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Friday, 24 December 2010

A Christmas Story

OUTCAST

She came out of the godforsaken planet's seasonal mists, struggling under her immense weight. She wasn't welcome. Abraham Hertzog didn't like company. That's why he had settled in this inhospitable place, a last fuelling stop at the rim of the galaxy: a bleak station, where sand and dust vied with alien plants, neither succeeding for long to cling onto the barren rocky landscape. Planetary storms were too frequent. Which reminded him: he was due to telecast Headquarters. It was a full 3 months since he last ordered victuals.

His metal shack abutted onto the side of a towering ultramarine cliff. The rock was heavily pitted, from recent meteor showers and severe gales: he used the nearest caves for storage. But now stocks were running low.

He squinted out the porthole, past the thousand-meter landing pad, the fuelling depot and its attendant robot-mechanics.

As the green six-legged creature stumbled onto the tarmac, a robot wheeled toward her and solicitously helped her to large ungainly feet. Even from this distance, Abraham could detect the gratefulness in her protruding eyes. They were so damned trusting!

Perhaps that was why he didn't want to see her?

Guilt?

Not a thousand kilometres to the west there had been a luxuriant mauve forest, sprouting from purple springy grass. Now there were just a few tree-stumps; the rest was overbuilt by settlers. When mankind seeded the stars, he also brought diseases, pollution, greed, prejudices and weapons... The aliens were decimated, the survivors now outcasts on their own planet.

The robot helped the creature to the door, which chimed.

‘Just a minute,’ Abraham called, ‘Oy veh!’

The airlock whispered and he stepped out of the air-conditioned atmosphere onto the metal veranda. The air was thick with dust, the ozone crackling. ‘What is it?’

But he needn't ask. The pregnant creature was exhausted, and near term.

Against his better judgement, he directed the robot to bring her round the back and made room in the half-empty storage cave.

‘Stay here with her,’ he instructed the robot, ‘while I get some halvah.’

Later, as he dialled Headquarters about those victuals, he looked out the rear port.

The creature had managed a guttural approximation of English: her name was Yram; she had voraciously devoured his offered confection and now lay contented, watched by a number of mechanic and haulage robots. His attention was suddenly drawn to the green bundle of limbs swathed in sacking as the telecast speaker announced: ‘Merry Christmas, Abe!’

And he looked up at a star, twinkling overhead, brighter than any he'd seen on his journeys through the Milky Way.

‘Yes, of course. It would be, wouldn't it?’ he mused and realised that perhaps this planet wasn't God-forsaken after all.

Happy Christmas to all readers of this blog.
Nik

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Beating the snow and ice, my gratis 3 copies of the Linford Large Print book The $300 Man arrived today. I like the cover - it features a train, which is significant since the book begins with a train robbery. And the standing gunman could conceivably have a hook on his left hand, since it's hidden!



Interesting to see how Linford have managed to shorten the blurb; a good abridgement. The book, of course, is complete and unabridged.









The hardcover blurb:
What’s a life worth? $300, maybe. Half-Mexican Corbin Molina lost a hand during the Civil War but he has adapted. Now he’s on a mission to Walkerville. On the way, he prevents a train robbery and finds an old friend. Corbin always carries $300, which is significant, since that’s what he was a paid as substitute soldier for the Union.

When Corbin starts asking questions about Walkerville’s law and administration, he discovers that the Walker family, who seem to have bought and paid for loyalty and position, dominates the townspeople. Inevitably, Corbin’s questions attract plenty of trouble. And his past emerges to confront him during a tense showdown that threatens not only him but also his newfound love.

The Linford blurb:
What’s a life worth? $300, maybe. Corbin Molina lost a hand during the Civil War and always carries $300 – his pay as substitute Union soldier. He’s on a mission to Walkerville. When he arrives Corbin investigates their law and administration and finds that the Walker family dominates the townspeople and his questions bring trouble. His past emerges to confront him during a tense showdown that threatens not only him but also his newfound love.

Pleased to see that The $300 Man is 4th in the book depository Black Horse Western bestseller table, for December:
http://tainted-archive.blogspot.com/2010/12/western-bestsellers-at-book-depository.html

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Editor’s pet peeves-01: what’s empty?

From time to time, I’ll offer a few (possibly pedantic) comments on what tends to grate slightly when reading novels or works in progress.





‘Rossiter and Jacaud sat at a table… a bottle of cognac between them. Otherwise the place was empty, except for Mercier, who stood behind the bar counter polishing glasses.’ – A fine night for dying, Jack Higgins (1969).

