Wednesday 30 December 2015

2015 and all that

2015 was a busy year for me - as well as penning a new western, Riding the Vengeance Trail (out May 2016), I found myself working on two major non fiction projects Cardiff and the Valleys in the Great War saw publication from Pen and Sword Books during the summer, while Dark Valleys, a look at historical murders that have taken place in and around the South Wales Valleys will see print during 2016.

I'm still writing and polishing the latter title - my deadline looms a month away, and I'm pleased with the way the work is shaping up. The research threw up some interesting avenues of investigation, and I was able to share some new information with the police regarding a cold case from 1993 - but you'll
be able to read about that later in 2016 when the book sees print. Ive also signed another contract for a follow up to my first world war study, -  Cardiff at War 1939-1945 will likely see print during mid 2017, but I'll be starting the work on this title immediately following the delivery of the manuscript for Dark Valleys to my publisher.

During the summer, May to be precise my western, The Man From Jerusalem saw print, and sadly turned out to be my last western for Robert Hale, the publishing house that first put me into print. In Dec 2015 Robert Hale shut up shop after more than 80 years in the publishing business. They had my forthcoming, Riding the Vengeance Trail under contract and to say I was dismayed is an understatement. Still there was a silver lining in the shape of Crowood Publishing who are to continue the Black Horse Western line and my book is to see publication in May as originally scheduled. Still I'm going to miss Robert Hale and owe them a great deal.

Several of my older titles are to be republished by the wonderful Piccadilly Publishing - Tarnished Star and Wild Bill Williams will be the first two - Tarnished Star now goes under a different name, LawMaster in order to tie into a film version, that director Neil Jones is developing.

I'm pleased to be publishing with Piccadilly Publishing and plan to pen a new western for them during the first few month of 2016. And I'm hoping that the company will be able to put me westerns before a new and larger audience.

Piccadilly Publishing is the brainchild of longtime Western fans and Amazon Kindle Number One bestselling Western writers Mike Stotter and David Whitehead (a.k.a. Ben Bridges). Since 2012 the company has been bringing back into 'e-print' some of the most popular and best-loved Western and action-adventure series fiction of the last forty years.

They certainly have a high profile on the Internet and as you can see from the new cover art for, Wild Bill Williams they  mean business. As soon as the new editions are available I'll let you all know.

What have I enjoyed this year? Well there was a new Bond movie, Spectre and although not as strong as Skyfall it was a damn entertaining ride, Quentin Tarantino delivered a great western in The Hateful Eight and there was another bloody Star Wars movie. I didn't visit the big screen as much as usual in 2015 (Im getting tired of superhero movies) but I did follow some great TV - the second season of Fargo was even better than the excellent first, and The Walking Dead returned for a new season and seemed to be back on form. Hell on Wheels also returned to the small screen and so far the first half of the fifth and final season has been aired - I enjoyed it overall but think the show is starting to power down. Still the mid-season climax was exciting stuff and I'm eager for the conclusion early in the new year. There was also a TV pilot, thanks to Amazon, of Edge, the western character created by George G. Gilman. And whilst not brilliant the pilot did show promise so fingers crossed.

What books stick in my mind? Well I very much enjoyed the new Bond novel, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz. Stupid title aside it was a bloody good read that managed to feel like Fleming was once again pounding the keyboard. This year also saw Stephen King publishing the first two books in the Bill Hodges Trilogy and I think these books are among the best he's ever written - Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers kept me turning the pages. A lot was made of the fact that these were straightforward crime thrillers with no supernatural elements, but to me they felt like vintage King and the characters were as good as ever. End of Watch, the final book in the trilogy will be published this coming summer and I can't wait to finish the story.

I also read a fair few westerns this year - going through the entire Lonesome Dove series in chronological order rather than publication order, and found that I was noticing a lot of continuity errors when read in this way. I also caught up with classic westerns thanks to new eBook editions and have especially enjoyed rediscovering Herne the Hunter. I also  read a lot of crime fiction this year - The Girl in the Spider's Web was a worthy continuation of Stieg Larsson's Millenium series. No one could have expected this book to stand up alongside the original classics but author, David Lagerchrantz seems to have managed it. We lost Ruth Rendell this year and Dark Corners was published as a posthumous work. The author had all but completed the book when she died in May and all that remained was for some polishing. I very much enjoyed this book and was deeply saddened by the death of the author. The world of fiction also lost another of its great voices this year, when Terry Pratchett passed away in March. His final Discworld novel, The Shepard's Crown came out during August and although I picked up a copy on publication day I have yet to read it. It sits in my TBR pile and will be tackled soon.

During 2015 eBook sales seem to have levelled off but the industry is still strong - of course the year started with the tremors resonating from the Amazon/Hatchette book pricing row but now that the industry has matured somewhat it was inevitable that sales would even off. Though eBooks are still doing the business and look set to continue doing so. All in all though it was a calm year with Amazon upgrading the excellent paperwhite device, and admitting that their prestige Voyage eBook reader failed to find the market. In truth the Paperwhite device is so good that there is no need to try and top it. And whilst the Voyage may be the best eBook reader out there it is simply too expensive and is, let's face it, not that much better than the Paperwhite.

And so we fast forward into 2016 - on a personal note I've got the birth of my first grandchild to look forward to, and I'm hoping to get a couple more books written. As well as the contracted titles, I've set myself a target of writing at least three novels during the coming year. I certainly need to get the fourth Granny Smith novel done and somewhere in the back of my mind I can feel another Jack Martin novel taking shape-still we'll talk about all that at the end of the year.

