SPECIAL OFFER!! (Aren’t they all?)

So, anyway, I was sitting there, or rather here, and I got an idea for a promotion.Deep_in_thought

Several people had said I needed a celebrity to promote my books. Her Majesty didn’t even reply and the lesser Royals were decidedly sniffy. Richard and Judy laughed out loud. Oprah pretended not to understand my English accent and thought I was stalker. I could have had several soap stars who, for the payment of a suitable fee, would, without even reading them, endorse how terrific my dog thinks my books are (The one with dogs in it is a particular favourite).

It made me realize why soap stars and other celebrities are paid so much. They are telepathic. All of them. And it only requires money to induce this power. But, my £2.73 was apparently not enough, despite a firm promise of a chicken pie and mushy peas plus a year’s subscription to the Derbyshire Times. I find this refusal to trade almost incomprehensible. chicken_pot_pie_cooked_2The mushy peas are worth an endorsement alone and who could refuse a chicken pie that has the exciting prospect of containing genuine chicken, if you get a good one.

So having been turned down by a chap who once played ‘man in bar’ in an episode of ‘Neighbours’ and a lady of the evening who was drinking sherry in the park but had once been an intimate friend of a relative of Sir Larry Olivier before her fondness for sherry put the kibosh on a potentially profitable relationship, I was left with only one alternative.

I decided against selling my organs – which are not in saleable condition anyway -and instead dropped the price.

360px-Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is on October 31st. Both AND SOON THE SONG  and NORTHMAN have ghosts in them, so I thought why not celebrate a good old Celtic feast since both books contain the odd dead Celt. I know. It’s a tenuous link, but since my disappointment in the lack of a reply from the Queen, I’ve not been thinking straight. Ghosts galore for Halloween, it is!

The Kindle versions of AND SOON THE SONG and NORTHMAN are both only £0.99/$1.49 until Oct 31st!

I know those of you who have not yet read either book will rush out immediately and buy both. It makes sense. Or rather, it makes sense to me. I will forgive those who don’t, but I cannot believe such wonderful, beautiful, charming, intelligent, discerning people of taste like you could refuse an offer like this.

I know that last sentence was a little OTT. I’ve noticed hyperbole has become my bedfellow recently. I put it down to a newly acquired limping ability gained by tearing a calf muscle whilst chasing a strange and madly defecating cat out of my orchard.

At the time I was astonished by how many  words I knew to describe the cat, and bizarrely none of them were related to anything remotely feline.

I’m rambling now, so I’ll get my coat.

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A child dying from a brain tumour is taken from a hospital in England because his parents no longer trust the oncologists. They take him to Spain where the family have a property. They want to sell the property and pay for targeted proton beam treatment that is not available on the NHS. It’s a chance, a slim chance, yes, but the specialists want to flood the child’s brain with broad beam radiation, leave him with potential brain damage and without any guarantee that he will live.

You might think that in a ‘liberal’ country every effort would be made to help them find the best for their child.

Not in England.

First, the NHS doctors threaten the family that if they try to remove their child, they will be prevented by a court order. Then, after the family take the only course of action open to them and spirit the child away, our sensitive police get an international warrant for their arrest and, blundering mindlessly through their politically correct agenda, the Spanish police have them handcuffed like criminals and separated from their child on the grounds that they have ‘neglected’ Ashya. That same child is now in a Spanish hospital and no members of the family are allowed to see him. The police have raided the home of the child’s grandmother, without explanation, stunningly compounding their original heartless, almost fascist, response.

The child is alone in a strange place with foreigners whom he cannot understand. His mother and father and his siblings are no longer there. And he is dying. Can you think of a more effective torture for a sick five-year-old? What will it do to his cancer?

