“The Puritan’s Son”

So yes, I have a new book out. Yes, I’m a slow writer. Yes, I’ve committed a cardinal sin of Historical Fiction Writing, No, I don’t care.

“This, the first in a series of books roughly following the life of 18th Century London’s notorious self styled “Thief-taker General of England” Jonathan Wild, is a blend of fact and fiction. Appointed by London’s Undermarshal Charles Hitchen as thief-taker – tasked with bringing London’s thieves, housebreakers, cutpurses etc to justice and goods returned to their rightful owners – he sets about this task with relish, bringing his own coterie of trusted members of the city’s underworld under his wing, trying to walk the line between both sides of the law, assisted by his partner Mary Molyneux.
His discovery of the body of a young prostitute close to his Cripplegate home sees him unwittingly dragged into a murder investigation, along with the local Beadle William Reeves. Suspects appear almost immediately, the Billingsgate Crime boss Miller and his henchmen, the former lover of the girl, a Dutch merchant, but uppermost in his sights is a half mad preacher who haunts Cripplegate, violently accosting prostitutes and those going about their business alike. As more bodies are discovered, Wild is under pressure to capture the killer, but is the obvious suspect actually guilty of the crimes?”

So, that’s the blurb. A crime fiction novel set in London’s underworld in the early 18th Century. Ready for pre-order for the 20th June.  Get it for Kindle Here . 

Now for the cardinal sin. Wild is the infamous “Thief-Taker” who rose to prominence in the decade around the early part of George I’s reign, first under the patronage of the then (corrupt) Under-Marshall Charles Hitchen. Aside from once recorded instance in 1715, there is no evidence that he ever worked to solve murders in the capital. So I have taken a historical figure and woven a fiction around him, something that isn’t the done thing.

However in this case, I’m not the first. His contemporary,  Daniel Defoe, writing a biography of sorts after his death, sensationalising his career and his famous association with the Highwayman Jack Sheppard,  and a couple of decades later Henry Fielding totally fictionalised his life, making him out to be much worse than he actually was. Since then, he has been a romantic figure/ cult bad guy in equal measure up to the modern era (one author even had him as a secret agent alongside Defoe…) .

So, my take to the legend has him as I believe he was in many ways, trying to get by in the beginning of his career, trying to keep things rolling with his friends and associates staying out of the gallows as much as he could. But I have him solving the murders that others in the city would just ignore, writing off as  suicide, or as “rough justice”.

So welcome to my London, a place of shadows, a place where there is no black and white, merely several shades of Grey.

How to Fold An Aardvark

All your aardvark needs solved

K. A. Laity

Few problems disrupt modern life more than what to do with your aardvark when you are short of space. Folding your aardvark will not only help you master a valuable skill but also create more room for your pencils, ottomans and toadstools.

  1. Grasp your aardvark by the collar. If it does not have a collar, see if it has a cravat.
  2.  Locate the central area of the beast by poking it gently in the nether regions.
  3. Draw a dotted line to give yourself a visual reference for the folding motion.
  4. Warm up your arm for the folding action by hoisting a few glasses of gin, but not more than three.
  5. Gently take hold of the opposite end of the aardvark.
  6. Fold the opposite end toward the collar/cravat end.
  7. Repeat as needed and then file the folded aardvark under the appropriate letter or in some out of the way crevice.

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Bewilderbeast

A lot has been made of dog attacks in the Media recently – and a lot of those who have known me for a while will know that 1) I am passionate about dogs, and 2) and totally convinced that the laws we have now solve nothing, causing more problems than they solve. The Breed ban we have in force today succeeds in criminalising the innocent far more than it solves the problem of poor ownership and management of Dogs.

This is a departure for me, a contemporary short story that first appeared in Luca Vesta’s Guilty Conscience blog a couple of years ago, re-edited here.

Bewilderbeast

 

Sunday

Dean Coleman knelt down as he watched the ring being set up, fussing his dog, Marley,as he gazed at the preparations. The pair of them made an imposing site, both in the ring and walking through the streets of Battle, where he lived with his girlfriend and daughter. Dean, the 6ft dreadlocked Rastafarian, dressed usually in jogging bottoms and a bomber jacket walking with the powerful American Bulldog cross Boxer by his side, with a large harness and strong, chain type lead to combat the physical strength of the dog. Many people, reading the constant media outpourings about so called “status dogs” avoided the pair, crossing the road when the saw them walking down the street, fearing that they were involved in dog fighting, and that the dog would attack their animals, children or themselves.

“Hey man” Dean called out to another dog owner walking near to him. Marley squirmed in an attempt to get close to the other dog but dean swiftly brought him under control with a simple command.  When he was calm again, he bent down and stroked Marley’s head. “Easy boy, you will have your chance soon enough,” he whispered into the dog’s ear.

