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Friday, 25 July 2014

FFB - The Woods

Harlan Coben is a quite prolific mystery-suspense writer. He became popular and won crime-writing prizes for a series of novels about Myron Bolitar, a sports agent turned amateur detective. Then he broke out into stand-alone novels with Tell no one and is more or less guaranteed to get his new book onto the bestseller lists.

The Woods (2007) was Coben's fourteenth novel and it is an uninspiring title for a riveting page-turning book. Paul Copeland, Cope to his friends and colleagues, is a county prosecutor in New Jersey. Shortly after his beloved father’s demise, he’s involved in a particularly nasty rape case. Cope is used to coping, since his wife died and he’s busy raising his six-year-old daughter alone. Grief is not unknown territory for him, either. His sister Camille was one of four teenagers murdered in the woods of a holiday camp facility twenty years ago.

Professor Lucy Gold is troubled by an imaginative essay that is handed in to her. Its writer is anonymous. The words conjure up events from her past, a past she has striven to forget for twenty years.

Coben has employed first person and third person narrative in the same novel before, and it works to good effect here too. We can empathise with Cope while also glimpsing what’s going on outside his own purview. 

When a homicide victim turns up with curious links to Cope, a number of well-buried secrets from Cope’s past start to break the surface. The writing is spare and slick, ensuring that you want to read on as twist follows twist. The woods are a metaphor for Cope’s journey into understanding. It’s about responsibility, and honesty and facing up to problems rather than running away. The past always has a knack of catching up, especially in Harlan Coben’s novels!

If this is your first Coben, you’ll enjoy it and come back for more. If you’ve read his books before, you know what to expect and you may just be one step ahead of the revelations as they pile up, but you’ll still finish the book well satisfied. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Writing tip - hidden gender/identity

Why do we writers do it? Why tie ourselves in knots to confound the reader? To spring that additional surprise, perhaps, to add that extra frisson of pleasure – or, if it backfires, annoyance.

Popular culture is full of instances where the reader or the audience is led down a particular path only to have the ground pulled away from them.

Here are a few examples (spoiler notice, though I imagine these ‘surprises’ are now well known; if you haven’t seen or read these examples,
Two Mules for Sister Sara
The Sixth Sense
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Watcher
please jump to the next section, Spoiler-clear! Otherwise, read on.

The film Two Mules for Sister Sara has the audience and Clint Eastwood character believing Shirley Maclean is a nun; near the end it’s revealed that she’s actually a soiled dove.
Two Mules for Sister Sara - Wikipedia commons

The Sixth Sense convinces the audience that Dr Crowe is a real person until the final revelation when we learn he’s the ghost.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1920)
The book ends with an unprecedented plot twist. Poirot exonerates all of the original suspects. He then lays out a completely reasoned case that the murderer is in fact Dr Sheppard, who has not only been Poirot's assistant, but also the story's narrator.
… Reader response to the ending varies from admiration of the unexpected end to a feeling of being cheated. – Wikipedia.

The Watcher by Charles Maclean (1982)
First person narrator finds his wife murdered… and only gradually do we learn that he’s an unreliable narrator and committed the crime…

In a few of my books, I’ve attempted to conceal the identity and or gender of a protagonist from the reader as well as from the other characters in the story. Unlike the above examples, the concealment isn’t always the main point of the tale, merely an added extra.

None of my own examples rely on the unreliable narrator, which is very difficult to pull off, and is used in three of the examples above. However, as I tend to write ‘visually’, where the reader can see characters in their setting, I find it hard to maintain the secret.

If a character is depicted but not the gender, naturally I can’t use ‘he’ or ‘she’ in the narrative. If I use ‘he’ but in fact it’s a ‘she’, I’m cheating. Cheating is somehow worse than misdirection.

You can get round this issue by referring to the individual as ‘the murderer’, which has been done by other authors, or some similar descriptive title. Yet that get-round can become tedious to the reader. Maybe just introduce ‘the murderer’ then show everything from his or her POV, without telling at all? That works, after a fashion.
However, if ‘the murderer’ has to interact with other characters, there’s a problem. These other people see ‘the murderer’ as an individual – and if they see ‘the murderer’, then so should the reader, since the book is a film in the reader’s head. Tough one. Some writers simply ignore that aspect. I’ve opted for ‘the murderer’ wearing a disguise – or a mask, even – and being addressed by a title or different name; theatrical, but necessary to preserve the cinematic truth.
Naturally, if we’re seeing the scene from another character’s point of view, then they may see her as ‘a man’ when she isn’t. Describing what you (and the reader) see or think you see. That’s probably fair and not quite cheating…
So, if you want to conceal the gender or identity of a character, be prepared to go to considerable lengths to make it work. It’s worth it when, finally, a reader comments along the lines, ‘That was a big surprise!’