In the meantime, his parents may be extradited and flown back to Britain to ‘answer questions’. Why could the police not send one officer to Spain to ask whatever ludicrous questions they might have? What possible questions might there be for parents trying to save the life of their child? Whose child is this? When the child dies, will the police, the NHS, apologise? It will be too late, whatever they do; the child has already had his life shortened by this affair. Those involved in such a heavy-handed approach all bear responsibility. It will be interesting to see what spurious reasons the authorities invent over the next few weeks for the sheer brutality of this affair.

The latest news is that the parents will be kept in prison for 72 hours while a judge decides whether they will be extradited. These are parents of a sick child, not criminals.

This is a child’s life that is being bandied about by idiots. I fail to understand why the police can mobilize massive resources for this family affair and seem unable to bring to book anyone involved in the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Of course, I might be wrong about all this. I’ve been wrong before, but it depresses me to think I’m probably right.

I love my country and I’m deeply ashamed of it. I’ve been ashamed of it for some time. Recent events have deepened that shame: the Rotherham scandal, the Jimmy Savile Enquiry, the social engineering of Britain, self-seeking career politicians and greedy bankers wrecking the country and being rewarded for it, the culture of political correctness that means the Thought Police are not just a figment of George Orwell’s imagination, but are here, right now… and so much more.

The King family and the way they have been, are being, treated, is an indicator of something greater, something more monstrous, hiding beneath the vapid, ceramically enhanced grins of greasy career politicians and the sly faces of bankers.

It seems to me, that as we drift forward to an inevitable police state founded on the back of both real and invented terrorist threats, ordinary, decent British people are becoming less involved in their own fate. Decades of political correctness have ensured that we will never complain, never protest in the way we used to such a short time ago. We have become inert objects: fed with sex, sugar, drugs, alcohol and the ceaseless consumption of the scripted lives of others via soaps and ‘reality’ TV, so that actual reality becomes an unpleasantness to be avoided at all costs.

We hate our masters and rail against them interminably, but they know we will always be compliant – we have been trained to behave.

And we have one belief that transcends all others. Despite our posturing, despite our huffing and puffing, despite our weak protests against their excesses – they know better than us.

When you hear the sound of the bell, you will salivate.

But little Ashya King won’t care either way.

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I like this poster. I found it just now. But, for me, it should read ‘Nightmares At Work Mean Peaceful Nights Later’.lossy-page1-399px-Day-dreaming_at_work_means_nightmares_later^_Try_harder_today..._For_the_U.S.A_-_NARA_-_535090.tif I don’t really care for the idea of bombs heading for my private parts as I enjoy my peaceful nights, but the overall design and the sentiment appeal as an example of wartime propaganda.

See, I’m distracted already.

You know how it is. You are writing something intense or disturbing or nasty and you have to turn away from the page and look for distraction. Those of us who write horror, crime or thrillers and are still relatively sane, do this a lot.

The darkest parts of human nature and the nature of reality are the memes of such lost souls.

Right now, the darkest coffee and the nature of caffeine have assumed more immediate importance , so away with you, Richard Dawkins: you and your foolish memes.

Then we come to the rub.

There are only so many cups of coffee one can ingest before the trembling begins and you can’t see the keyboard, let alone punch the keys to produce anything resembling coherent text. That’s not exactly true. I don’t need coffee to achieve incoherence.

But, I’m proud to say, I’m rarely distracted by anything when writing and… look, a wood pigeon! Never seen one of those before. 800px-Common_Wood_Pigeon

I muse on the smallness of a pigeon’s head and the hugeness of its droppings. If people did droppings in the same ratio we would need much bigger toilet paper… and possibly a wheelbarrow, when performing our ablutions.672px-Wheelbarrow_(PSF)The pigeon is making that repetitive, idiotic, cooing noise and it’s copied by another identical pigeon sitting about ten yards distant. The notes, tone, cadence and duration are exactly the same.

1st Pigeon: Hello.

2nd Pigeon: Hello.

1st Pigeon: Hello.

2nd Pigeon: Hello.

1st Pigeon: Hello.