Otherwise the place was empty, except for… Why not simply write: the only other person was Mercier…?

I’ve seen this example time and again, ‘empty, except for…’ The place wasn’t empty, since there were at least two other people in there. What constitutes full? When is it half-empty? This phrasing is often used by new writers who haven’t mastered critical self-edit yet.

I just happened to read this book yesterday so there’s no intention of slighting fellow Geordie-born Jack Higgins – a writer who has published over 60 novels and sold 250 million books and doubtless given pleasure to even more. Some years ago, a Sunday supplement journalist castigated him for unoriginality and regurgitating much of his material – whether gun lore, dialogue, events or even characters. Probably written by a disgruntled author who hadn’t achieved Higgins’s success. When you’ve written so many books, it’s quite possible some repetition creeps in. For example, Tarzan kept tripping over lost cities and civilizations in Africa, so that it seemed that the continent was overpopulated with them, but that didn’t detract from reader enjoyment.

It’s a strange coincidence but in the above book, Higgins writes: ‘Rossiter’s… hand dipped into his pocket and emerged clutching the Madonna. There was a sharp click and the blade jumped into view.’ And in Bad Company(2003), which is advertised at the rear of this book, there’s the passage: ‘(Marco) keeps an ivory Madonna in his pocket. When you press the button, the blade jumps out and shears right up under the chin.’ But, so what?

The majority of his early books are competent thrillers, though these days it’s unlikely they’d get published. And maybe that’s a fault of the present system; Higgins wrote 35 books before his breakthrough The Eagle Has Landed. Few, if any, publishers would now consider nurturing talent for that period of time. Yet he tells good fast-paced stories, is prolific – and popular. Go figure.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Go Green!













November 5, 1959. I was eleven and my mother said I could have some money to spend on fireworks for Bonfire Night. Mr Andrews, the newsagent, sold fireworks as well as periodicals, stationery and books. I gave it some thought and convinced her the money allocated would be better spent on a handful of comics. ‘All right, make your selection,’ she told me, and stipulated the amount I could spend.

I was spoilt for choice from the rack. I’d never read or bought any of the super-hero comics available, though I’d seen them in the rack. I’d encountered black and white reprints of Pecos Bill – one episode gave me nightmares, apparently; the monochrome Roy Rogers comic was a regular too, but hitherto I bought and read British comics – Eagle, Express, Lion, Hotspur, Tarzan adventures, Comet and so on. Full colour on every page was a new experience.

My handful consisted of Strange Adventures, Mystery in Space, My Greatest Adventure, World’s Finest, Brave and the Bold, Showcase and Our Army At War.

And that night I got to see rockets blazing in the sky from other people’s back gardens, too. Win-win.

So began a long – and doubtless costly – fascination with American comics. I had a number of favourites, inevitably. One of these was Green Lantern. The covers by Gil Kane were great. I was introduced to the silver age version, (not appreciating there’d been a golden age GL!), this one created by John Broome, in Showcase 22 – ‘Menace of the Runaway Missile’, Sep/Oct 1959. GL’s Showcase outing was obviously popular, because he subsequently featured in his own bi-monthly title. Odd, that #1 didn't have No.1 on the cover, though...

Over the years, I avidly collected as many titles from the DC universe as I could afford – and find. GL#5 proved elusive: I found one copy, but couldn’t buy it at the time as I needed that money for a Scouting event. Many years later, I read a reprint version.











In the 1970s, I sold quite a number of comics from my collection, including GL#1 for the sum of 8GBP, which was quite a lot then, since it cost me that to purchase a replacement car tyre after a puncture on the same day!

Now, at long last, the Emerald Gladiator is going to feature in a movie. The teasing trailer for next summer’s release suggests they might even do him justice.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Countdown to Centenary-01: Noble Savage

To see him today, it is difficult to credit that John Clayton was born in 1872. His entire life, from its bizarre beginning until this present time, has been filled with mystery, adventure, wonder and remarkable coincidence. His father was John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, who had recently married the Honourable Alice Rutherford. It was a brilliant match. In 1872 Clayton took his wife with him on a secret investigation of conditions in a British west coast African territory. They took passage in the barkentine Fuwalda and were never seen again.