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Writing market - Tingle those spines!

Burne-Jones - le vampire - Wikipedia commons

If you enjoy writing spine tingling tales, then this site may be of interest. Spinetinglers of Northern Ireland run a monthly competition, free-to-enter, with cash prizes for the top five stories each month. Open to writers worldwide.

According to the website, the story ‘doesn't have to be macabre and morose; it can be light-hearted or even uplifting. Whether it is filled with ghosts or ghouls, possessions or poltergeists, or merely the suggestion of something supernatural, anything is acceptable. We want you to let your imagination run wild and come up with the story or stories that make our spine tingle.’

Keep your stories under 5,000 words if possible, though they’re unlikely to reject a story they like if it happens to be 5,100 words.

‘Your story can be violent or leaning towards erotica but please nothing too explicit. Anything too gratuitous may be automatically rejected.’

Register on the site (which is of course free) and then login and submit your story. 1st Place receives £100.00 GBP plus guaranteed inclusion into a future printed Spinetinglers Anthology and of course a Certificate. 2nd place receives £50.00, 3rd, 4th and 5th all receive £25.00 each. We have stated in the prize money in pounds - sterling, however if you live outside of the UK you will receive the equivalent to this amount in your local currency.

Winners will receive their prize money within three months of publication.

You can read previous winning stories on the site; the latest, for July, are already there..

Submissions are considered on the 15th of each month and if received after that date will be considered for the next month.

Spinetinglers, 22 Vestry Road, Ballygowan, Co Down, BT23 6HJ, Northern Ireland.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Words writers invented

When I was about fifteen, I wrote a spy thriller and coined the word ‘contortured’ – applying it to the effect on a vehicle’s tyres during a chase; combining ‘contorted’ and ‘tortured’. A good friend advised me to take it out; I had no business inventing words, the dictionary was adequate, it seemed. The point of a new word is that it should be understood by anyone coming across it.

A new book has just been published, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury). Yes, the word ‘authorism’ is an invented word, too.  Indeed, the verb ‘to coin’ was coined by George Puttenham in 1589, when he observed that youngsters ‘seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin’.

A brief list of some words created and the writers who invented them follows:

William Wordsworth – pedestrian
Alexander Dumas – feminist
John Milton – earthshaking
Dr Seuss – nerd
Ben Jonson – clumsy, damp
Thomas More – anticipate, fact
Milton – pandemonium, lovelorn
Karel Capek – robot
Raymond Chandler – unputdownable
Nabokov - nymphet
Shakespeare – bedazzle, subcontract, scuffle

Of course some of Shakespeare’s ‘invented’ words may have been around before his time, but it appears he was the first to write them down and use them in context. Milton seemed as inventive, accredited with over 600 new words.

Also mentioned are those words writers invented that didn’t catch on at all: for example, Tolkien’s ‘eucatastrophe’ and James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Americaness’, referring to a female American.

So, Authorisms is definitely on my ‘to buy’ list.

Another book of interest is Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: The English Language. As he points out, ‘No other language has anything even remotely approaching it in scope.’ This book is worthy of closer inspection.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

‘Physically and emotionally travelled with the characters…’

I’ve just seen a 5-star review on of my romantic thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees and would like to share it here:

Blood of the Dragon Trees is a mystery/thriller that deals with a topic I find rarely treated in other mystery books – human trafficking and harvesting endangered species for profit. Set on the idyllic Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, the novel immediately engulfs the reader in the ambiguities and complexities of life.

Tenerife is described in exquisite detail by author Nik Morton from its rugged, majestic volcanic mountains to its lush pine forests, valleys, and quaint towns. It seems like almost the perfect holiday resort. But all is not beauty on this “Island of Eternal Spring.” Lurking beneath the apparently peaceful environment are the heinous activities of an organization dealing in capturing endangered species to be used for everything from carving ivory figures to manufacturing supposedly legendary aphrodisiacs. The organization is run by the mysterious “el Jefe.”

Thrown innocently into this environment is Laura Reid who is hired to tutor Maria and Ricardo Chavez, the twin children of Spanish widower and plantation owner Don Alonso.