And so on…


1st Pigeon: Good morning, Clarence.

2nd Pigeon: And a glorious one too, Edgar.

1st Pigeon: I believe I may have solved the mystery of quantum string theory, yesterday evening, after a particularly fine supper of organic corn.

2nd Pigeon: Really? That will be one in the eye for the collared doves, clever buggers.

1st Pigeon: It will. Kings of theoretical physics, huh! I say, can you see that chap over there, looking at us in a manner that quite disturbs my equilibrium?

2nd Pigeon: Ignore him. He doesn’t have a gun. Or organic corn.

1st Pigeon: I wonder what goes through their brains?

2nd Pigeon: Not much, I would imagine. Such tiny heads and huge bodies.

1st Pigeon: And a distinct lack of wings.

2nd Pigeon (nods) Indeed. It’s like being disabled, or rather un-abled, as we must say nowadays. Always last for the corn, I should think.

1st Pigeon: Sad.

2nd Pigeon: They can’t even speak properly – just that incessant noise, exactly the same each time, in note, tone, cadence and duration.

1st Pigeon: True. Ah well, can’t stop here chatting with you. We’re helping the crows mob a quite disingenuous buzzard – she has simply awful social habits – at nine-thirty.

2nd Pigeon: Isn’t that rather dangerous? Crows and buzzards are much more acrobatic than you, my friend. You are rather…ahem…portly?

1st Pigeon: What’s life without a little danger? Even for us fatties. Better than that poor sod down there. He spends all his time in front of a computer, writing crap, instead of dropping it on cars, as normal people do…

And so on…

Now, the horrific calls and I have to threaten reality once again with vague gestures and an empty coffee cup, so the anthropomorphised distractor pigeons will have to wait their turn.3164460404_0f9eacb7a4

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There are no pictures or jolly graphics in this post, for reasons that will become apparent later.

My explanation of why I abandoned what was my current WIP is in Part One of this post.

So, for those still reading, here’s what happened next.

I began writing a novel (and a documentary)  about a subject close to my rage threshold in the late 1980s and ever since then it has surfaced regularly, waving a small, polite flag, before sinking once more into that ocean of mostly unusable ideas with which writers are either blessed or cursed.

A short while ago it started being less than polite. That I was not completing this novel was making me feel guilty. The Savile enquiry kicked it to the front of my list.

It’s about child abuse.

The reason it was never completed was because I had, and still have, reservations about using this subject in a thriller. I researched and tried to make a TV documentary about it in the 90s, but could find no finance from any source – I know the reasons for that and they were insuperable at the time. Might still be. One broadcast company commissioning editor told me, in 1993, if I remember rightly, ‘This just can’t happen; it’s too fantastic.’

‘And Soon The Song’ – my last novel - has elements of child abuse in it, but to some extent, because it is wrapped in a classic ghost horror story, the abuse becomes apocryphal and somewhat distant from the reality. To encapsulate the reality of abuse within a genre horror story is beyond my ability as a writer, simply because the reality is far more horrific than anything my imagination could conjure. It’s real.

The new, old story attempts to deal with that reality, albeit against a crime thriller background. This background allows me to cop out of full-blown descriptions and instead use the crime thriller structure to explain the bestiality of child abuse without aiding abusers to get their rocks off on graphic word pictures. It also enables me to explore what motivates people to even contemplate inhuman acts against children and how the Establishment and the public would rather believe that this dark element of the human psyche does not exist, despite repeated evidence over many years that it does.

I don’t want anything I write to come across as some middle class, old bloke ranting against the injustices of the world and the inhumanity of man to his (or her) fellows, so my research has been careful and painstaking, as it was in the ’80s.

But I realise that, to some extent, it will. It’s almost inevitable. I have two children – both grown now – and if any abuse had happened to them, my rage towards the abusers would have been boundless and possibly uncontrollable. I think that is the normal response of any father, but I understand that ‘normal’ is difficult to pin down, so I will say I believe it to be the response of every father I know, or have ever known, in my personal life.

