Tag Archives: english author

The Nine Steps

The title of this post is a nod to that classic 1915 John Buchan novel, ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps.’ A book that has seen more film and television adaptations than you can shake a stick at.

When I write articles at the time of a new book release, I often include one about featured locations. In ‘Pilgrim,’ a story that begins in Kent leads to a pair of wrongfully accused protagonists going on the run to avoid capture, clear their names, unmask a sinister cult and stop an impending atrocity via a vexing trail of desecrations. The trail follows nine specific locations visited by a shadowy, hooded figure with bizarre occult powers, performing a series of rituals. These rituals form a spiritual path to an ultimate wickedness designed to give fallen entities (masquerading as the pagan deity Baphomet) greater access to and influence upon modern society.

The only similarities with Buchan’s novel are a man and woman on the run, and a powerful group intent upon destabilisation. But, as I like to consider ways to answer the inevitable question: ‘So what’s your new book like/about?’ the reply: ‘A supernatural, occult suspense thriller akin to a metaphysical version of The Thirty-Nine Steps,’ gives people a clue.

The nine sites in ‘Pilgrim,’ are:

Temple Church, Dover, Kent.

Temple Manor, Strood, Kent.

Temple Church, London.

Cressing Temple Barns, Essex.

Royston Cave, Hertfordshire.

St. Etheldreda’s Church, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire.

Temple Church, Redcliffe, Bristol.

Lundy Island, Devon.

During my police career, I was licensed to train detectives in using communications data for tracking. There’s a lot of nonsense out there thanks to movies and TV, so it was a pleasure to write a story in which our heroes go on the run employing realistic considerations over what their pursuers can (and definitely can’t) do. All the places they visit, the train, bus and walking routes chosen, are also true to life. Should you wish to play at being Vicky and Bill, you can follow their trail for real.

The tiny island of Lundy, off the north Devon coast in The Bristol Channel, proved perfect for the climax and denouement. While no Templar ruins exist on Lundy, the island was gifted to the order, who maintained a fleet nearby because of its strategic importance. Incorporating popular tales regarding lost weaponry from the wreck of nineteenth century blockade-runner ‘Iona II,’ added gravitas and realism. It also offered a perfect excuse for firearms availability, when the story warranted them. I even squeezed in a dramatic appearance by the Royal Marines. Brilliant fun!

Pilgrim’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 23rd June.

Lundy

Scribe

Earlier than the planned date of 25th March, I’ve decided to release ‘Scribe‘ today. Something to take people’s minds off all the virus doom and gloom.

The Kindle version will be available at 99c/99p (1/5 regular price) until 25th April. Please pass this information on to anyone you think might enjoy the book.

Enjoy, and keep well if you can.

Devon.

Amazon UK   :   Amazon US   :   Amazon CA

From Suffolk to Shillmoor

Regular readers will know that I like to base the locations of my novels on actual places. There will – of necessity – always be some artistic license and pure fictional content. But, you’ll find plenty of genuine sites recreated and featured throughout the course of each story.

For my seventh horror novel, ‘Scribe,’ it was important to contrast the comfortable Suffolk life of protagonist, Michael Brooks, with a different setting as he seeks to recover from the loss of his wife. I opted for the windswept wildness of beautiful Northumberland, which plays a striking role as a character in its own right. Michael rents a converted watermill and former gamekeeper’s bothy between the rivers Coquet and Breamish. While the site of Shillmoor Barton (a manorial estate with clusters of farms) is a fiction, Shillmoor itself exists. I love the Breamish valley and the hamlet of Ingram, which also features in the book. Other iconic Northumberland sites make appearances, including Alnwick, Morpeth, Wooler and Lindisfarne. It’s a part of the world I’ve stayed in and explored many times.

Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland.

On a similar note, Michael hails from Framlingham in Suffolk and lives in Woodbridge, where some old friends of mine reside. It was a delight to include several of my favourite Framlingham places, including ‘The Crown Hotel,’ Framlingham Castle and St Michael’s church in various scenes throughout the book.

‘The Crown Hotel’ – Framlingham, Suffolk.

For the spooky house in which the principal action takes place, I drew upon true inspiration. If you’ve read the interview on my ‘About’ page, you’ll be familiar with a house I once stayed in, which played out (in minor respects) like a classic ghost story. The converted watermill and former bothy exists in border country, though it lies on the other side of the Tweed, about forty-eight miles from Shillmoor as the crow flies. From the single-railed footbridge crossing a cascade, to the setting and interior furnishings, it’s real. There was little I needed to invent. It made such a perfect, remote location. I’ve placed a plunge pool beneath the cascade and amped the size of the woodshed a little. But the rest would be recognisable if you ever stayed there – right down to the loft hatch above the master bed.