Complications arrive quickly as a mutual attraction develops between Don Alonso’s brother, Felipe, and Laura. At the same time, Laura encounters Andrew Kirby who works for CITES tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. While Andrew seems smitten romantically by Laura, she hesitates getting involved with him. The conflict increases as we discover Felipe has a hostile relationship with Andrew based on past experiences and that Felipe is also involved sexually with the unscrupulous Lola, a jealous lover and master manipulator of men.

There is danger and excitement throughout the fast-paced Blood of the Dragon Trees. Mr. Morton’s skilful descriptions of the environment put the reader there, and his careful delineation and development of the characters lead to a thoroughly enjoyable read. There is romance, action, and danger as the novel carries the reader through more twists and turns than a roller-coaster. The reader journeys with Andrew, Laura, Felipe and others as the thieves, murderers, and kidnappers are hunted down. Morton drops clues for the perceptive reader along the way as to the identity of the mysterious “el Jefe” making Blood of the Dragon Trees a delightful, enriching, informative puzzle wrapped in mystery and intrigue.

I recommend Blood of the Dragon Trees highly. Nik Morton’s experiences and his writing put the reader in the novel and I felt like I had physically and emotionally travelled hand in hand with the characters through their arduous ordeals.

Kudos for a job well done!


The reviewer is George Hopkins, an American author of four crime thrillers. Thank you, George!

My other book set in Spain is Spanish Eye, also published by Crooked Cat:


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Saturday Story - 'The sandstorm'

A horror story...           



Nik Morton

'Shut up whining, you spoilt bitch!' Burt growled and slapped Alice's face. With the force of the blow her head of long blonde hair jerked back, momentarily obscuring Zeke's view through the rickety pickup's windshield.  A red weal appeared as she choked on her sobbing.

            'Cool it, Burt' Zeke shoved her back onto the hot cowling that vibrated between them. 'This storm's bad enough without you making it worse.'

            Burt squinted at the virtually impenetrable Arizonan sandstorm. Wind rattled the truck's loose and rusted bodywork; air screamed in gaps and crevices; sage-brush scored the windshield.  'Zeke - we gotta find shelter soon...'

            Unexpectedly, as though an apparition, an adobe building loomed up out of the swirling dust clouds. 'There!  Pull in!'

            The engine cut out in front of the shack. Wincing against the savage, pummeling sand, they bundled Alice out of the cab and pushed her towards the door.

            The choking sand tore at them, cutting faces and lips.  Tumbleweed rustled past, cart-wheeling. An eerie wind-howl pounded in their ears, whistling round the building's smoothed corners.

            'Dammit!' The thick wooden door was locked, the windows boarded up. Covering his mouth with a spotted bandanna, Zeke hammered his hairy fist on the paneling.

            'Anybody there?' But the wind snatched his words away.

            Dressed only in a flimsy blouse and mini-skirt, Alice's topmost skin had already been flayed off in places, leaving her red-raw, stinging unbearably. She cringed in the shallow doorway, partly shielded by Burt's quarterback bulk.

            Stubble chin digging into her neck, Burt rubbed suggestively against her. She was nearing hysteria when, without warning, the door's lock clicked open and she almost fell inside. Burt steadied her, his strong hands taking swift advantage. It was as though his stubby fingers had not only hurtfully squeezed her breasts but had lanced deep inside her body, churning her stomach. He had repeatedly tried pawing her since the kidnapping two days ago. If it hadn't been for Zeke...

            'Can I help?' A frail-looking old woman, graying and wrinkled, held the door open a mere crack.

            Zeke instantly thrust his revolver into Ethel Becker's parchment face. 'You've got guests, Ma!' he snarled above the wind's howl.

            As he thrust the door wide Ethel Becker released a plaintive shriek and stumbled backwards, aging eyes alarmed and watery. Burt followed them, roughly dragging Alice in a viselike grip.

            The door slammed shut. Wisps of sand and dust scattered and swirled, fell to the floorboards. The sudden contrast with the outside was haunting: so quiet, the storm a dim memory.

            A welcoming black metal stove stood in the far corner, its rusted funnel stretching through the mildewed rafters. Coffee and stew warmed on the hotplate; the smells permeated the place. Furniture was scarce: a tallboy, bed and table, two chairs, a rug and stove.

            Zeke helped himself to some coffee; the warm strong black liquid drooled down his dimpled chin. 'That's better! Jeeze, that sand gets everywhere!'

            At this, Burt laughed obscenely, hands tightening on Alice's arm.

            'What kind of a place is this?' Zeke queried, eyes wandering.