“Deano, my man” the other man replied, holding his dog away from the pair, as it too tried to get closer to Marley. “Eager buggers aren’t they!” he stated, watching both dogs pulling to get to each other. They had started barking now, such was their eagerness to be free of the leash and just do what they were here for. “When you up?” he asked.

“Marley drew the first slot, so I guess he will have to be good, everyone after will be trying to beat him, he needs to be tough and focused out there if he has a chance to survive,” Dean said, again fussing Marley. “What about you?” he asked.

“Kaiser here” he motioned his dog; a Staffordshire mix, excitedly pulling on the lead,” is near the end, and I will guarantee he will kick Marley’s arse!”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” laughed Dean. “I think Marley will be unbeatable today.” he listened sharply to an announcement, and then stood up. “That’s my call, it’s showtime!” he said, and walked off to the ring.

Standing in the ring, Dean removed the lead from Marley, making the dog sit and stay, looking across at the competition with a taste of victory in his eyes. He waited for the signal to be given, then yelled “go!” at Marley, who took off, launching himself into the ring. The first jumps he did with ease, clearing all three without touching the poles. flying up and then down the see saw, followed swiftly by another couple of jumps. “Weave weave” encouraged Dean, running alongside his dog, as Marley wove through the poles, then into the tunnel. Emerging, the dog leapt up onto the box, obeying the command to lay down, holding the position for the required time, before hurtling off the box, over another hurdle and then on to the balance beam. Making his way down, he then ran towards the final couple of hurdles, before heading to the finish line, his tail wagging from the enjoyment of it all. Dean smartly put the dog on the lead, revelling in the applause of the crowd before hearing his time. Two minutes and 12 seconds, he knew from his training sessions at the club that it was a good time; he hoped it would be unbeatable, now the pair just had to wait.

As the afternoon wore on, it was clear to Dean that the time Marley had set was proving unbeatable. By the end of the competition; the south-east regional finals, Marley was declared the winner, which meant a trip to the national finals in a few months time. Dean was over the moon, though he knew he would face stiffer competition, and would have to work Marley hard to maintain, and improve, that performance.  As he walked up to the centre of the arena to collect his award and rosette for Marley, he revelled in the applause of the crowd once again. Indeed, he felt a sense of personal pride and achievement, as well as helping to disprove the myth that that bull breed type of dogs were inherently dangerous and all who own them did so purely because they were.

Monday

Gail Merchant woke suddenly to teh sound of  loud hammering on the front door of the rented house she shared with Dean. Trying to shake the sleep off, she glanced at her mobile phone for the time, and groaned when she saw it was only six thirty in the morning. Wincing with the hangover from Marley’s victory celebrations the previous night, she sat up in bed, ”Bloody hell Deano,“ she mumbled under her breath. ”Forgot your bloody keys and lunch box again.” She sat up in bed,  pulling on her dressing gown, and stepped out to walk down the stairs. “I swear I’ll nail ‘em to your….” She got no further as with a loud crash, the front door flew open, and the downstairs room was filled with six large policemen in what appeared to be body Armour.

The noise woke Teena, her nine-year-old daughter up, and set Marley off from his usual place on her bed. He started barking and scrabbling at the closed bedroom door.  Gail rushed down the stairs “What the fuck is this?” She yelled at the policemen.

“Police, Now where’s your dog?” the lead officer yelled, and Gail, still half asleep, took in the scene in front of her. Two of the police officers had large poles with nooses on the end, and they all were dressed in clothing that she had only seen on images of riots on the television.  The men looked like they were holding gas canisters, and a couple of them were carrying fire extinguishers. Bewildered, Gail just froze.

“I said where’s the fucking dog?.” The lead officer yelled again, this time pushing Gail against the wall, and holding the CS canister aimed right at her face. The shock of what was going on seemed to paralyse the woman, and she stood there, her mouth flapping as she tried to speak.

“Mummy!” yelled Teena opening the door, and Marley flew down the stairs, barking and snarling at the officers. Time seemed to slow down at that point for Gail, everything seemed to happen at once, the noise, the yelling of the police, her daughters crying and Marley’s barking. Instinctively pushing at the policeman, she was rewarded with a spray from the gas canister straight in her face and recoiled from the stinging sensation, her eyes immediately blurred as she blinked against the caustic affects of the spray.

“Grab the kid!” the lead officer called, and one of the others, dodging the now frantic dog,  grabbed Teena in his arms, and bundled her against the wall, next to her choking mother. The other members of the team swung into immediate action, two of them letting off blasts of the powder filled extinguishers straight at the dog, in an attempt to corral the dog towards the catchpoles. All the while, Marley, getting more confused, frightened and wound up by the attacks, was snarling and barking fiercely at the officers, lunging towards the two with the poles, in an attempt to get away from the blasts from the extinguishers.