The facts came out many years later. The crew of the Fuwalda mutinied and set ashore on a sandy African beach both John Clayton and his young pregnant wife. They were left with two crates of belongings, a rifle and some ammunition. Bravely facing up to the terrors of a strange primitive land, Clayton built a small hut among the trees and there they retired to relative safety, frightened by the jungle noises. Nearby, huge apes congregated, issuing terrible grunts and growls: these creatures had their own language and called themselves mangani; they were more hominid than gorilla, it seemed. Clayton wrote in his diary all his feelings, his fears and hopes. Alice gave birth to a boy, John.

It was shortly after John’s birth that a gorilla, Kerchak, attacked the couple and they barely escaped with their lives. However, a blow to the head permanently affected Alice’s view of her world: while she cared for her baby, she did not step outside the hut again, thinking herself in London. Some time later, she died while the infant slept. At about this time a female gorilla, Kala, had lost her own infant, falling to its death from the emerald canopy of the rainforest. Hearing the wailing sound of John Clayton mourning the death of his wife, the gorillas approached the hut. Kerchak barged in and killed the English Lord. But in that same instant Kala snatched up the baby from its makeshift crib, dropped her dead infant in John’s place, and rushed out with the infant John clutched to her breast.

Acting as baby John’s mother, Kala was very protective of him. The baby was called Whiteskin, Tarzan in the mangani language.





Little Tarzan survived by chance rather than his prowess, though his young mind quickly outstripped the mental capacity of his fellow apes. Being isolated from humankind, he was fortunate not to suffer any diseases. The Gabonese do not consider a man sick unless he has at least four diseases at once: malaria, filaria, intestinal worms and tuberculosis.

The next nineteen years of Tarzan’s life were to be spent largely in the interior of the closed-canopy rainforest. In his formative years he found the hut built by his father and puzzled over the children’s alphabet books, the mirrors and combs, the shoes. On seeing the depictions of men and women in the picture-books, he yearned to see others like him, for he knew that he did not resemble the rest of his tribe of apes. Eventually, he had his wish when Kulonga, a native, set out to hunt and slew Kala with an arrow. Tarzan learned all about grief then and later took the life of Kulonga with his father’s knife he borrowed from the hut: he learned about revenge, also. From that time on, he haunted Kulonga’s village, sometimes watching the tribesmen getting drunk, or fighting with other tribes, or maltreating their women or prisoners.

A child of nature, Tarzan discovered the world was not an Eden. It was harsh, filled with threat and danger from many sources. He quite understood the natural predators’ urge to seek food, but he could not fathom the sense of inflicting pain on an enemy simply because he was your enemy.

In 1891 a scientific expedition landed near to the Clayton hut. It comprised Professor Porter and his daughter Jane, her fiance William Clayton and a Frenchman, D’Arnot. Tarzan by now wore a breech-cloth to more resemble a MAN seen in his books. He rescued Jane from a gorilla and later saved D’Arnot from a savage tribe.

Having taught himself to write after a fashion in English, Tarzan learned to speak in French with D’Arnot’s aid. The party returned to America, with Tarzan. Here, D’Arnot sought help to identify Tarzan’s background and origins. When the news finally arrived that Tarzan was the inheritor of Greystoke, Tarzan kept the truth secret because he did not want to deprive Jane, William Clayton’s intended, of such wealth. His self-sacrifice for love of Jane meant he’d return to his beloved jungle.




Once back in the jungle, Tarzan became the chief of the warrior tribe of Waziri. With the Waziri he discovered the fabled lost city of Opar, whose vaults were filled with gold and jewels. In the meantime, Jane Porter’s fiancé William died before they could be married and she was reunited with Tarzan. They were married. Tarzan finally came into his true inheritance as Lord Greystoke.

Many adventures befell the couple. They had a boy, Jack, who adopted the name Korak – mangani for ‘killer’ – when he took to the jungle. The Waziri lands became a protected reservation. Tarzan befriended a young lion, Jad-bal-ja, who became a staunch ally. And Tarzan adopted Nkima, a mischievous monkey.

During the Second World War Lord Greystoke enlisted in the RAF and was a successful pilot. He also served in Asia. On their travels, Tarzan and Jane discovered a supply of immortality pills, and this goes some way to explain why John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, together with his wife and family, is still alive today, some 138 years after his birth.

It was decided by Lord Greystoke that if he was to preserve privacy for himself and his people – the Waziri, his family and the animals of his reservation – then he must cultivate a fictional persona. Also, he had no wish to be hounded for the secrets of immortality, or indeed the vast riches of Opar. To this end, he obtained the services of an impecunious writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, who fictionalised certain sections of the Tarzan epic and juggled the chronology of events to cause confusion. The hollywoodization of the tale moved the true events even further from reality.