            Having regains some of her former composure, Ethel pointed to the windows' iron bars, shuttered outside. 'Used to be a jailhouse when the West was Old,' she remarked. The only door was sturdy, Zeke's bruised shoulder testified to that.

            Just then, Burt set eyes on the rusted iron bedstead on the opposite side of the room, its rugs and blankets patchy and unkempt. He licked his parched lips, leered. Alice didn't like the hardening sensation against her buttock, or his rancid breath. But his grip was unshakable.

            At that moment Ethel stepped forward, took Alice's hand. 'Here, girl, I'll treat those nasty cuts.' And she boldly led Alice to the tallboy, away from the astonished Burt. 'You people lost or something?' she asked, breaking out a small first-aid tin.

            Alice moved back a pace, gripping the crochet shawl that covered the old woman's narrow shoulders. 'They - they kidnapped me!' she cried, her whole body trembling.

            All pain was forgotten in her renewed fear. What could she hope to achieve by telling this old woman? Her heart pounded as Burt purposefully strode across the suddenly hushed room, the floorboards occasionally creaking. Unconcernedly, Zeke continued sipping his coffee by the stove.

            Now, Burt towered over the two women.  Mercilessly, he pushed Alice to one side, against the rough-hewn wooden table. Gasping in shock, she stumbled and fell and some of the crockery smashed to smithereens on the bare boards.

            Burt was no respecter of age, either. A backhanded slap sent Ethel crumpling onto the soft bed, its springs squeaking.  'We're out to fleece her rich ol' man, y'see, Ma? So, mind your own business, do as you're told, an' we'll let you be.'  His cold emotionless blue-gray eyes glared meaningfully. 'Okay?'

            Wiping the blood smear from the corner of her mouth, the old woman nodded. With an effort she raised herself.

            'Now, how about some grub, eh?' Zeke said as if nothing had happened.  Rubbing his belly which overlapped the belt of his filthy jeans, he added, 'Smells like some damn' fine stew's on the hotplate.' He then lowered himself at the table, expectant.

            By now Burt had hauled Alice to her feet. Apart from the flayed skin and bruising, she was chalk-white. 'You okay? Don't want the merchandise broke, do we?'

            Abruptly, before she could get her breath or reply, he swung her round and twisted an arm painfully up her back. She let out a scream, to no avail. He wrenched even harder until she stopped struggling, drained of any responses at all as his lips lowered, slobbering hungrily over her throat and chest, bristles aggravating her torn skin. His touch was enough to send her insane; it was like some grotesque nightmare - but for the waves of pain, which increased, gyrating her stomach, tearing her insides apart. She felt faint, sensed the bile rising...

            'That's enough!' Zeke yelled, slamming the rattling coffee-pot on the table, its contents slopping over. 'I want her alive and in one piece - leastways till they pay up. Now, let's eat!'

            Scowling darkly, Burt released her with some reluctance, his glare freezing her blood. He joined Zeke at the table. 'Sure - plenty of time...' he said, wiping his fleshy mouth with the back of his hand.

            Fingers distractedly fumbling with her torn blouse, Alice sank onto the decrepit bed. Wordlessly, Ethel had watched the whole incident. Now she offered a quick reassuring smile and hobbled over to the stove.

            Scooping thick steaming stew into two large pewter bowls, Ethel carefully carried them on a tray to the two seated kidnappers. Then she tipped the tray into Burt's lap.

            Jerking upright, almost screeching, he swore and flung his chair back and almost overturned the table.  The stew was scalding hot. Tears welled in his screwed-up eyes. He frantically lowered his soaked, steaming trousers, baring skinny hairy white legs that were already covered in red blemishes.

            Paralyzed with dread, Alice sat on the bed. The old woman couldn't win.

            Zeke had jumped up, but Ethel was ready for him as well. She swiveled round, spraying the spilt stew from the tray directly into his eyes. As though flung with an electric shock he jack-knifed backwards, a rabid scream on grimacing lips.

            Dropping the tray, Ethel hurried over and grabbed Alice's arm and led her dazedly to the door. 'Use the truck - there's a phone a mile up the road!' she barked, indicating the general direction to follow.

            'Wh - what about you?' Alice stammered.

            'I'll be all right. Now go!'

            Obediently, without pausing to argue, Alice slid out into the savage blasting sand. The appalling force of the storm nearly swept her feet from under, snatching the breath from her. Faintly she heard the door crash shut, the lock click. Bracing herself in the doorway, reluctant to bare herself once more to the storm's full fury, she saw the large metal key scrape under the door, between her feet. The old woman had locked herself in with them.