Monday 28 December 2015


Weekly Stats Report: 21 Dec - 27 Dec 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits1091161179094104109739106
First Time Visits1081121138887101107716102
Returning Visits1442732233

Friday 25 December 2015

Fifty Rashers PART ONE

One - I arrive at Chequers

I knew there was something different about this farm, that it was going to change my life in ways that I could never have imagined; not even in my wildest dreams. When I arrived at the farm I was just like any other pig, no different to the two dozen others who were driven into the pen besides me, but when I left there I was a very different pig. Gone was my innocence -  replaced with a cynicism that no pig should carry around.
            The first day at Chequers Farm was spent mostly meeting the other pigs and talking about the master, a man known as Farmer Giles. I discovered that the farmer didn't actually own the farm himself, but was simply the manager. He lived in the large 12th century farmhouse with his partner, or husband rather, a middle aged man who went by the name of Nigel Deranged. By all accounts they were a lovely couple who treated the livestock on the farm with kindness and respect. I was pleased to hear the latter as my previous farm had been run by a Mr. Murduck, a man with evil looking eyes who was prone to kicking out at any animal as he walked past. I myself had been on the receiving end of several well aimed boots, usually followed by a string of Australian accented curses, that turned my ordinarily pink rump into an angry shade of blue.
            'On a fine night they often sit out on that bench there,' Rasher, an elderly pig, who claimed his family had been connected to Chequers for more two centuries, told me as we rooted about in the dirt by the fence. 'They call it their love seat and when the weather's nice they sit there for hours, holding hands and watching over the farm.'
            I snorted as I chewed on a thick worm that I pulled from the ground. The worm seemed to be made of elastic and it clung to the dirt so that I had to yank it viciously into my mouth.
            'That's nice,' I said, and swallowed the worm. 'I think I'm going to like it here.'
            'You will,' Rasher nodded so fiercely that a fine mist of snot was sent onto the air. '
            I sniffed the air and watched as a car came up the lane approaching the farmyard.
            'That's Dave Hameron,' Rasher said, pointing his snout in the direction of the approaching vehicle. 'He's a friend of the master and a very important man. A politician, I believe.'
            'Politician?' I looked at Rasher. I don't think I'd ever heard the word before.
            'Yes,' Rasher nodded. 'A politician.'
            'What's a politician?'
            Rasher's ancient features wrinkled into a frown. He was silent for several moments, before snorting and looking me directly in the eyes.
            'You may very well ask,' he said.
            'I am asking. What's a politician?'
            'Well, I don't rightly know,' Rasher admitted. 'But one thing I do know is that they are very important.'
            'I see,' I said and watched the car pull up into the farmyard. The car certainly  looked like a vehicle someone very important would drive. I continued watching as a man stepped from the car. He was well dressed, looking comfortable in a smart lightweight suit and open necked shirt. He glanced in the direction of the pig pen and I feel sure that our eyes met. For just the briefest of moments he seemed to be looking directly into my eyes and I felt a warmth deep down in my very soul, my inner goddess had been aroused.

Two – Forbidden desires

It was my third day at the farm before Dave Hameron approached me. He had been walking about the farmyard with the master for some time, deep in conversation. I’d watched him from the pen while several other pigs rooted about in the dirt, looking for the particularly tasty worms that thrived in the soil beneath us. I did like a good worm myself, but when that man was about I could think of nothing else. I knew that mixed species relationships rarely worked and indeed, outside of Wales, weren’t very common but it was no good telling my inner goddess that. She had become a nymphomaniac deity and I lifted my snout into the air, sniffing to catch just the merest whiff of the man.
            ‘What you looking at?’
            The voice came from behind me and startled me. I turned and looked into Rasher’s aged features.
            ‘Nothing,’ I said.
            ‘You are looking at him,’ Rasher accusingly pointed his snout in the direction of the master and the man, I now thought of as, sex on legs. And we both watched as the men entered the farm house.
            ‘No,’ I said. ‘I was just enjoying the sunshine. It’s a lovely day.’
            Rasher snorted with derision, said: ‘I’ve seen that look upon your face before. I’ve seen it on other faces.’
            I shook me head, my ears flapped as I did so.
            ‘Don’t be silly,’ I hated myself when  I stammered over the words. My inner goddess had been discovered, and she was doing cartwheels within my soul. ‘I’m a pig! Why would I be interested in a human?’
            ‘Why indeed,’ Rasher said, rather cryptically I thought.
            I snorted and turned on my feet, burying my snout in the dirt. A moment later I pulled out a particularly juicy worm and swallowed it whole.
            ‘It’s forbidden,’ Rasher said, firmly.
            ‘What is?’ I asked. The worm had helped me regain my composure and I felt better as if my desires for the man were not so obvious.
            Rasher shook his huge head, sadness evident in his eyes. For a moment he too rooted about in the dirt but he soon looked up, looked at me.
            ‘It does happen,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen it happen before, many times before. And it always leads to heartache and madness. Don’t do it.’
            ‘I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,’ I said and walked away. I didn’t want to talk about it any longer, though deep down I knew Rasher was right. Any relationship between man and pig was doomed from the start. Though still the thoughts persisted – it wasn’t my mind that was leading me, no something much more primal  guided me. My inner goddess had desires, and forbidden or not she was going to act upon them.
            Several hours went by, I spent them rooting about in the dirt but my thoughts constantly went back to Dave Hameron. In my mind’s eye I saw him naked, felt him holding me tight. These thoughts scared me, but at the same time they excited me and no matter how hard I tried to shake them off they returned to taunt me.
 Later that afternoon the master came into the pen, slipped a collar around my neck and led me from the pen.
‘C’mon piggie,’  he said and yanked on the lead.
            I didn’t know where the master was talking me and I was scared. I didn’t think I was big enough for slaughter, but where else but the big house could the master be taking me? The big house, that was the place where many pigs had gone but none ever returned.
            Big house, big house, big house – the words bounced around my mind, creating a panic that took on the physical form of a fever. I sneezed, my head pulling at the leash.
            ‘Bloody pig,’ the master said and pulled me even harder, so hard in fact that I stumbled and he dragged me several feet on my side. We reached a large barn at the far northern point of the farmyard before I regained my feet. And all I could do was stand there shivering as the master released the heavy lock and slid the doors open.
            ‘Get in,’ the master said, giving me a swift boot to my rump as he forced me inside.
            The master closed the door.
            Then there was nothing but darkness.
            I’m not sure how long I sat there terrified before there was a tugging on my lead. I peered into the darkness but I could  see nothing.
            ‘Hello little pig.’
            It had been a kind voice, a warm voice and I felt some of the fear draining from me.
            ‘Come on babe,’ the disembodied voice said and there was another tug of my lead. ‘Come on. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.’
            Suddenly I felt a hand upon my back and then another hand. I turned my head and saw him, Dave Hameron, standing behind me. He was naked, his pink sausage like penis standing perfectly erect.
            ‘My desires are unconventional,’ he said, smiled and then pushed his sex into me.
            I squealed, at first with shock but then with pleasure as the man pushed deeper inside. He kissed the back of my neck, nuzzling into my flesh as he pumped in and out of my sex with his pleasure pole.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 7 Dec - 13 Dec 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits114141218154666477834119
First Time Visits96128209149616172776111
Returning Visits181395535588