‘The Old Mill’ – in real life. A beautiful place to stay.

As I write this, it was seventeen years ago that I rented the mill alone. It dropped off the radar for a while, but has been back as a popular holiday let for many years. If there ever were any genuine, strange goings-on, all seems well now. The house is beautifully decorated and sits in a breathtaking setting. Don’t blame me if you read ‘Scribe’ while holidaying in the house and experience uncomfortable dreams, though. Definitely don’t blame the owners! It’s a stunning retreat in a fabulous landscape.

‘The Old Mill’ in the glory of its setting.

Scribe’ will be available in Kindle format from 25th March at an introductory price for its first month of 99c / 99p. The paperback version is already available to purchase, with Amazon estimating delivery in time for the eBook release date.

Saints & Skeletons

My latest novel, ‘The Lychgate,’ allowed me to indulge in writing some good, old-fashioned, last person standing survival horror. I always have a strong pull towards ‘story,’ so there had to be more meat on the bone than pure situational hi-jinks. By the time everything kicks off, the reader should feel invested in the characters and back-story. A tale that makes sense, rather than offering some weak excuse for undead corpses going on a wild killing spree as an afterthought.

The premise surrounding the book had been bouncing around in my mind (and sitting on my ideas notepad) for about a year. Lychgates have always held a distinct fascination. The variety and history behind them, adds to the enjoyment of visiting many an English church. As a long-time fan of fantasy literature and a student of folklore, the common etymology shared by a mythical ‘Lich’ creature and this familiar churchyard architecture was too good to pass up. A Lich is typically the resurrected but decayed body of a holy man, raised by devoted followers reciting their ancient incantations. Legend depicts them being master manipulators, enslaving an army of the risen dead. Both ‘Lich’ and ‘Lychgate’ come from the old English word ‘Lic,’ or corpse. Before mortuaries and refrigeration, when most people died at home, bodies would reside with a guard under the lychgate until the funeral took place. The service began at the gate and proceeded inside the church; re-emerging for burial within its consecrated boundary.

For setting, I toyed with a variety of environments. The one I kept coming back to, and which provided ample scope for isolation and subsequent wild terror (hidden from the modern world), was the South Lincolnshire Fens: Big skies, bleak landscapes, and difficult to traverse terrain thanks to criss-crossing drainage channels. Close enough to civilisation to be engaging, yet remote enough to provoke a sense of helplessness.

A creepy setting always works best when it’s an integral part of the story, rather than a tacked-on device for dramatic effect. So it was that I delved into local history, in search of characters and legends around which I could build the monster’s genesis. The British Museum features a historic, pictorial document called ‘The Guthlac Roll.’ This depicts the story of St. Guthlac, a late seventh century Mercian soldier turned monk. He resided as an anchorite on the island of Croyland, where present day Crowland sits today. Guthlac was said to have settled in an oratory formed from a barrow, with his younger sister St. Pega and a male helper called Beccelm. Pega left to found her own oratory at Peakirk, when both those sites were still islands in the previously undrained fens. After Guthlac’s death, Pega supposedly moved several items from her brother’s tomb, before his resting place was re-located. His body was re-sited a couple more times after the construction of Crowland Abbey. Roundels on ‘The Guthlac Roll’ show the saint fighting demons and driving out a demoniac. These tales offered a perfect situation around which to introduce Nechtan, a holy man of the Bilmingas tribe who comes into conflict with him. Keying aspects of Guthlac and Pega’s lives into the plot became a joy after that, and added significant breadth to the overall tale.

Parallels are always fun when spinning a yarn. With ‘The Lychgate,’ there is a foundation based on a vengeful, pagan spiritual manipulator, ousted by a new religion. He carries that offence beyond the grave, longing for retribution and power. In the modern world, several of the characters are ousted from their own comfortable lives by new ‘religions’ like political correctness, corporate profiteering, liberal orthodoxy and an obsession with metrics. It is these supplanting ideas that drive them to join life at an off-grid community. One promising to provide an antidote to the modern world and its insane doctrines. The only problem is that in literally digging up the past, they unearth an evil of significant destructive power and unfathomable malevolence. Think ‘The Mummy’ meets ‘The Evil Dead’ and you’ll have some idea what to expect.

Like my other novels, ‘The Lychgate’ is to be released in paperback and Kindle formats, from 16th December. You can pre-order the Kindle version. Its page count will correct to 347, once both products go live and are linked on Amazon.