“I hate these fucking things” one of the men said “These fuckin Chav’s know they are illegal, that is why they get ‘em. Lock the fuckers up I say. We should be in here with a gun, not this fucking thing” He gestured at the catchpoles. “Shoot the bloody thing, job done.”

The other two men nodded, and expertly lassoed the dog with the catchpoles, a procedure they had both practiced and used many times before. As the poles went over Marley’s head, the dog snapped and thrashed about, trying to escape, he tried to flatten himself to the floor, but his head went rigid with the effects of the nooses around his neck being pulled tight. Marley’s barks turned to screams,  screams of real terror, indistinguishable from a child’s screams as fear took over,  his bowels opened, covering the nearest policeman’s feet in urine and faeces. “Bloody thing,” yelled the officer as he kicked the dog in retaliation, Marley tried to escape the kick, but was held tight by the catchpoles, and took the full force of the officers boot along his side, causing him to scream in pain once more.

On hearing the ethereal screams, Gail looked across at Teena; still being held against the wall with a canister of CS gas aimed at her face, but she could see that her daughter was crying too much for it to be her. Through still blurry eyes, she looked straight at Marley, knowing that the screams were coming from him. “Bastards. Fucking bastards” she yelled at the officer, still holding her.

He looked at her, totally unmoved. “Miss Gail Marchant” he intoned, his voice now calm and official. “We have a warrant to enter these premises under the dangerous dogs act and seize this dog here as a prohibited type, namely a Pit Bull Terrier….” The full force of Gails temper cut him off.

“Dangerous, Marley!” she shouted. “He fuckin’ well won an agility competition yesterday. Dean’s been training him…”
“Don’t insult my intelligence Ms Marchant.” The officer snapped back. “He may have told YOU it was agility, but this is Dean Coleman we are talking about. I have pulled him for everything from possession to carrying offensive weapons in the past. Look at the animal will you?” he gesticulated to the frantic dog, still furiously struggling. “He fights with him I’m…”this time, Teena cut him off.

“What are you doing to my Marley?” She shrieked between sobs. “Leave him alone!“
The officer looked at her dispassionately for a moment, and then turned to his men. “Right, get that bloody thing out of here. “ he said, and the four of the men strode out of the room, Marley still screaming, still trying in vain to fight and protest the catchpoles as the officers struggled to hold it. “Don’t you see, if my men there,” he indicated the struggling officers, “Who are trained police dog handlers, can’t control the bloody thing, I don’t see how you and Coleman have managed. Still, at least we have got it now, before it hurts her!” He pointed at the sobbing nine year old on the sofa. “Agility my arse,” he laughed as he left the house, leaving a distraught and bewildered mother and daughter sobbing on the sofa.
Marley was half dragged towards the waiting van, where one of the policemen opened a large cage, setting it down on the ground. The Officer holding the dog forced it into the cage, closing the door as much as he could before snapping the noose off of the dogs head, and quickly forcing the door closed. Marley sat there, the fight gone out of him, and the officers were able to load the cage into the van with no issues.  The rear doors of the van closed shutting Marley into darkness and as it pulled away the dog started shaking and whining, confused and terrified by his ordeal.

The Crimea – then and now

It may surprise some people to know that the end of the month marks the 160th anniversary of the Crimean war.  Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and the Charge of the light Brigade. Well, so what? Well, for one thing, tensions in the area are escalating again, and we are facing a re-run – and scarily the root causes of this tension is damn near identical to the kick off in March 1854.

BlackSeaMap

So, for the previous couple of centuries, Russia was expanding its empire Southwards with the main purpose of gaining a toehold on ports in warmer waters such as the Black sea – so it could both trade and run a navy all year (It’s northern ports had a tendency to freeze much of the year) . This reached a pinnacle when Russia conquered both the Cossacks and the Tartars, thus gaining control of the Ukraine – and the Crimea into the bargain, with its main port, Sevastopol so crucial to Russian needs (both then and now) .

So, With the Ukraine in Russian hands,  it’s role as a buffer state between the Ottoman empire and the Russian Empire was no more, making a conflict of sorts inevitable.  Now, bring the French into this mess. You see, Europe at the time was divided into a number of powerful empires, Russia, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian all head their main Power bases in Europe, whereas France, Spain. Portugal and Britain depended on overseas empires.

The French, Napoleon III, seeking to keep in with Catholic money sought to keep Catholic rights over the Christian sites in the Holy land (Part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.) as well as being the defacto protector of Christians in the empire as a whole. Trouble was, the Russians were, thanks to treaties a century earlier, already in control of Christians and sites for the Orthodox Church. Well, Napoleon was pretty upset, and sent its technologically advanced warship , Charlemagne , to cruise the Black sea . The threat was taken in by the Ottomans, who immediately gave the control over to France.