Magazine Watch - Crime Scene issue 2

Collectable Cover 1
Issue 2 of Crime Scene Magazine is currently available in this shops - this is only the second issue and they are already trying to tempt readers to buy an extra copy by releasing two different covers for this issue - does anyone actually do this? It seems to be quite a common ploy by news-stand magazines - I noticed that this month's Empire magazine is out with a zillion different Star Wars covers, and Classic Rock also did this to celebrate Iron Maiden's new album a few months ago. I guess the theory is that collectors will buy multiple magazines.

Ze capatalist magazine producers...come ze revolution...

Still I don't need marketing gimmicks to buy an extra copy of this magazine - I regard this publication so highly that I buy an issue to read until it is falling apart and another to keep mint in my collection. I did this with issue one and I've just picked up two issues of this second issue, A Nordic Noir themed issue.

Collectable Cover 2
It's a glossy magazine and in layout resembles publications like Total Film but this magazine is dedicated to the crime genre and is written by journalists that understand and love the genre. This second issue features interviews with Idris Elba, Martina Cole, Sofia Heflin and others, and the Nordic centrepiece features an unpublished interview with the late, Henning Mankell. There are detailed set reports from the forthcoming Sherlock Christmas Special as well as  the second season of Fargo. On the true crime front there is an interview with Brooke Magnanti,a  forensic scientist, who talks about the realities of forensic investigations.

The history of the genre is also taken care with an article on the first detective, Poe's  Auguste Dupin. The story Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841 is often called the first detective fiction.

I really do like this magazine - its excellently written and the first issue introduced me to the documentaries The Jinx and The Staircase which I have poured through this past month. And WOW! they made for compelling viewing.

The features are rounded out with  book, film and TV reviews and while reading these I found myself making a wish list. At £7.99  the magazine is a little on the expensive side but at 130 pages it is well worth the expense.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Cole Masters rides back

My debut western, Tarnished Star remains Robert Hale's fastest selling western and it will soon see an all new edition under the title of LawMaster. The new title ties in with the movie which is now in early development.

Monday 7 December 2015

10 Reasons why Star Wars is Shit

I swore I wouldn't, but I have. I've become sucked up into the hype surrounding the new Star Wars movie. Fucking addictive space operatics.

To prepare for the new film, and in a mood of extreme masochism, I decided to revisit the previous six movies and watch them in chronological order.

Well  I've just sat through The Phantom Menace in 3D,  and it's no better in 3D, in fact it's worse. The colours are overly saturated and Jar Jar Binks is celluloid toothache. I mean all the character ever does is look up at the sky, ceiling, roof and utter complete drivel - dialogue which sounds vaguely racist, almost like the crows in Dumbo .  Jar Jar Binks was so obviously designed to make a cute cuddly toy that I was half expecting him to have a barcode woven into his costume.

 The Phantom Menace is more than a bad movie with one or two good bits - it's a terrible movie with one or two good bits. Okay the pod race, obviously designed with the video game in mind,  is fun and the double light sabres look fantastic, but to get to these parts we have to sit through young Darth Vader yelling, 'Whoopie' a dozen or so times, as well as a plot so convoluted and nonsensical that the viewer is in danger of losing the will to live. It's something to do with tax inspectors - least, I think so.

"Jar Jar Binks was so obviously designed to make a cute cuddly toy that I was half expecting him to have a barcode woven into his costume."

I mean come on - The Phantom Menace is just a two hour commercial for George Lucas to wring even more bucks out of a stale concept. 

Obviously George hasn't thought the re-release program through properly just as he didn't think the story of The Phantom Menace through before disappointing Star Wars fans everywhere.

There are those that defend The Phantom Menace but that's got to be blind allegiance to the franchise.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not going to watch the Clone Wars TV series until I've seen the Clone Wars movie. I prefer to let George Lucas disappoint me in the order he intended." Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory

I must confess I'm not a huge fan of the Star Wars series and I think that as a whole it's overrated. I went and saw the original Star Wars at least half a dozen times, but then I was twelve at the time and although the film is still watchable it's hardly the intelligent SCI-FI often displayed by the likes of Star Trek, and saying, as many do,  that Star Wars created a mythology as rich as Tolkein's Lord of the Rings saga is, in my opinion, going a bit far.