I am on familiar terms with the objections, because I’ve wrestled with them. The terms ‘thriller’ and ‘child abuse’ should not occupy the same page. But, if I were to write a serious book about it, I would have to take my readers to places I, personally, don’t want to take them, just for the sake of veracity. It is also true that in order to inform the maximum number of people of an evil, the task might best be done through a popular fiction genre.

And, I’m still not sure that it’s the right thing to do, even so, but I will plough ahead and see what happens. It’s down to every writer worth his or her salt to write what presents and then worry about ‘rightness’ later. You may or may not agree with me, but your opinions are always welcome.

If I finish it, then I will make a decision whether or not to publish. I will need help from my friends in the form of many beta reads. Anyone who would be prepared to brave a look at what will be a difficult read will receive my immense gratitude. Just let me know, either on here or by DM on Twitter. Please comment if you wish – this will be harder to read than my short story, ‘The 500’, which is about abortion, so please bear that in mind and if you prefer to keep away, I understand completely.

I know that all the foregoing might seem like a lot of fannying around based on the meanderings of an elderly halfwit, but that’s the way it has happened and my new WIP is the result. I can say no more, but thanks for reading.

Note: Because this started life as a screenplay it is written in the present tense. I didn’t want to lose the immediacy of the script. There will be an opening chapter on this blog soon.










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WinonaSavingsBankVaultMy current work in progress is no longer current.

It sits in a deep vault on the hard drive and I’ve bolted the door, for now. It had taken me around two years to write, so the decision was hard. It needed to be done. And it was better than a bonfire: metaphorical or real. Book_burning

Why? It is written as well as I could write it, has a terrific storyline and tackles an important subject with which most readers will be familiar, if not totally au fait, but it doesn’t work.

It started life as a 120 minute screenplay, but begged to be a novel, so I thought ‘why not’ and plunged in like a fool, or rather as one. But, when the screen characters developed and grew in the novel, it wandered away from its original theme and became something else entirely. Much of the difference is because my screenplay relies on visuals to spin its narrative, which need description or explanation in words when the pictures are absent, but it’s not the whole story.

Now I know I have a tendency to go ‘off message’ in my writing if I find an interesting topic and I tried to guard against it, but to no avail. What I ended up with was a fast paced thriller melded with a philosophical rant about reality (those who’ve read ‘Northman’ and ‘Song’ might recognise a marginally psychotic pattern here) and several interesting, but unnecessary characters – some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with the narrative thrust of this purported ‘thriller’.

It was an odd experience.

I could see the original story, but its dimensions had increased exponentially and part of it was occupying a different space-time continuum from that which I could observe as recognisable in terms of genre. I do have an interest in quantum mechanics, but the effect, in this instance, was not only disconcerting, but also seemed to violate all concepts of the thriller genre. I have already experienced reader complaints about mixing philosophy with horror stories/ thrillers and completely understand why any apparently didactic elements might not sit well with some. So, I’ve stuffed it away in a dark drawer, there to mature like a round of Stilton… or rot away in electronic Purgatory; I have no idea which possibility will eventually become reality, but hopefully it’s not Schrödinger’s Cat.Katze

It might be a good novel when I’ve decided what it is and edited the hell out of it, but I’m currently without an editor – one prepared to work for malt whiskey, that is – and the novel’s nature has escaped me. Which reminds me…

In the olden days, when I used to fish, I was fly-fishing on the glorious River Spey in Scotland for trout and hooked a big salmon. Salmo_salar_maleMy fishing tackle was light and not intended for salmon, but, after half an hour, with a little patience and gentleness, I’d managed to persuade the salmon to come to the bank and, lacking a suitable landing net, I was going to walk the fish along to a shingle beach and invite him to come ashore for tea, at which he would be the main course. The water next to the bank was about five feet deep and I could see him below me, twisting and flashing in the peaty water. He was fresh run, of a brilliant silver hue, and about twenty-five pounds in weight. It was a miracle that my line of seven pounds breaking strain and tiny six-foot fibreglass brown trout rod had even coped thus far. I began to walk him, leading him alongside the bank and he came at first, like a dog on a leash.