The above is a ‘brief biography’ of an icon. It’s based on the first two books, Tarzan of the Apes (1912) and The Return of Tarzan (1913) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, plus Tarzan Alive by Philip Jose Farmer (1972). Recommended reading.



2012 is the centenary of the publication of Tarzan of the Apes. It’s about time this great character was restored to his former glory, not as an adventurer in children’s fiction but as an exciting pulse-pounding adult hero.

Tarzan is the Trademark of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

BLIND JUSTICE AT WEDLOCK

Latest Black Horse Western available on 30 May 2011. Can be ordered now! Even if Amazon has my penname reversed as Morton Ross...













The blurb goes something like this:

Clint Brennan interrupts two men kidnapping his wife Belle and he’s shot and left for dead. When he recovers his senses, his wife has gone and he discovers he is blind. Most men would give up there and then, but not Clint. Astride his donkey, he sets out with his faithful dog Mutt on the trail of his wife’s abductors.

Belle believes her husband is dead. She’s rescued, but not by Clint. Her saviour is protective and takes her to his grand home in Wedlock where she meets the charming housekeeper, Mrs Kilbride. Maybe here, they say, she can forget her husband and start a new life…

On the trail, Clint is waylaid by robbers but soon learns to combat enemies at night, when darkness is his ally. Distracted and delayed, he’s still determined to locate his missing wife.

A tale of betrayal and lies, it will all end at Wedlock, amidst flames and bullets.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Phoenix Tree by Jon Cleary


This was published in 1984. Cleary was a successful Australian author, his most famous book being The Sundowners, which is excellent. According to the blurb, seven of his books have been filmed, no mean achievement. And his Peter’s Pence was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe prize for the best crime novel of 1974. Despite the crime novel award, he wasn’t pigeonholed as a genre writer: he was a novelist and could write about anything. Not so easy, these days – publishers look for ‘brands’…

In the closing days of the Second World War, two friends, Kenji Minato and Tom Okada – the blurb mistakenly calls him Akada! – are working for the US Navy and become undercover agents in Japan, intent on identifying the members of the secret Peace Faction. Tom’s contact is Natasha Cairns, the widow of an English agent and radio-operator. They fall in love, but are constantly at risk from exposure, the Allied bombing raids and the kampei, the Japanese military police. An added complication is the unexpected appearance of Natasha’s concubine mother, a marvelous creation.

The Phoenix Tree is mainly written in the omniscient POV, and suffers from that by frequently jumping from one character’s thoughts to another’s in the same scene. It’s doubtful if the novel would find a publisher these days, judging by the masses of advice out there concerning POV etc. Yet the scope of the novel demands this approach, because Cleary is not only writing about individuals, he’s conveying the massive and horrendous cataclysm of the two A-bombs, which, naturally, could not be related from a single character’s viewpoint.

Cleary depicts the subtleties of Japanese customs and sense of honor and has a good novelist’s turn of phrase: ‘The trees and shrubs were loaded with the slow green bullets of spring; but there was still the dead perfume of ash in the air.’ There’s also humor: ‘She was an ideal wife for a general; she would have driven a pacifist off to war.’

A love story and a page-turning novel about spies and the dying days of an empire.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The story of a story

Stories don’t occur in a vacuum. They may begin with an idea, then some gestation is often necessary for the back-brain to formulate a storyline and create suitable characters. I’m always telling new writers never to throw away work, it can always be rejuvenated; the idea may be sound, but maybe the execution or timing are wrong. My story published in BTAP, ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ is a case in point.

Intent on extrapolating the drink driving laws of the time, I wrote the first draft in 1972, one of several science fiction stories I put into a collection that failed to find a publisher. Undaunted, I sent it out as an individual tale, and, due to its content, targeted Penthouse and Mayfair. It was rejected, the comments from Mayfair on January 22, 1973 stating, ‘I regret that it is not for me because it pretty nearly covers all the sub-conscious male fears there are.’ I was quite pleased with that, even if it was a rejection! I’d evoked a response from a reader…

I guess life got in the way, because the next target magazine was not approached until 1976. This went to Men Only and was accepted by letter of commission dated October 26, 1976 for the sum of 90GBP, which was a quite a bit of money in those days: ‘We do have a lot of fiction in stock at the moment, so I cannot give you any idea when the story will appear.’ By 1980 it still hadn’t appeared, along with another Men Only acceptance entitled ‘Legacy’, so they both ended up in some kind of limbo and never emerged and naturally I never got paid.