            She could not hold back any longer now and stumbled towards the gray shape of the truck.  The pain earlier on paled to nothing compared with the agony now of the whiplash of sand-spicules. Her cuts and grazes inflamed anew, joined by fresh lacerations.

            Shaking violently, she fell inside the truck's cab and struggled frantically to close the door. As the metal clanged into place the hellish noise outside diminished a little, enough for her brain to start thinking again.

            The keys were in the ignition - fortunately, they'd been in too much of a hurry finding shelter to remember them.

            The old engine stuttered then fired. She must get help, save the old woman.

            As the rickety truck trundled onto the turnpike - marked by askew telegraph poles - she heard two loud reports, unusually clear in the noise of the storm.

Sunset slashed the barren landscape with reddish hues. The turnpike stretched as far as teh eye could see. Not a wisp of wind; the sandstorm had abated two hours ago, leaving the desert with a new and unsettling silence.

            Parked slantwise outside the adobe shack was a State Police station-wagon. The patrolman leaned inside the open window, unlatched his radio-transceiver. 'Patrolman Kent reporting.'  Static, crackle. 'Dammit!'

            Wrapped in an Aztec-style blanket, Alice stared vacantly from the shack's doorway. Slowly, her face quite blank, she closed the bullet-riddled door. 'The woman - where -?'

            A stomach lurching sensation writhed within her. At the moment that she had entered the shack, against the orders of Patrolman Kent, she had felt strangely giddy, her chest constricted, abdominal muscles tightening unbearably. And then she had seen Zeke and Burt...

            Instead of feeling revulsion as the patrolman had feared, her thoughts were sanguine, objective. Impassively, she had watched the pair of them, dangling upside down from the rafters. They had been stripped naked - and Burt had been stripped of more than clothes. The coagulated blood was black between his thighs. Deeply incised crosses glistened darkly upon their foreheads. Otherwise, the place was empty, laden with dust and cobwebs and skittering spiders. The vile, sulfurous smell pervaded the place, entered her nostrils, made them twitch involuntarily. Dimly, as though from a dream, she half-remembered alien voices, foreign words, like incantations, as thought the sounds came from the very walls of this adobe shack.

            The patrolman threw down his microphone. 'Must be a storm interfering.' He shook his head in bewilderment. 'Lady, are you sure you got your facts right? This place has been deserted fifteen years now, didn't you know?'

            Alice closed her eyes, briefly, nodded slowly. A swirling sensuousness warmed her body. 'Yes, patrolman, I know...' Tingling pleasurably, she walked to the car. The cop opened the door for her and squinted at the incipient dusk. She didn't miss the quick glance he gave as her skirt rode high up her thighs. The upholstery was warm, soft. 'Yes, now I know,' she repeated.

            Patrolman Kent started. 'What - what'd you say, lady?'

            She smiled. 'I know this place was closed down when Ma Becker was mysteriously murdered fifteen years ago.'

            'How'd you - wait a minute! - you said before - '

            Alice sidled further inside the car. 'Come in where it's comfortable,' she whispered. 'And let's you and me forget all about this dreadful place...'

            He hesitated, but only for a moment. 'Just as you like, honey,' the cop said, unbuckling his gunbelt.

            And as she possessed him, the first of her new disciples, she smiled archly. Ma Becker's will gained increased strength from the coupling, enabling her to crush the last vestiges of decency within the mind of Alice. Domination was complete. Fifteen years was a long enough to wait for rejuvenation, she thought, and the body of Alice would serve her very well.


Previously 1975 Published in NEW WITCHCRAFT, 1975 under the byline Platen Syder
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014


My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye.

He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.



Friday, 18 July 2014

FFB - Spin and Die

Although this is the third in the series of Jordan Lacy mysteries written by Stella Whitelaw, it’s the first I’ve read.

There are nine, the latest title being Jazz and Die (2014). It’s a cosy mystery, that is, there’s no graphic violence or strong language and no gory bits. It might not appeal to fans of Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell, but clearly Whitelaw has a big following in libraries. She has had over fifty books and 300 short stories published.