Amazon UK   :   Amazon US   :   Amazon CA

The Power of Where

One joy of writing a book that crosses multiple historical timeframes whose events spatially intersect, is the ability to double-down on locations in a way that adds poignancy to the story.

While ‘The Shackled’ features a central narrative of primary events occurring in 2019, there are side-stories with additional characters in various places from 1815, 1914-1918, 1941-2018, 1985-2005, 2008-2019 and 2016-2019. In the interests of my readers’ sanity, I’ve labelled these to avoid confusion.

Locations include: Rochester, Chatham, Folkestone, Maidstone, Barham, Selling, Gravesend – (Kent), Middle Woodford – (Wiltshire), Bath – (Somerset), Gateleigh – (Fictitious Devon village), The Western Front (Belgium), Aylesbury, Bridechurch (a fictitious estate based on Belmont in Kent, but not set there) – (Buckinghamshire), Danbury – (Essex), Fernhurst – (West Sussex), and London.

Several locations feature in more than one of the side stories. The first is the Great Lines Naval Memorial in Chatham, visited by Andrew Miles and Sally Nelson.

The second is the Step Short Memorial Arch in Folkestone. This stainless steel construction marks the top of ‘The Slope,’ where First World War soldiers embarking on ships for France and Belgium from Folkestone harbour shortened their stride for the downhill march. In 2019, our central character Samantha Riley walks past it on her regular strolls along The Leas. By this time, the memorial has been constructed. In the tale of Peter Haws (who goes off to fight on The Western Front), we see him receive the command to ‘Step Short’ at the point where the arch would later be built.

All the characters are present in one form or another for the modern day showdown along The Esplanade in Rochester.

As I mentioned in another article, the central characters visit Rosalind Layton’s stately home of Bridechurch from 1815, at the end of the book in 2019.

‘The Shackled’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

I wrote about the relevance of the old song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ in a previous post that included a nice instrumental version. It’s a piece which has featured many lyrics over the years. In the book, I’ve used a verse and chorus from the 1815 version for accuracy:

Courage, boys, ‘tis one to ten,
But we return all gentlemen,
While conquering colours we display,
Over the hills and far away.

Over the Hills and O’er the Main,
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
King George commands and we’ll obey,
Over the hills and far away.

Here is a beautiful modern rendition with updated lyrics based on a similar time frame.

Bridechurch Revisited

There’s a wonderful 18th century, neo-classical stately home near my house called ‘Belmont.’ Containing the finest clock collection in England, it is an exquisite property on a commanding and beautiful spot in over three thousand acres of prime Kent countryside. The name derives from its elevated position and extensive views. Belmont has attracted a new generation of fans in recent years, thanks to the CBBC production series of ‘Hetty Feather.’

I’ve been a regular visitor throughout my life and drove past the house every day for a decade and a half. About seven years ago during one of the guided tours, I peered into a roped-off room set up as a nursery. It struck me how sad the fine toys looked, waiting for long-departed children to come back and play with them. Fast forward to 2019, and I knew I wanted to feature that room (and an estate inspired by Belmont) in my fifth horror novel: ‘The Shackled.’ I took two visits and another guided tour to refresh my memory as writing commenced. Thus, ‘Bridechurch’ – home of the tragic Rosalind Layton and her rocking horse – came into being.

Bridechurch features in one of several side-story chapters which introduce us to shackled spirits, who – for a variety of reasons – have remained trapped between worlds after their deaths. Thanks to the courage of little Rosalind, readers are treated to another visit to Bridechurch in the denouement.

There are various features from the fictitious estate you can experience in real life at Belmont. These include the nursery, master bedroom, staircase, kitchens, stable, orangery and gardens. When we meet Rosalind in 1815, she is a ten-year-old child with a deep love of horses.

At the end of the book in 2019, our main protagonist Samantha Riley finds the house open to the public. She stops with her family for refreshments in the stables, which have been converted to a tea room. You can do the same at Belmont and even walk through the archway alongside. The place the book ends as Samantha hums Rosalind’s signature tune: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’

I’ve included photos I took from some of these spots, along with this article.

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ was a popular song during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In ‘The Shackled’ Rosalind sings it with the household cook. Her frightened ghost sings it while she rocks on Geraldine the toy horse. And she sings it to bolster her resolve and take action during the intense story climax in a dingy Rochester warehouse. Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, Samantha hums it during a modern day visit to Bridechurch.