However the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back is as good a SCI-FI film as any other and I must admit that the original Star Wars is in its own way a classic of cinema, but after that the franchise left me cold. The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi were a transparent attempt at launching a new toy range, and every Star Wars incarnation since has had one eye on the cash register. If Gordon Gekko made movies this is what they would look like.

Star Wars may have initially been  a great saga but George Lucas has turned it into a pile of crap. And I stick by that statement.

Below I present ten reasons why I think Star Wars is crap.

1 - Ewoks - Lucus tries to copyright teddy-bears.

2- Jar Jar Binks - need I say more.

3- Re-issuing The Empire Strikes Back with a dodgty CGI  Jabba tacked on.

4- Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor - The real episodes 7 and 8!

5-Using an embarrassing plot device as a religion - pity the force wasn't with George.

6 - Making Vader a cute little kid and then having him shout, 'Noooooooo, as an angst ridden teenager.

7-Creating a situation where the biggest box office goes to the dumbest movies.

8-Making even Samuel L Jackson look uncool.

9- Not allowing Han to shoot first.

10- Jar Jar f***ing  Binks

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 30 Nov - 6 Dec 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits15211414918511395110918131
First Time Visits149991371849992106866124
Returning Visits3151211434527

Thursday 3 December 2015

Robert Hale: The Loss of a British institution

From the Bookseller

Independent publisher Robert Hale Ltd is to “withdraw from publishing” after nearly 80 years, with 10 people from the business made redundant. However, Robert Hale's lists and imprints - NAG Press, J A Allen and Buried River Press - have been acquired by fellow independent publisher The Crowood Press in Wiltshire.

Robert Hale Ltd ceased trading as a publisher on Tuesday (1st December), but will remain in business for the "immediate future" as it begins the process of calculating royalties and closing the company, it said. The company’s chairman, John Hale, said he intends to retire and realise the family’s assets next spring. The decision has resulted in 10 redundancies so far and when the entire company is "formally wound up" next spring, there will be four more people made redundant.
Gill Jackson, managing director of Robert Hale, told The Bookseller: “It is a sad time, but we are delighted that our lists, including our forthcoming titles… have been acquired by The Crowood Press. It is hoped that our authors will be as happy with Crowood as we like to feel they were with us. Certainly we have enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of being associated with so many wonderful writers.”

Founded in 1936 by Robert Hale, the company, based in Clerkenwell Green in London, published fiction and non-fiction and specialised in general hardback fiction, mind, body and spirit, biography and practical reference titles. Robert Hale's J A Allen imprint published books about horse riding and equestrianism and its NAG Press imprint published books about jewellery, precious metals, horology and gemmology.

Robert Hale published authors including Berthold Brecht, Robert Goddard, Harold Robins, Robert Block, Wendy Perriam, E.V. Thompson and Jean Plaidy.

Author Gary Martin Dobbs, whose Jack Martin western novels were published by Robert Hale, said in a blog post: "Hale had been in the book business since 1936 and are the only UK print publisher with a Western line... The UK's government's austerity policies have seen a large number of public libraries closing in recent years. Hale's Western line was largely aimed at the library market so this was a bitter blow. Add to this the upheaval  to traditional publishing caused by the digital revolution, and it is a difficult market within which to do business."

Robert Hale's Design and Production Manager, Catherine
Williams, told The Bookseller: "It is sad indeed that Robert Hale has ceased trading. I've had seven very happy years working for the company and will always be grateful for the opportunities to develop my design and production skills across a wide range of titles. I wish every success to The Crowood Press in continuing the imprints."

John Dennis, chairman of Crowood, said that he was "honoured" to have the Robert Hale imprints on the Crowood list. He added that distribution would pass to Grantham Book Services from 1st December 2015 and all orders thereafter should be transmitted to them.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Robert Hale Rides into the sunset

This is a sad post to write - the news that Robert Hale, publishers are to cease operating as publishers is terrible. Hale had been in the book business since 1936 and are the only UK print publisher with a western line. It's sad when any publisher closes doors but it's personal for me since Robert Hale are the publishers of my Jack Martin western novels - indeed, a new western, Riding the Vengeance Trail is due to be published next summer.

The UK's government's austerity policies have seen a large number of public libraries closing in recent years. Hale's western line was largely aimed at the library market so this was a bitter blow. Add to this the upheaval  to traditional publishing caused by the digital revolution, and it is a difficult market within which to do business.

Hale made the announcement to it's author's via email.

Having been publishers since 1936 the Hale family has to announce that from 1 December 2015 the Company will no longer be trading as a publisher. We will though continue to remain in business in the immediate future. 

However, we are delighted that our publishing assets including contracts and stock, both physical and ebook, and forthcoming titles of the imprints Robert Hale, J A Allen, NAG Press, Buried River Press and Black Horse Westerns, have been acquired by the independent publisher, The Crowood Press of Ramsbury in Wiltshire to whom queries about your titles already in print and forthcoming should be directed. 

At the moment every-thing's up in the air but I have been told that my forthcoming western will indeed see publication through Crowood Press. This is indeed a positive but I'm deeply saddened to see Hale go and will always have a deep love and respect for the publishing house. They were the first publisher to put me into print, and although these days I have other irons in the fire, my western writing persona of Jack Martin is still very much in the saddle.

I thank Robert Hale for being a publisher who truly supported writers, and I feel they have left a legacy of which they can be proud, but I shed very real tears at their passing.

It has been of immense pleasure to all of us at Robert Hale to have had the privilege of being associated with your books and we hope you will find as comfortable a home at Crowood as you have had with us. We wish you well in the future.