Jordan Lacey is a female PI in the fictitious southern seaside resort of Latching. She used to be a policewoman, though you’d hardly guess it from the elementary errors she makes. Whitelaw is 73 and suffers from asthma, so Lacey suffers too, which is credible; however, she has Lacey being taught how to use a video camera, which is highly unlikely; and a little later she admits to having almost forgotten how to work the camera: an ex-policewoman? Lacey runs a second-hand shop and displays goods in her window before she’s even valued them? Really? She pretends to be a canvasser but has no backup story and wings it. She mentions some fabric, ‘the kind they wore in the Falklands.’ How’d she know that?

Despite these minor quibbles, the character of Lacey is engaging in a self-mocking way. Gutsy and not above breaking the law. She is sort of in love with two men, a jazz trumpeter and DI James, but can’t manage to make up her mind – or theirs.

A simple shadowing job turns ugly when her employer winds up dead on the funfair ride, Hell’s Revenge. Worse, while she is investigating vanishing stock from a department store, unsavoury links are made to the murder... She is particularly good with relationships, whether that’s the elderly gent running the town’s department store or the odd shady but nice crook.

Definitely worth whiling away a couple of hours, and you may get hooked on the ‘and Die’ series; if the earlier print versions are hard to get, there are e-book versions.

The full series is:

Pray and Die (2000)
Wave and Die (2001)
Spin and Die (2002)
Hide and Die (2003)
Jest and Die (2004)
Ring and Die (2005)
Turn and Die (2007)
Fold and Die (2009)
Jazz and Die (2014)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Writing market - 'contemporary pulp fiction'

Spacesuits and Sixguns is a magazine of contemporary pulp fiction and it has just increased its rates to 4c per word.

According to their website, they want 'simple, straightforward storytelling with an emphasis on action. We’re not looking for Lovecraft or Howard pastiches, or stories set in the 1930’s. Read a dozen pulp fiction stories, soak it all up, then ask yourself: what if this happened in my hometown today? Write close to home, write about what you love, and follow Elmore Leonard’s maxim: leave out the parts people skip. All genres accepted — detective, horror, mystery, adventure, SF, sword and sorcery. We love them all. Give us about 4000 words. Shorter is fine. We’re flexible. If it’s longer and it’s good, no problem. Rule number one – be fun!'

Previously published authors include Scott Nicholson, Samantha Henderson, Michael Wiecek, Steven Utley, and Howard Waldrop.

Send electronic submissions only.  Pays on publication.  Buys First North American Serial Rights.

The editor is Dave Duggins. The email for submissions is

The website is

Best of luck!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Writing competition - 'Sanctuary'

Though not peculiar just to Spain, but sadly the financial crisis here has meant that pet owners have abandoned their animals, often without any thought to their welfare; dumped in rubbish bins, left on busy roads or abandoned in the countryside. Horse, cat and dog sanctuaries are attempting to rectify matters. One such sanctuary is San Animal Santuario which is based in San Juan de Los Terreros on the Murcia –AndalucĂ­a border of Spain (see below).

Sue Johnson, a short story writer, novelist and writing tutor, has  joined forces with Cathy Zelenka (see her Blog to organise a short story writing competition to help the San Animal Santuario.

Short stories of up to 1,000 words on the theme of Sanctuary must be submitted by 31st July 2014.

There is an entry fee of £5 per story – or £12 for three - with the option of a full critique by Sue for an additional £5 per story.

The theme can be interpreted in any way you choose – your favourite place, a lover’s arms, an escape story.

1st prize £100
2nd £50
3rd £25.

Cheques should be made payable to S Johnson.

Please double space your work and send to: The Gallops, Southam Lane, Cheltenham GL52 8NY.
No email submissions, so you’ll have to be quick.

If you would like a critique, please enclose return postage. All other entries will be shredded after the competition.

Further details about the competition can be found on Cathy’s blog:

San Animal Santuario

A small international team of volunteers rescue abandoned dogs, puppies, kittens and cats. Recently a puppy was rescued from the countryside where he was found tied up in full sun, with no food or water, he’d simply been left to slowly die in agony.

San Animal Santuario find many animals new homes in other parts of Europe which incurs the additional costs of them being neutered, vaccinated, given passports and transported etc. There is also a programme to sterilise feral cats.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Writers’ insider information

Under the heading ‘Insider information’, the latest issue (#154) of Writers’ Forum (UK) features an article (pp 46/47) by Phil Barrington who interviews three writers of westerns – Diana Harrison, Jill McDonald-Constable and yours truly: he asks about the rapidly changing world of writing and how it affects this genre.

In the article I mention the UK stalwart Robert Hale, but also Piccadilly Publishing, Western Trail Blazer, Prairie Rose Publications, and Beat to a Pulp.