Not surprisingly, this pissed the Russians off, and alongside a diplomatic offensive, invaded the states along the Danube, thus raising the tension. Britain and France sent fleets out to the Dardanelles, hoping to make the Russians back off. Britain, despite Tzar Nicolas trying to court British support.  To British and French eyes, a strong Ottoman Empire held the Russians from expanding eastwards, thus protecting their Asian interests.

War was the inevitable conclusion from all these tensions,  and at its conclusion, Sevastopol ended up given to the Russians as a concession on the treaties that followed, however they were not allowed to develop any naval presence there, this was reversed after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 and Sevastopol began to be the home of the Russian Black sea fleet.

So, can we fast forward to 2014 now, and the state of play with the world powers. Russia to begin with. Despite a couple of rebrands, Russia still maintains much of its empire of those times – and has had a friendly agreement in place to keep its bases in Sevastapol.  Europe, however has seen the old order ripped up and thrown away, Britain and France have lost pretty much all of their empires, Austro-hungary, Prussia and the Ottoman empire have long been consigned to the History books. America has replaced Europe as a main power since world war 2. Enter a new European power – the EU . This has been expanding in influence, membership and scope for years, and several former members of the Russian Empire are long-standing Members. Now, Ukraine is seeking to become a member of this empire, extending European influence eastwards further. Russia had no such issues with Poland joining , it has little strategic value. So, why is Ukraine’s potential membership causing this new tension?

Well, Ukraine takes the Crimea with it – the home of the Black sea fleet. that little power-base in the Black Sea that it fought so hard to keep 160 yrs earlier will fall under the influence of a different power. That, to Putin is unthinkable. And, despite stopthewar trying to couch this in terms of America, the States actually has little to do with this. If you look at the situation from the Russian view, and with the knowledge of the history, Russia has little choice but try to keep hold of the Crimea – it is of as much vital strategic importance now as it was then. It is an issue between the EU and Russia, two old enemies, fighting over a vital stretch of land.

So, the next few days and months are going to be vital, not just  for the Crimeans & Ukrainians, but Europe as a whole. This is a real test of European unity, and Britain needs to be at the forefront of this, just as it was in 1856.

Support a writer, BUY a new book.

When was the last book you bought? either E-book format or physical book. If physical, I wonder how many of you regularly trawl the Charity shops looking for your favourite Authors . This is something that I have done in the past, and maybe will continue from time to time (though not as much as I used to – as I will reveal).

My thoughts on this changed after twitter conversations with Medieval Mystery author Michael Jecks among others , about how much money Authors earn from books, and how many in the profession, even with long term agent or publisher contracts have to look at ways of supplementing their income.  Royalties for back catalogue books are bread and butter to authors, just as you pay is to you.

So, imagine the thoughts when an unnamed woman boasted to an unnamed author that she had bought all their back catalogue from a charity shop that morning. One the one hand, a new fan was born, BUT on the other, that woman did not directly put one penny of income into the author’s wage packet, despite buying all their books. Ok, you can argue that shouting her new author find would encourage others to buy their books, but with consumers demanding larger and larger discounts, authors royalties are also discounted, and pay packets become smaller. 

Now, I am not dissing charity shops here – I regularly buy and donate to them, and support the good ones to the hilt. but I want to make you think a little about your buying habits. Picking up a great book for 50p or £1 is great, and if it introduces you to an author new to you, even better. If you like that Author, and respect him for his storytelling, then make sure you buy more of his books from somewhere like Waterstones, WH smiths or Amazon, whether in Physical or E-book form. He or she is just like you – wants to be paid for his work.

Oh, and if you haven’t come across any of Michael Jecks books, think Ellis Peters, but with an ex Templar instead of a Monk. I am working my way through the series. Go on. Take a look .

(PS the same goes for music as well)

Anachronisms galore

Why Historical Fiction takes more to carry off well. I have blogged on this before, but Anna tells it better .

ANNA BELFRAGE

I recently read a book where relatively early on there’s a glaring anachronism – in this case the main characters are using Playstation, but this is like two decades before Playstation existed. I should probably get over this irrelevant slip and concentrate on the unfolding story, but unfortunately such mistakes dilute the credibility of the characters – at least for me. Having discovered one anachronism, “Eagle Eye Belfrage” is now on the lookout for more, and sure enough, if you find one, you’ll find several. And each and every one of them puts yet another nail into the coffin of this particular read until I at last put the book down and start on another.

Of course, there are degrees to these anachronisms. If the main character in a novel set in Roman Britain happens to break off a snowdrop, I can live with it. If said character starts enthusing…

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