as Norman, King Henery II and Richard Burton as Saxon, Archbishop Thomas O’ Becket – it describes how two young men; who as inseparable friends, in later life become enemies.
The secular versus the Catholic Church, Mr Fixit Thomas, has turned into The Church of Romes henchman, by aligning himself with the Pope against Henry, and against his disagreements with Rome. Surely an analogy with present Saudi royalty; in Anouilh’s script, Henry – who still harbours great affection for his onetime cohort and drinking companion, Thomas – says in desperation: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
More a rhetorical question than an order, it is enough to encourage some dimwitted Norman Barons to go to Canterbury Catedral, where they butcher Archbishop Thomas. Full of regret, and in the final scene Henry has himself flogged by Saxon monks, in retribution for causing the death of his friend.
Hardly a flogging matter in Saudi Arabia, and to misquote William Shakespeare, one wonders whether ‘heads will now roll,” as these two historical incidents seem to coalesce, despite the passage of time.
I cannot understand why these incompetent assassins went to all the trouble they did to kill Jamal Khashoggi in this brutal way, when a swift stab wound with a stiletto in a car park or a muffled pistol shot, would have been far more effective; unless of course, they were acting under direct orders. But, under the direct orders of whom; an idiot?
Other than a general comment about Saudi freedom of speech, women’s rights, the ownership of property and assets, the marriage and divorce laws, and who gets the kids – most of which is sacred and established in our modern western society – it is hard to say why Khashoggi offended the Saudi state so much. Many western journalists are also concerned by certain inequalities in Saudi Arabia, a country where little value is put on servants and indentured workers – many who are treated like slaves – but we western journalists don’t seem to get bumped off.
All bad? Yes, but it is not news to anyone who has taken an iota of interest in the Middle East, or since reading TE Lawrence’sSeven Pillars of Wisdom at school. I expect that the reason for this bloody murder was more tribal than anything else, and getting back to Laurence, it was probably an infringement of some obscure Arab moral code.
In the foreseeable future, and established by Arab custom, there will be a fairly unjust court case, where the minor players will be harshly punished. The major instigators will be severely admonished, whilst forced to pay huge amounts in blood money to the Khashoggi’s family – who in turn will profit greatly from Jamal’s death – and without a hint of sorrow or regret, it will all have been wrapped up neatly and forgotten about!
A few years had passed by since my first visit to Sofia, but not a lot had changed by the time I arrived in 1993, together with permanent residence in mind. Although everyone seemed welcoming, there remained an ominous doubt in my thoughts about the wisdom of my move, even though the smiles of my hosts seemed genuine enough. A lot had happened between my first visit to Bulgaria in 1985, including my marriage in London – to the daughter of a noted Bulgarian Communist philosopher – and my addition to her family, which could only be described as ‘The Red Bourgeoisie.’ In the past, whole university departments had been named after this academic family, which even to this day is viewed with considerable respect despite the changes in the political landscape and its constant photoshop alterations.
Five years of marriage had not been an easy matter in London, as the contrasts in our cultural backgrounds morphed into daily annoyance, and frustration. You don’t have to be a creative genius to notice the disappointments which occur when people have exaggerated expectations; which was something that Ksenia obviously had. With great swaths of glowing translated references; from many well known Sofia university factions, they were viewed with disdain by the then British authorities, and contemptuously put to one side.
Much to do with years of propaganda on either side of the so-called ‘iron curtain,’ UK academia was totally unprepared to accept her glowing references, as she also was with their often unfounded and arrogant attitude. And so, despite many attempts – and even knowing the presiding Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of London – she had to be content with teaching French to four-year-olds, as her only viable means of employment.
Rejection, and the frustration of being academically stymied, it wasn’t long before she chose to return home to Sofia, to try and reclaim the remnants of her previous life, her university career, and her love of English and American literature. And my disappointment?
Because – by the way, this story is supposed to be about me – mine was the usual naive response that you might expect from anybody who has felt used in some way, and – as bad for my ego as it might have been – unfortunately, I had to accept that from the beginning, my presence in London must have seemed very convenient indeed.
This was when I became just a little less forthright in my thinking, and when I was determined to get to grips with the so-called changes in Eastern Europe and to get something from these changes for myself.
Hot on the trail for the Sofia Western News magazine
Having let my London flat, and with the assistance of my trusty Series Three Landrover, I decided to move along the Thames to Wallingford, where I kept a small caravan, and spent a few delightful months there, until such time that I felt up to towing my caravan to Bulgaria; which I did one bright September morning in 1993.
It was difficult to totally predict how my presence in Bulgaria would be viewed, due to an understandable ambivalence, but Ksenia’s mother seemed fond of me, and so on arrival in Sofia late one night, I was greeted with some enthusiasm. By then I was rather tired, due to the condition of roads in Bulgaria – which in those days were almost medieval – and driving at night was quite horrifying.