Then he stopped. Abruptly. Refused to move. I peered down into the water and he was only about a foot below the surface and looking at me. It was as if he were saying, ‘well, that was fun, but there’s a lady salmon of my acquaintance waiting a little further up the river, so…’ he turned once, flashing and, quite lazily, but before I could react, snapped the nylon leader like rotten sewing thread and was away.

The abandoned novel was a bit like that. It wasn’t ready to be caught, I couldn’t hold it and my equipment wasn’t good enough. When I come to it again I will make sure it is as perfect as can be, my gear is suitable to the task and my grip is tight.

What I’ve just written is the logical explanation for abandoning a novel that was very nearly finished.

There’s another explanation.

I’ll explain all in my next post, if this one hasn’t bored the pants off you. Tosa3

Here’s a picture of Chan, my favourite Japanese Tosa, from And Soon The Song.

Chan isn’t boring. At least, you’d better not call him that.

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When Cupid meets the Muse…

Originally posted on Mari Biella:

This cherubic little fellow has much to answer for...

This cherubic little fellow has much to answer for…

Q: I recently met a man whom I really like. It’s early days, of course, but he’s charming, intelligent, generous, and really quite romantic. Sounds ideal? There’s one teeny, tiny little problem. I think he might be a writer. He hasn’t actually admitted it as yet, but I keep finding him scribbling away in a notebook and tapping at a laptop keyboard, often at some rather inappropriate moments. Yesterday, he talked admiringly – and with a touch of envy, I suspected – about “the supreme fluidity and grace of A.M. Homes’s prose.” What should I do?

View original 1,000 more words

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ASTS 6 HIRES7 Cover2RedI first came across Hearthstone Hall in the spring of 1978. Of course, its name wasn’t Hearthstone, but it was, is, a mediaeval hall and remains in a remarkable state of preservation.

My first impression as I crossed the ancient bridge over the river and saw the building rearing against a pebbled sky, was one of solidity, mass, almost as if the Hall had sprouted from the land and, in deep underground fissures, its roots twisted and turned through infinite depths. ‘In caverns measureless to man’, as Omar Khayyám so perfectly puts it, in his Rubaiyat.

My second impression was of coldness. Not the normal coldness of an English spring, but something uncaring of my presence, brutal and arrogant. Then, as a horde of schoolchildren streamed from the massive, studded, English oak doors, the impression evaporated and it was just a pile of well-arranged stones with a turbulent history.

Hearthstone is a fine building, but it has housed the great, the good and a whole horde of ruffians and ne’er-do-wells for over a thousand years. Perhaps the emotional response I felt was not simply the coolness of stones but the spiritual detritus left by its former residents.ASTS NEW Twitter BTM

As I walked the uneven oak floors, dodging around a dozen Nikon F wielding Japanese tourists who were being told ‘no photography’ and repeatedly pretending they did not understand English, the idea for my latest novel, AND SOON THE SONG, was generated. It would be a ghost story in the classical tradition of Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James or Poe. I had thought of writing a ghost story when visiting Repton Church crypt whilst researching my first novel, NORTHMAN, and in some way I suppose that dear old Thorkild was a traditional ghost, despite being something far more evil, but he didn’t satisfy my desire to have a real ghost with a despicable history tramping the panelled corridors of an ancient English house in search of victims old and new, so Elyssia was born.

Elyssia Tilling is dead for most of the novel. She returns from the asylum in which she has been incarcerated for many years to her home, Hearthstone, as a ghost. In her madness, she has an evil agenda to repeat her unspeakable sins and it involves all those who were present at the Christmas Ball, twenty years ago. But something else drives her and it lives in Hearthstone Hall. The idea of Elyssia (or the reality) came from a painting.