Inevitably, since that time, things have moved on. Originally, the radio announcement was about the ‘latest Concord disaster’ and the reigning monarch was Charles. Maybe I was a little impatient after four years of waiting: in 1980 I was aware of impending changes to the breathalyzer tests and pointed this out to Men Only’s editor, suggesting revisions before publication, but didn’t get a reply.

Considerable gestation time ensued for this story; that is, it gathered dust in a drawer: it wasn’t even on a computer disc, it was that old!

Finally, in 2008, at last having successfully had three novels published, I started putting together a collection of sci-fi/horror/ghost tales – many of them published – and revisited ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’. And the truth is that in UK it’s presently 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; for a dystopian future, I guess it should be even lower than I suggest, maybe even 20mg – if allowed at all! I imagine zero tolerance isn’t too far off, in fact.

That’s roughly 30 years of gestation time. So I’m very pleased that David Cranmer liked it enough for his webzine. It was always a favorite of mine and now, after so long, it has found a readership.

So: never throw that story away. Never give up. And check your facts. Oh, and don’t drink and drive…

Monday, 29 November 2010

Beat to a Pulp - Don't Drink and Drive

This week’s Beat to a Pulp webzine features my story, ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’.

Excerpt
His car's all-seeing eye on the roof spotted them: only a speck on his view-screen. Its shadow spitting blackly across the dull straight road, the motorway patrol helicopter encroached.

He'd heard of the searching equipment they employed to deter drunken drivers. A kind of sniffer capable of detecting alcohol on a person's breath at five hundred meters in ideal conditions.

Sweating, Padraig unwrapped a stick of chewing gum purportedly able to dispel forty percent alcohol from the bloodstream in five minutes.

He slowed. Maybe they're only patrolling? Act normally, stick to the 110 kph limit.

The bulbous glass egg swerved, angled down, rotors chomping air, its haunting blue-flashing siren peeling across the empty night. The alco-probe had scented him! Four minutes to go before the gum would work—he hoped. He depressed the acceleration button, veered into the fast lane, but neglected to look behind.

Find it at http://www.beattoapulp.com/pulp.htm.

And while you’re there, please check out the archive stories. You’ll find a broad collection of good stories – science fiction, horror, crime noir, western, many with twists in their tails.

Also, the editors of Beat to a Pulp webzine have published a print anthology, appropriately titled Beat to a Pulp Round One, featuring 27 gripping quality tales in 380 pages. You can buy it by clicking on the link on the left, or from Amazon and elsewhere.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Noir review - The Kill-Off


THE KILL-OFF
Jim Thompson (1957)

Ironic that not one of Thompson’s 29 novels was in print in his country (USA) when he died in 1977, at the age of 71. His reputation has since been restored, following on from several of his books being filmed, notably The Getaway and The Killer Inside Me.

Over the years, Luana Devore has used her acid tongue to spread gossip, innuendo and falsehoods about many individuals. She’s living on borrowed time – but who will commit the act and rid the world of the vile woman? The voices are individual and power the story forward to its stark conclusion.

This book is a bravura effort: twelve chapters, each in the first person by a different character from a backwater New England town, Manduwoc. There’s Kossmeyer, the lawyer; Ralph Devore, downtrodden husband of Luana, seeks solace with Danny Lee, the singer; Rags McGuire, the washed up jazz musician employing Danny; Bobbie, wayward son of Doc James Ashton; Hattie, the Negro maid and lover of the doctor and mother of Bobbie; Goofy Gannder, the drunk and incompetent; Henry Clay Williams, county attorney up for re-election; Myra Pavlov, inadequate lover of Bobbie; Pete Pavlov, builder and father of Myra and duped out of thousands by the Devores.

This Corgi paperback(1988) cover accurately depicts the singer Danny Lee, Ralph Devore and Rags McGuire.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

BEAT TO A PULP - Round One


Just received my copy of Beat to a Pulp - Round 1 anthology and it's a handsome beast, weighing in at 380 pages with an intimidating cover. Editors David Cranmer and Elaine Ash have assembled a scintillating selection of writers, among them Charles Ardai (founder of Hard Case Crime), award-winners Hilary Davidson, Sophie Litlefield and the mysterious Anonymous-9, Ed Gorman,mutliple western authors Chap O'Keefe and Ian Parnham, and the legendary Robert J Randisi and James Reasoner. Novelist, prolific auhtor and blogger and columnist for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Bill Crider supplies a foreword and comments: '...Nik Morton's "Spend It Now, Pay Later", a chilling near-future tale that makes the "arm and a leg" intrest rate all too real.'