An argument with a border official didn’t help my frame of mind much. He behaved so absurdly – and clearly bent on humiliating another detested bloody foreigner – I began to doubt my good judgment of going there in the first place. But by mocking this twerp, I reduced the other weary travellers to hopeless laughter when I locked my vehicle, and told him that I was going to walk to Romania – leaving my jeep and caravan blocking the entrance to this dark peoples republic – in order to use the other entrance.
Self-important moron’s don’t like being laughed at, and this one became so agitated that he jumped up and down like a child when I refused to move. The argument – about a fee due in order to use the dreadful Bulgarian roads – I finally agreed on a sum in Swedish Krona, by exchanging some local cash with a fellow motorist. Welcome to Bulgaria? It didn’t seem very welcoming to me.
A reader of The Balkan News Magazine, recently remarked that the magazine doesn’t seem to have much to say about the Balkans. The BNM is a continuous magazine and added to as time permits, it also reflects the lack of news, or perhaps you may not have noticed? Unlike the EU or America, where things seem to happen in abundance, Balkan news is mainly about long forgotten promises, and a strange 21st century phenomenon called Macro Economics. Often quoted by professional pundits in the Balkans, where an improvement in the Macro-Economic forecast for the region really means that very little is actually happening at all, it remains a good old journalistic standby.
Bulgarian President, and retired Bulgarian Air Force General, Ruman Radev recently stated – “Today, hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians live in poverty and social exclusion. They are placed in humiliating conditions unable to meet their basic human needs.”
Announced by President Radev when he opened a discussion with more than 60 representatives of business, trade unions, and the academic community – former ministers, and Presidential Secretaries – it was called, “Inequities and Poverty In Bulgaria.”
Probably of little interest to many expats living in Bulgaria; because Bulgaria is well known to be the poorest member of the European Union, he made an important statement to Bulgaria – and to the wider EU – which could affect the very future of Europe, especially in the knowledge that Vladimir Putin is not far away.
There is only one thing worse than being a failure in the Balkans, and that is being a success, and whilst foreigners pontificate about the dearth of news, they might dwell for a moment on the drivel which appears daily in the yellow press, and the sort of news on offer. You see, Balkan people frequently like to push each other’s heads down, and the how and why this is actually achieved doesn’t really matter.
Well, it is a cross between Trump’s seedy view of politics, and partly a hangover from Communism, together with its well-founded conspiracy theories. Not to mention squabbling politicians and their gangster friends, a large helping of treachery and of course the usual plethora of unfounded lies. A good read? Hardly!
As one view’s – as I have for some thirty years – the metamorphosis of the Balkans one might easily imagine that one was observing Dante’s Inferno and the antics of the Devils Children. But we are not, because it is how the people of South Eastern Europe have had to live forever.
Many Balkan people have given up their hopes for a better future, because, since the changes in 1990, they have seen little improvement in their lives. Okay, things look better, and there are plenty of places for foreigners to go for entertainment – or even a bit of “How’s Yer Father” if that’s their wish – but most ordinary Balkan people have to rely entirely on themselves to get by.
The old Communist-era maxim – “the government pretends to pay us, we pretend to work, and we all steal the rest – has a great deal of truth in it, and there are many leftovers from the past that an expat might miss, one of which is the total lack of information. And that dear readers, is because everything in the Balkans is a secret!
The old man Dimitrios is a flawed character in many respects, but while his riverside café is treated with derision by the local village people, he seems to have more love and compassion running through his veins, than most others. Eccentric, and perhaps a little mad, his dreams clearly embody the true soul of Greece; a fast disappearing and caring world, as well as an abiding memory of his beloved wife Marta. With his dreams intact, and by discovering the English woman’s floating corpse in the river, he walks the reader into a murder story involving various police forces, as well as the UK’s secret service, and MI6.
My story is initially about a ‘floored’ cash-strapped nation, racked with corruption, and suffering from the blight of illegal immigration. Far more than the puny Greek government can cope with, or the European Union for that matter – which has largely turned its back to Greece – the devil seems to be in the details, most of which have been conveniently ignored.
A case of mistaken identity like no other, Majory Braithwaits body has been cast into a communal grave. Believed to be just one more Islamic casualty dragged from the River Ardas, and treated like many other nameless people found drowned, she is swiftly forgotten about. Sargeant Electra Boulos, on the other hand, is a little bit more conscientious than her colleagues. Discovering some matching fingerprints, she is able to identify the English woman and to open up a complicated new and revealing case for DCI Michael Lambert and Europol.
“With arms held out straight, his fingers clicking, his face stern and full of the emotion which only Greek men can truly display when they weep, Dimitrios Pantzos would slowly twirl, jump and spin amongst the assorted tables and chairs, and in so doing he would reverently display the deep and painful loss he felt for his beloved Marta, and pray that one day they would finally be reunited in heaven.”