Coincidentally, my book Write a Western in 30 Days is again in the top 100 for the category Kindle Store>Books>Education>Education & Reference>Publishing & Books. So, many thanks to all those people who purchased it – and I hope it proves useful. Reviewers say it’s of benefit to writers of all genre fiction, not only westerns.

The Old West was not tamed solely by men, of course. Women played their significant part and are often major characters in modern versions of the Old West. Women in the western represent the alternative to violence. There’s a paradox here, as civilization depends on there being men who will not choose the seductive comforts the woman offers: it’s as though a society without violence, a society indeed fit for women, can only come into being through violence.

Western writing is not the domain of male writers alone, and never has been; a number of female writers have produced memorable work in the field, among them Annie Proulx, Janet Dailey, Dorothy M Johnson, Amy Sadler, and Gillian F Taylor (the latter is a Mastermind finalist). Some use male pennames, such as Amos Carr, used by writer Jill McDonald-Constable, Terry James used by Joanne Walpole, Tex Larrigan, used by Irene Ord, and Terry Murphy used by Theresa Murphy. Others have opted for unisex pennames, such as M.M. Rowan and D.M. Harrison.

Every genre needs new blood, since the readership has a voracious appetite for more of the same. As it says on the cover, this guide seeks to encourage new writers to tackle the western and do so within a limited time period.

The western can cover all manner of storylines relevant to today’s readership. Dysfunctional families, domestic strife, racism, greed, crooked business, and even supernatural elements are all grist to the mill for modern writers of westerns.
Essentially, the western has a broad canvas, rich in history and imagery, a period from the 1860s to the 1890s, where myth and history intermingled. The Old West was a melting pot of nationalities, of religions, and of morality. The human condition can be examined using the mores of the western archetype. New stories of the Old West can move readers just as effectively, if not even moreso, than competing genres. The only limitation is the skill of the writer.
- Write a Western in 30 Days, pp 4/5

Monday, 14 July 2014

Book review - Not with a whimper

The genesis of this recently published novel is not only unusual, it’s heart-warming. Author Pamela Kelt’s father was a writer, working away on his novels on a ‘clunky typewriter, only re-emerging at odd times, looking crumpled and unshaven’. She hadn’t read a word or even seen one of his manuscripts until some twenty years after his untimely death. When she read this manuscript, she became obsessed with getting it published, she felt it was so good. As both her father and she had overdosed on Ambler, Deighton, Le CarrĂ©, Chandler and Buchan, she knew a good story and character when she read it. Pamela sent it off with great trepidation to Crooked Cat Publishing… and it was accepted. This acceptance meant more to her than all of her own, I suspect; it was something really special.

If you’ve enjoyed Alistair Maclean, Eric Ambler, Raymond Chandler, Gavin Lyall, and Desmond Bagley, to name a few, then this novel is right up your street – or calle, since it’s set in Spain.

It’s the early 1970s, before the demise of Franco. The narrator, Alan Christian is a recalled British agent sent to discover the truth behind the death of another agent, Lynd, ostensibly a shooting accident. His descriptions are clipped, precise and raise a smile of admiration or even of humour: ‘… over roads with potholes you could have hidden a sniper in…’

Alan’s enquiries move from one eccentric or sinister character after another.  He is also threatened, and in turn threatens others. ‘I said that confidently. I was full of confidence. I oozed confidence. I dripped with it. That was the impression I was trying to create. I even considered whistling.’
In typical fashion, Alan gets knocked unconscious by ne’er-do-wells from time to time. And finds himself in strange places and predicaments: ‘I didn’t have to open my eyes to smell the room. You could have bottled that atmosphere and sold it as “instant peasant”.’
Of significance is the US naval base, Rota – which is now called Naval Station Rota, Spain. Apparently, the VLF-transmitter Guardamar, which uses Torreta de Guardamar, the tallest man-made structure in the EU as antenna that links Naval Station Rota. [I live close to Guardamar and we can see the antenna…]
There’s a conspiracy, and a hare-brained scheme to change the world. It seems that Alan’s meddling is liable to put a Spaniard in the works.

I enjoyed this character-driven thriller very much, not least since it concerned a familiar yet now altered Spain. Alan Christian is of the old school, a polite, honourable, tough, and stubborn man who liked to drink and smoke too much, but most of all cared about the world he lived in. His integrity shines through, despite his bone-breaking travails.
If you like your heroes to be world-weary with wit and compassion, then try this posthumous ‘original cold war thriller’.