Monday 9 November 2015

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 2 Nov - 8 Nov 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits128152123159107148147964138
First Time Visits120146115149104145141920131
Returning Visits86810336446

Thursday 5 November 2015

Guy Fawkes: Freedom Fighter or Terrorist

Remember, remember the Fifth of November.
Gunfire, treason and plot.

That was the rhyme we used to sing as we watched our annual bonfire consume Guy Fawkes in effigy - actually a pair of old jeans, a pullover stuffed with newspapers and a balloon for a head with eyes and mouth drawn on.

Guy Fawkes Night, the fifth of November was something we looked forward to as  kids. Weeks before we'd make an effigy,known as a Guy, by tying old clothes together, adding a head usually made from an old bag or a balloon. And then we'd push this made up man around on a cart and say, 'Penny for the guy' to people who went
past. The tradition was that people would then give you a penny or two and you'd save all this money, using it to get fireworks or sweets. And then on the fifth of November the guy would be thrown on a bonfire that we'd spent weeks building. Into the fire we'd also throw potatoes, wrapped in tin foil, and then we'd scoop these from the embers and chow down. Those potatoes from those far off day tasted better than any potatoes since.

Ahh good days....the tradition continues to the present day, though in these overly safety conscious times it's not as much fun.

Who though was the real Guy Fawkes?

Protestant England in the early 17th century was not a good place to be if your were a Catholic. Priests had to perform mass in secret, and there were draconian laws that forced Catholics to publicly worship in Protestant services and swear loyalty to the monarch and the Church.

In 1605 Catholic dissent was at an all time high and groups around the country started plotting to overthrow James VI and restore their religion. The situation was a powder keg and Guy Fawkes was just one of the men ready to light the fuse. Interestingly  although Fawkes was a zealous Catholic, he  had been born  in York in 1570, into a respectable Protestant family. As a young boy he attended Church of England services but when his father died, his mother remarried a Catholic man. It was then that Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism. The conversion created a zealous young man who in his early 20's travelled to Spain and joined the Catholic army to fight against the Protestant Dutch. Fawkes was a successful soldier and by 1856 he was an officer in the Spanish Forces that captured Calais. It was at this time that he changed his name to Guido to have a more Catholic sounding name and he petitioned the Spanish King to support a rebellion against heretic King James of England. The request was refused.-

It is odd that Guy Fawkes in the man we remember from the gunpowder plot since he was not the leader - that role was taken over by Robert Catesby,a gentleman from Warwickshire who had come up with a scheme to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament. If all went to plan it would be an audacious blow by Catholics against the Church of England - not only would many members of Parliament be in the building but King James, his wife and son, and all his ministers would also be present. The ensuing chaos would, Catesby hoped, allow James's Catholic daughter, Elizabeth to take the throne.

For the plot to work Catesby and his supporters needed an explosives expert who was not known to the ruling elite. That was where Fawkes, now based in the Netherlands came into the picture. A man, Thomas Winter, was sent across the sea to locate Fawkes and soon as he was told of the plot, Fawkes, still reeling from the Spanish King's refusal to launch an attack against England, agreed to be a part of this attempt to bring down the English monarchy.

In May of 1604, Fawkes was back in England where he met with Catesby and the other conspirators at the Duke and Drake Inn near the Strand in London. All of the men were sworn to secrecy as the details of their plot were hammered out.

Fawkes had by far the riskiest part to play - It was his job to secure enough gunpowder and smuggle it into Parliament. It may seem crazy today but during the period anyone could rent a space in the basement of Parliament and by 5th November Fawkes had managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar. Though by now a mistake had been made when, just days before the 5th, fellow plotter, Francis Tresham wrote to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, a Catholic due to attend the state opening, warning him to stay away. Monteagle handed the letter over to the King's spymaster, Robert Cecil.

The cellars were searched, the gunpowder found, and Guy Fawkes was captured and questioned by the King himself, and when asked why so much gunpowder was to be used, Fawkes replied, 'To blow you Scotch buggers back to your own native mountains.'

As soon as the people of England heard a plot against the King had been foiled, they celebrated by lighting bonfires across the country and the modern day bonfire night comes from this. There is one place in the country that refuses to celebrate bonfire night though -  St Peter's School in York refuses to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes as a sign of respect for its former pupil.

With Fawkes captured he was tortured into revealing the names of his co-conspirators. All of the conspirators were soon captured and killed, their heads placed on spikes outside the House of Lords. Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but on the 27 January 1606 he escaped the intense pain of his execution by leaping from the gallows and breaking his neck. His corpse though was hacked into pieces.

Only days before Fawkes died, a bill was introduced into Parliament calling for the 5th November to be a thanksgiving day for the failure of the gunpowder plot. Because Guy Fawkes had been the one caught in the Houses of Parliament, this became known as Guy Fawkes Day. Was he a freedom fighter or terrorist? That is a matter of opinion but today his face, used as a mask in the movie V For Vendetta, is the face of worldwide protest. 

And today when I look at the smug faces of David Cameron, George Osbourne and their vile ilk, I think maybe Guy Fawkes had the right idea.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot
For I see no reason why,
Gunpowder, treason and plot should ever be forgot.

Monday 2 November 2015

The complete Literary 007 - Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz Book Review

As far as James Bond continuation novels go this is one of the most faithful in both characterisation of Bond and that flow which Kingsley Amis termed, The Fleming Sweep - Author Anthony Horowitz was aided in his task of bringing James Bond back by Ian Fleming himself - Horowitz explains in his afterword that prior to writing the novel he was given access to many of Ian Fleming's papers. Amongst these papers were several outlines, written by Fleming, for episodes of a proposed 007 TV series. One of these outlines saw Bond placed in the extremely dangerous world of Grand Prix.