As the Japanese glided noisily through to another room and silence descended, I happened to look up and to the right of an ornate cherubim-clad fireplace and there she was. Raven hair, imperious bearing and just a hint of madness in her green eyes. The painting dominated the room, but more that that; it was the room.

Sadly, I forgot to jot down the name of this grand mistress of Hearthstone. I revisited the house in the summer of 2011 and the painting had vanished. I asked one of the guides – a very knowledgeable lady of indeterminate years – what had happened to the painting of the dark-haired, green-eyed woman and she said that she had never seen a painting of a woman of that description in the twenty-eight years she had been a guide in the property. To this day and, despite extensive research, I have never found a trace of this painting, or any indication of who this woman might have been. But I remember her green eyes.

The first attempt at And Soon The Song wasn’t begun until the 1990s. It was almost twenty years until Hearthstone and Elyssia became more than a few notes written in biro on the back of a Player’s Navy Cut cigarette packet.

It refused to be written.

Every time I began it, something would take me away. The storyline was hard – it involved a taboo subject, one about which I felt deeply and I had to constantly reassess whether or not I should be writing about this subject at all. But, after a couple of years, I had a draft of sorts.

It was awful. None of the characters breathed and although I could accept this deficit in the dead, even the living were moribund.

Then I became ill. It might have been the nature of book that encouraged the illness, or it might just have been the result of my hectic lifestyle, but thoughts of The Song drifted away and were replaced with no thoughts, apart from those sufficient to get through the day. Autopilot took over for ten long years as I wrote and directed TV commercials about wood preservative or supermarkets and promos for banks, bands and earthmoving equipment manufacturers, but the earth refused to move on the fiction front and the first draft of The Song languished in a drawer with several dead moths who, like me, found it unpalatable.

When I visited Hearthstone in 2012 the disappointment of not seeing the painting galvanised me into fevered action, overriding my first instinct to leave the manuscript alone. I wrote a second draft, a third, a fourth… and so on. The book’s time appeared to have come.

Elyssia, dead these long years, now lives, as do Raoul de Courcy and his clan, Sir Marcus Tilling, Tom, Charlotte, Martha, Annabelle, Wigley the butler and the magnificent dog, Chan – a Japanese Toser of the finest ilk. This time there was no hesitation, no coyness or recalcitrance – every character had been waiting for his or her chance to strut across my stage, and strut they do, including the wonderfully evil but infinitely sad Elyssia. Her eyes continue to haunt me and I know that somewhere in the world her painting sits, perhaps in the dark, I hope in the light, where her green eyes stare out at the gawping masses with contempt… and we all pray she stays in the damned painting.

The book is not selling well. I have no idea why. Suggestions on a postcard? It could be the cover. It could be the complexity of construction, flitting through and between time periods; the storyline, dealing, as it does, with a sensitive subject, maybe the impatience of modern readers, the odd misplaced punctuation mark, or it might just be a rubbish book; I have no way of telling. My beta readers all seemed to understand and enjoy it, but some recent readers find it incomprehensible.

I won’t go to Hearthstone again, either in fiction or reality, but, I’m glad I wrote The Song, if only for the characters, most of whom I’m pleased to have known – some more than others. There remains a nagging, but minor, thought that perhaps I should have listened to my instincts and left the first draft to the moths. Or maybe let Chan chew it up.


*My next book does not contain ghosts. Well, not many. Out October or November (laughs and falls over clutching a whisky glass). Incidentally, I’m looking for a copy editor who is prepared to work for good Scottish whisky or whiskey, if you prefer. DM me on Twitter if you have the necessary skills and are prepared to spill blood, preferably your own.

Free chapters of AND SOON THE SONG are available to read on this blog. http://wp.me/p24Exb-av

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