There’s a delicious joy that comes with fiction writing, when an already outlined scene gets textured with additional details that add an unexpected richness to the overall tale. I wanted readers to sympathise with the little girl and how the manor staff loved her. In a story about setting trapped spirits free to cross over, this traditional ditty ended up becoming an anthem for the entire book. Its lyrics took on a new significance and enabled me to wrap the novel up in an emotive style I know many of my readers have come to appreciate.

If you’ve never experienced Belmont and find yourself in Kent, I hope this post and the novel will inspire you to take a visit. It makes a wonderful day out.

‘The Shackled’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

I’ll leave you with a fine instrumental rendition of ‘Over the Hills and Far Away,’ performed by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Setting the Tone

When it came time to look at suitable cover art for my latest novel, ‘The Shackled,’ I made the unusual choice to go with a predominantly black and white theme. Anyone who knows me, is aware I avoid purchasing books with black and white covers, unless I have a strong urge to delve into their contents. There may be many artistic reasons to employ such a medium, but to my mind it suggests boring, arty-farty lit-fic with unreadable purple prose and very little story. An unfair generalisation, but enough to cause me to pass over clicking the ‘buy now’ button on more than one occasion. There are always exceptions.

Thus it came as quite a wrench to make myself use black and white for the new book. Yet, somehow it suits the story. Okay, there’s some minor colour on the text. I couldn’t go full ‘two tone,’ or I’d never sleep at night. Take one look at how colourful my other covers are, and you may appreciate why.

‘The Shackled,’ is a book about extremes of light and dark; the dangers of all-or-nothing absolutism in thought, belief and action; tensions between spiritual forces for good and evil; and the drab, formless existence of being stuck in limbo after death. Not your typical jolt horror fare, nor overtly creepy or gory. After the bloody splatter-fest of ‘Maypole,’ this novel is rather tame. The central character, Samantha Riley, has come back from a Near-Death Experience with a gift for helping shackled souls cross over to the light. Samantha’s new abilities estrange her from a strict religious family, which provides an undercurrent of tension throughout. Add to that a formless spiritual entity seeking to oppose her (and something far, far darker with designs on walking this earth in robes of flesh), and there’s ample conflict. Marbled in between the central narrative, you’ll find additional tales about the lives and deaths of other characters, who’ll eventually come together at the climax and resolution.

It’s odd then, that the book is ultimately about hope beyond the despair of grief and separation from the people and things we hold dear.

The story premise which acts as an overall organising principle is this:

‘You can love the past, but you will only move forwards and free yourself when you learn to let it go.’

Way back when I wrote ‘Maria’s Walk,’ there were strong elements of a central character wrestling with Post-Evangelical withdrawal to what is effectively religious addiction. I know some readers had a hard time with that, and would have preferred more frights and chills with less introspection. My next three novels took faith largely out of the picture, focusing on creepy entertainment value instead. With this fifth book, the subject matter lends itself so easily to religious conflict that the story would have been empty without. I’ve kept things open enough at the end to allow readers to form (or maintain) their own individual views. Ultimately it’s nothing more than a work of fiction, though it draws on heavy research into Near-Death Experiences, and many years personal, first-hand experience of how religious bigotry can rip families asunder. If you read the book, see how Samantha is treated, and utter: “That would never happen,” then I’m sorry to say: You’re wrong and it does. A heart-breaking truth.

If you’re looking for something supernatural but different, with many intersecting characters and stories woven together into the whole, you’ll find ‘The Shackled’ available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

Spring Constitutional

Every season has its fun and excitements. One thing I missed when I lived overseas, was the rhythm and variety of English seasons. Sometimes we underrate our temperate climate.

At this time of year with the blossoms coming through, warmer days and the freshness of new life in the air, it always makes me feel like a child again. There’s a certain thrill and anticipation at this turning point away from the cold, grey, dark winter days.

Here in my beautiful market town on the Swale in Kent, abundant life is shooting forth. Each morning (reasonable weather permitting) I like to take a stroll before settling down to work for the day. I have several variations on a favourite circular route, which inspired those of the lead characters back when I wrote ‘Maria’s Walk.’

This morning I happened upon a glorious Magnolia tree. My ageing phone camera didn’t do it justice, but I still thought it worth sharing the image. I’m having an ‘odds and ends’ day: spring cleaning, tweaking the website and performing basic household maintenance. It marks a pleasant respite from the manic schedule I was on to get the new book ready to fly, over the last month.

By next week I should be into outlining the fourth novel in greater detail, ready for drafting to start in April.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a peaceful week. One with an opportunity to enjoy nature at her finest, clothed in the breathtaking garments of spring.

Magnolia Tree