'I was quite surprised that although Bond had memorably played bridge in Moonraker, golf in Goldfinger and baccarat in Casino Royale, he had never, in any of the novels, taken part in the much more lethal world of Grand Prix. Better still - and this was really exciting for me - Fleming's outline contained a scene with Bond meeting Bill Tanner and M at the Secret Service HQ.' Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz was able to use parts of the scene in the second chapter of his novel, which means of course that a small part of this new Bond was written by Fleming himself. Horowitz of course has already taken on iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty to great success, and now he tackles James Bond. Of course it could be argued that his Alex Ryder series is basically teenage James Bond but that's an argument for another time.

In Trigger Mortis (dreadful title, that) we find Bond still shacked up with Pussy Galore following the events told in Fleming's Goldfinger. Indeed this new novel is set just two weeks after  Goldinger's
plans to rob Fort Knox fell apart thanks to the intervention of Bond and the delightful, Miss Galore.

She waited until Bond had finished his egg, the lit two cigarettes - not the Morlands brand which were specially made for him and which he preferred, but one of her own Chesterfields. She passed it across and Bond inhaled deeply, reflecting that the first cigarette of the day definitely tasted better when it came from the lips of a beautiful woman.

The Bond of this latest book is classic Bond - chauvinistic, heavy smoking, hard drinking. Horowitz certainly has a good grip on the character and the book carefully follows the blueprint set out over several Bond novels by Fleming himself- we even get the classic style, though ridiculous , scene where the bad guy, this time a Korean named Sin Jai-Seong but known by his Americanised name of Jason Sin tells Bond what he intends to do, the full details of his diabolical plan are laid out to a seemingly doomed 007. Big mistake there Mr Megalomaniac because we know that Bond is going to somehow escape from this latest brush with almost certain death and be able to thwart your dastardly schemes.

'I wonder? Am I acting out of vanity. Am I, perhaps a little too pleased with myself? I do not know - but I suppose I must be as there can be no other reason to explain everything to you. Even so I must be brief.'

Pussy Galore though only plays a small part in this book and the main Bond girl is an American secret service agent with the wonderfully Flemingish name of Jeopardy Lane. But Pussy Galore does have a satisfying arc - in Goldfinger she was a lesbian who was turned by Bond, (never having met a real man, you see) but in this book she finds that her attachment to Bond is only fleeting and she soon leaves him, going off with another woman.

An excellent Bond novel then that feels a lot like Fleming. In fact the only thing I didn't like is the title, Trigger Mortis (which refers to the fail safe device on a USA Vanguard rocket). It's just my opinion but I think Mr Sin would have been a far more Bondian title. I asked Anthony Horowitz about this and he did  consider titling the book, Mr Sin, but in the end he went with the actual title. He didn't say why - perhaps Mr Sin would sound too similar to Colonel Sun.

It matters not...this Bond novel is quite excellent.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Tonyrefail's Workman's Club: A shoddy way to treat the dead

Working on Dark Valleys, my forthcoming book, I was led to the remains of an old graveyard next to the Workman's Club in Tonyrefail. Next door to the club stood the Ainon Welsh Baptist Chapel and it was here that 22 year old Jane Lewis who was murdered back in 1862 was fact Jane was the first person to be buried in the chapel which at that time had just been built.

Jane's story, which will be fully covered in Dark Valleys, is a sad and mysterious one - indeed to this day the identity of her killer remains a mystery. And it was her gravestone that brought me to the car park of the Workman's Club - back in 1995 the club purchased the old chapel and graveyard and proceeded to demolish the old building in order to construct a car park for the patrons of the club. Several of the stones were retained from the graveyard and these were placed behind a children's play area next to the car park - Jane's stone remains there set into the ground.

However many of the other stones that remained behind have been vandalised and the entire area is awash  with litter and dog mess. These stones are very old, but nevertheless this seemed to me to be a very shoddy way of treating the dead. It shows a total lack of respect, even recognition, for people who have lived and gone before us.

Thinking this was clearly not right, and not knowing what happened to the remains of the people buried here when the chapel was demolished, I went into the Workman's Club where I was told the council were responsible for the ground next to the car park, which included the children's play area as well as the old graves.

A call to the council found the council disputing ownership and I was given a land registry number for the plot of ground - CYM474273. I then contacted The Welsh Baptist Union and spoke to a lady, Bonnie Davies who tracked down the original sale for me. Yes, she informed me:  'The Ainon Chapel had belonged to the Welsh Baptist Union but on the 20th January 1995 it was sold to the Workman's Club, Tonyrefail. The sale specified the chapel and graveyard, which made the club responsible for the remains buried therein.'

I again visited the club but could not find anyone to speak to that had anything to say, I failed to speak to anyone on the committee of the club. Being a club, the Workman is owned by its members and each night in order to visit the pub these members walk past these shattered and discarded gravestones. I hope they don't get too much dog shit on their shoes.

Thinking that the local newspaper should cover the disgraceful way these old gravestones are being treated, I went to the local press. But as I banged on about the old graves I could sense the reporter on the other end of the line, gazing vacantly at the ceiling. The reporter was no doubt thinking, 'Old graves! Haven't you got anything about living people.Or funny shaped potatoes. Funny shaped potatoes always sell papers. Why we had one that looked like  a cock.'' 

The reporter said he'd  get back to me and I went for a shit, taking a copy of their newspaper with me. And so as I stood there, stained pages of the newspaper swirling into the abyss of the flushing system, I decided to publish this to the internet, in the hope that something is done. For these gravestones may be old, the people they commemorated stricken from memory, but this is a disgrace. It is a disgrace that should be felt by:

Rhondda Cynon Taff Council - for not policing this situation, there is a children's play area next to the car park with only broken gravestones and mounds of dog shit separating one from the other.