A shorter version of this review will appear on Amazon et al.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Blog guest - Mark Iles

Seems fitting today, following on from yesterday's sci-fi short story, to feature Mark Iles, a popular sci-fi writer who is doing a blog tour for his latest book, The Cull of Lions.

Over to you, Mark.

Thanks! I’m lucky to have known Nik for a great many years, back to when he used to run the magazine Auguries. His Write a Western in 30 Days is simply superb and filled with all manner of advice that’s helpful from the beginner to the most advanced writer, of all genres. I’d like to take this chance to say thanks to Nik for hosting this blog and to pass on my best wishes for the continuing success of his books.

[Thanks, Mark…NM]

Author Bio

Mark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer in many fields including copywriting. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity, and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, and Nik illustrated his articles for Fighters magazine.

His first full length work was Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo, and he also has a short story collection available entitled Distant Shores. His debut novel A Pride of Lions was published by Solstice in September 2013, followed shortly afterwards by four novellas: A Connoisseur of the Bizarre, Sally Jane, Nightshade and Santa Claws is Coming.  The Cull of Lions is Book II in The Darkening Stars series. He’s now focusing on the third book in this series, The Roar of Lions.


Selena Dillon and her team return to Loreen after their attack on Mantis, only to find the myriad worlds of Mankind once again plunged into war. As the Penal Regiments are betrayed by the Federation of Man, and fighting spills throughout the galaxy, the dreaded Manta raise their heads once again.

Selena soon finds herself trying to track down her friends’ daughter, Hope, from the rabbit holes of Loreen and then fights to free her home planet from alien invaders.

While a general amnesty means previous sins are forgiven, the Queen has not forgotten Selena’s attempt on her life. Selena is torn between obeying orders to protect the monarch, and her ravening thirst for revenge. But strange forces are stirring amidst the stars and Mankind gains surprising new allies, while a terrifying enemy that’s manipulated events from behind the scenes finally reveals itself for the very first time.

The Cull of Lions - excerpt

The soldiers slowed their breathing, picked themselves up and patrolled back and forth, searching. Their guns barked occasionally, as they found enemy survivors.

Then, with the perimeters secured, Selena finally counted her men.

“Thirty, is that all?” she asked. “Where’s Harding?

“He got minced,” Braxis replied, wincing. “He was standing right next to me one minute and was a cloud of blood the next. He couldn’t have felt a thing, it was so damn quick.”

Blood and bits of human flesh adhered to Braxis’s uniform, and she noted a few shudders from those around her. To her relief Singh, Kes and Arthur made it, although Kes had a large tear in his chest that Singh was patching with a battle dressing and Arthur had a rip in his cheek they could see his teeth through.

She left her men under Singh’s command, as he in turn sat in the dirt having a shrapnel wound in his arm tended by a medic. With Kes, Braxis and a couple of heavies in tow Selena went to a meeting called by Colonel Matthews, in the central chamber of the nest.

Above them were the platforms that once housed the alien crops, but were now filled with nothing but drifting ash.

“Hello, Dillon,” the colonel said, holding out his hand. “Glad you made it. That was fine work back there. Your prompt action with the grenades broke the enemy’s back.”

            His genuine smile relaxed Selena. She was quite taken by the man’s warmth. His round face was framed by silvery hair. At five foot eight, he was short, stocky, spoke in brusque tones and was the typical image of an army officer.

“Thank you, Colonel,” she replied. “Do you know how the other attacks went?”

His smile faltered. “We succeeded at two of the other nests, but one of the regular army units was over-run and destroyed. I’m told there are no survivors at all. Luckily for us, the enemy chose to stay and defend the nest rather than send reinforcements to this one.” He paused and looked around, before saying even more loudly, “Now you’re all here, come with me. There’s something I want to show you, but I warn you it’s not pretty.”

            The colonel led them down several floors, and as they went a horrible stench began to assail them.

“God, what’s that?” Selena asked.

Colonel Matthews neither answered nor looked at her as they turned a last corner.

The officers stopped mid-step and stared.

In the wide open space there were hundreds of pens, all filled with transparent maggots of some kind that were as long as Selena’s leg. They had thick leather-like skin and countless cilia, which writhed constantly. Their little dark mouths took chunks out of the pieces of plant trundling through the pens on conveyor belts. As the huge maggots chewed and gulped the food, it could easily be seen entering their bodies, bunching up in what could be termed a series of stomachs, before finally being ejected from their bodies in a dirty, watery stream.

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