The Workman's Club - who may have ultimate responsibility.

The Welsh Baptist Union - for allowing the sale of such a building and graveyard in the first place. People once prayed here, got married here and buried their loved ones here.

The people buried here were promised everlasting remembrance....well, they got it until there was money to be made by the construction of a car park. Then they became a part of the land to be developed.

I'd like to know what happened to the remains buried here when the car park was built? Where were they reburied? Where they exhumed with respect? Or where they simply bulldozed into tiny bone fragments and then used as landfill?

Something needs to be done...this is a stain on Tonyrefail itself.

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POSTSCRIPT: Since the posting of this article I have been informed that the human remains from the chapel have been buried in a communal grave in Trane cemetary, Tonyrefail. Whatever the feelings about one large plot for all are, then surely the stones should have been removed to the new cemetary and a memorial erected. The Welsh Baptists Union told me, 'this wouldn't happen today but sadly in the 1990's it did.'

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Deja Vu to a Kill - Spectre film review


The new Bond movie, Spectre is a great success even if on times it does feel like James Bond's Greatest Hits with scenes paying homage,( or ripping off depending on your mood), to earlier Bond classics. We have an helicopter sequence similar to the opening of For Your Eyes Only, a brutal fight on a train that in fairness betters the similar scene in From Russia with Love, the evil lair from so many Bonds has also been rebuilt  and at one point it even goes all Star Wars with Blofeld revealing - I am your father,, I mean - I am your brother, James.

Daniel Craig has now delivered two great Bond films in a row and even if he still doesn't look like many fan's idea of classic Bond, you can't really fault him here - He's quite excellent in fact. If this does prove to be Craig's last Bond then it will be a fitting departure since plot elements in this one tie up all the loose ends from his previous three movies.

It will be a shame if the actors bows out because at last Craig is  Bond - he even orders his vodka martinis, shaken and not stirred rather than not giving a damn as in Casino Royale.

The Blofeld thing though is stupid - the movie manages to avoid going all Dr Evil with the bad guy's lair but then ruins it by making old Blofeld a jealous sibling. He's, (we are expected to swallow this mind) Bond's step-brother, and then the films suggests that his life of world domineering evil and cat stroking, is due to the fact that his dad adopted Bond after Bond's parent were killed, and that he felt pushed out - he refers to Bond as a Cuckoo in the nest . This is far more camper than anything Austin Powers managed.

That aside the film flies past and doesn't feel anything like it's two and a half hours - it is paced perfectly and Craig is excellent. In Skyfall and now this, Daniel Craig has given us two Bond's that can stand proudly alongside the classics.

Thursday 15 October 2015

The Writing Life

At the moment I'm juggling two major projects - Dark Valleys, which is a commission from Pen and Sword Books and concerns historical murders that took place in and around the South Wales Valleys. The second is a novel, not a commission, something I'm writing on spec. The novel is entitled Down Among The Dead and is an attempt to bring back my character, Chief Inspector Frank Parade of the Glamorgan Constabulary.  I first used Parade in the earlier novel, A Policeman's Lot which was published in paperback by Solistice Publishing before transferring over to Kindle with a new title, The Welsh Ripper Killings.

A Policeman's Lot was a kind of high concept crime novel, and relied on historical fact namely Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus, Jack the Ripper and a coal miner uprising. The novel was set in 1907 and featured the character of Inspector Frank Parade.

 I like Parade, like him a lot but struggled to find another story for him. The problem was that Parade was used as  the main voice in the Ripper based story but he didn't really fit into that timeline. He was great for the plot but not so much the era.

Now I decided that my next crime novel, Down Among the Dead needed to be set in a different timeline - that of World War II period South Wales. This meant I couldn't use the character of Parade, I would need to create a new policeman. But I found I couldn't do that - I needed Parade and so I pushed A Policeman's Lot aside, decided to look upon it as a standalone novel and  rebooted Parade, transporting him to a different time. In short I recreated Chief Inspector Frank Parade and placed the cranky old copper in the same environment but several decades later.

Below is a small extract from the work in progress.

July 1940

The night it all began, a fog had descended over the hills and shrouded the entire valleys beneath an opaque blanket. Dan Evans cursed as he climbed the fence, careful not to catch his crotch on the barbed wire, and made his way across the field that was little more than a bog. Usually the ground would be soft, swallowing up feet, and stubbornly refusing to let go, but at the moment, several weeks into what was shaping up to be a long hot summer, the ground was dry and hard. Not that it was any easier to negotiate. The uneven ground was uncomfortable beneath Dan’s feet, and several times he stumbled, having to throw his hands forward as he fell into the thick grass and reeds that could poke an eye out.
            ‘Bloody sheep,’ he muttered, and lifted his legs out of yet another hole. ‘Bloody sheep and bloody fog.’
            Dan gazed into the darkness – moments ago it had been a clear moonlit night, but this fog had come from nowhere. It rebounded the moonlight back at him, and gave everything a bluish tinge. One moment he was peering into a murky soup and the next he was shielding his eyes as if caught in the glare of the sun.
            He had to get his bearings.
            No point in wandering about with visibility being so poor.
It would be easy for a person to get lost, even someone who knew the mountains as well as Dan. And he knew them well, very well, he had walked them for more than thirty years as both man and boy, but all the same on a night like this he might as well have been in some foreign land. Nothing was the same in the fog. The landscape itself seemed to mutate as dangers were created, where previously there had been none.
He reached the far end of the field, scaled yet another fence, and then sat down on the ground to figure out just where he was going. He couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him and there seemed to be nothing but a wall of fog ahead. He did, of course have a rough idea of where he was, but he couldn’t figure out in which direction to go.
He was completely disorientated. All this wandering about and he wasn’t at all sure in which direction he’d crossed the field. Indeed, for all he knew he could have gone full circle, and ended up back where he’d started. He fallen several times and maybe he’d gotten back up, and then wandered off the way he had come. No, he didn’t think that was the case. He’d gone west, he was sure of that, which meant he should be above the old barn. It should be ahead of him, down the banking and across the stream, and he guessed he’d shelter there.
‘Bloody sheep,’ he mumbled, again cursing the wayward animals.
They, those stupid bloody beasts, were the reason he’d been up the mountain so late at night, several of the dumb animals had wandered away from the flock, gone through a break in the fence. They were always doing that which was a problem; since there were several disused mine shafts and pot holes that they could fall into. He couldn’t afford to lose any more animals like that, and so, after repairing the fence, he’d gone off to search.
The fog had come suddenly, without warning, and before he knew it he had only a vague idea of where he was.
Dan sat there on the ground for several minutes while he smoked a cigarette. He knew he was breaking the strict blackout laws by smoking, but he didn’t figure there’d be any wardens roaming about the mountain to challenge him and he doubted Jerry planes would be passing overhead in this weather. His makings were damp and he had to struggle to keep the smoke going. It tasted good as he drew the smoke into his lungs, the nicotine serving to calm his frayed nerves.
Come on Danny boy, he chided himself. You’re acting like an old woman. Anyone would swear you’d never been up a mountain at night before; next thing you’ll be jumping from the bogeyman.
But it was more than that, the dark he could cope with, but this sodding fog was something else entirely. It was darker than dark and had closed in so thickly that he felt claustrophobic, and feared that if the fog became any denser he’d be unable to breath. It would smother him, seep into his lungs where it would set with the consistency of treacle.
He took his time with the cigarette, and only when it was too small to hold without burning his fingers did he toss it aside. He stood, holding the fence to steady himself while he peered into the fog. Still, he was unable to see more than a foot or so ahead.
Cautiously he walked forward into the fog.
With each step he carefully felt the ground ahead of him, any moment expecting a slope as he neared the banking that he was sure would be there, but the ground beneath him remained level and eventually he reached yet another fence which left him completely confused him as to where he was.
He willed himself to stay calm, knowing there was no need to panic, that it would serve no purpose and he could very well cause him an injury if he lost control of his nerves. He was quite safe but all the same the fog was oppressive and seemed to be closing in ever tighter.
Carefully he climbed the fence and then dropped down the other side. He looked around, again trying to pick out a landmark, anything that would give him some idea of where he was, but there was nothing to be seen other than the murky shroud the fog had thrown over everything. At times the fog seemed to clear slightly and you could see through it but everything was out of focus, and didn’t help Dan at all in pinpointing his location.
‘Bloody sheep,’ he muttered and started walking forward, figuring that if he kept moving he would soon realise where he was. He listened to the night, trying to pick out any sounds. He could hear the drone of one of the collieries in the distance, but wasn’t sure which ones. There were several possibilities depending on exactly where he was on Myndd Y Gaer.
He started across the field and had gone maybe fifty yards when he was able to make out a landmark just ahead of him. It was unmistakably the ruins of Llanbad Church – the four walls jutted out of the ground like cavity filled teeth and Dan smiled. He had gone some way further than he had expected but all the same he was glad to come upon the old building. Although the church was in ruins, all that remained were the four walls, and exposed to the elements, he would be able to find some limited shelter. If he crouched down behind one of the walls he would be cosy enough until the fog cleared.
Dan climbed the banking and entered the church grounds, stepping over ancient gravestones. The old church dated back to Norman times but it was just shy of a century ago in 1844 that it had last been used for worship. It had originally rested in the ancient parish of Coychurch but as villages had sprung up around the surrounding areas, with their own churches and chapels, and boundaries were redrawn, it had become even more remote and far less important. Over the years it had fallen victim of the elements, a particularly ferocious storm in 1850 had taken the roof and in the years that followed much of the stone used in its construction had been carried off by farmers to be used in building walls of their own. Even the ancient gravestones that stood in its grounds had suffered vandals and now many of then lay on the ground, their inscriptions too weathered to read.
Dan reached the church and went through the entrance where the heavy doors had once stood. There was no roof above his head but he felt better with four walls around him and he sat down, his back against a wall while he fished in his pockets for his matches.
He struck one on a stone and immediately recoiled in horror at the sight the sudden illumination revealed to him. For there upon the ground was a most grisly sight – it was the body of a man, his face pulped to a mush. That in itself was bad enough, but the thing that brought Dan to a gibbering wreck were the maggots that could be clearly seen, almost luminous in the light thrown by the match, as they burrowed through the corrupted flesh.
Dan screamed.

The above is the opening to the novel in a rough draft form and I'm anticipating completion of the first draft sometime around Christmas - then it will be set aside while I concentrate solely on Dark Valleys. The finished manuscript has to be with the publishers by the end of January 2016 for publication sometime that year. There will be a lot of proofreading, editing and general pulling out of hair before the finished project arrives in stores gleaming and giving off that delicious aroma of brand new bookieness. And of course add to that workload another commission, Cardiff at War 1939 - 1945, again for Pen and Sword Books, and I guess you could say I have a heavy workload.

Hey, that's the way I like it. It took me too long to become a professional writer to complain about the all I have to wait for is to become a successful writer and then I can give up this pesky day job of mine which takes up far too much of my time...time that could be better spent tapping the keys.

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