Order this through Amazon or other online bookstores or from your friendly bookshop. 27 tales about drifters, killers, cutlass-swinging pirates, slaughterous simians - pulp fiction with punch.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Fistful of Legends - Swedish review

Swedish magazine Swingbed:
http://hangmattan.site90.net/tidningen/hangmattan131.pdf
page 5:

A FISTFUL OF LEGENDS
Edited by Nik Morton
Express Westerns 2009
Soft cover

Länge trodde jag att den gamla ”hederliga” wild weststoryn
var död och begraven för många år sedan. Det var under min
ungdomstid på 50- talet som man fortfarande gav ut wild west romaner,
ja ända in i 70-talet rentav. De kom ut på Wennerbergs förlag och själv
samlade jag på den i mitt tycke baste av dem alla – Max Brand eller som hans riktiga namn var Fredrick Faust. En av världens mest produktiva författare med
böcker i praktiskt taget alla genrer. Han var krigsreporter och
blev skjuten under andra världskriget. Hans Stora hjälte hette
Jim Silver.

Här har engelsmannen Nik Morton sammanställt 21 nya wild west stories,
med varierande innehåll. Här finns faktiskt alla varianter på en bra western
och för alla älskare av den idag nästan utdöda genren är den här boken ett
absolut måste. Själv har Nik bidragit med en novell under namnet Ross Morton.
Varför inte göra ett besök på några av websidorna Nik tipsar om:
www.halebooks.com www.blackhorsewesterns.org
www.blackhorsewesterns.com
Iwan

Rough translation:
For a long time I thought that the old "Honest" wild west story was dead and buried for
many years ago. It was during my youth of the 50s that the Wild West novels were published, even
well into the 70s. They came out on Wenner's publishing company imprint and I collected them.
In my opinion, the best of them all was Max Brand (real name Fredrick Faust). One of the world's
most prolific writer with books in virtually every genre. He was a war reporter and
was killed during WWII. His great hero was Jim Silver.

Here the Englishman Nik Morton has compiled 21 new wild West stories, with varying content.
They are actually all variants of a good western, and for all lovers of today’s almost extinct genre,
this book is an absolute must. Nik has contributed a short story under the name Ross Morton.
Why not visit some of the websites where Nik is spreading the word: www.halebooks.com, www.blackhorsewesterns.org, www.blackhorsewesterns.co

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Spanish Eye - a review

Reviews are generally thin on the ground. Even moreso for e-books, or so it seems. So I was pleased to find one on the Solstice website regarding Spanish Eye. From Charles Whipple, no less:

Nik Morton has used his storytelling skills to ultimate effect. Leon Cazador offers not only the experience of righting wrongs and helping the society become a safer place, he also spends time ruminating about the whys and wherefores of societal maladies. The book is a good read, for the entertainment, of course, and for the social commentary as well. Highly recommended.

Much appreciated, Charlie.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Boom in e-books – my way forward

Reported in City & Finance, Daily Mail, August 27: The CEO of Bloomsbury, Nigel Newton is looking forward to tapping into the boom in digital books. ‘Newton believes Britain is “one year behind America”, where e-book sales trebled in the first six months of 2010 to £120m. The report ends, ‘With a £33m warchest, Newton is looking for further acquisitions after beefing up its non-fiction wing following a spate of recent takeovers.’ So small-to-medium publishers had better watch out. I’d like to think his acquisitions would be new authors rather than other publishers, but maybe I’m being a bit naive there.

Anyway, I’m embracing the e-book. I’ll still buy and treasure printed books and wherever possible I’d like to see and hold my books in print, but e-books have their advantages too.

In light of the above, I’ve accepted the job offer of editor made by Gary Dobbs, the chief western editor for Solstice Publishing (pictured right in pensive mode).



Gary achieved the impossible by getting his Black Horse Western Tarnished Star to outsell any other Hale westerns and in record time. His Tainted Archive blog is worth visiting regularly too. He has constantly banged the drum for a western revival in books. And he is the driving force in getting the Edge gritty western series by George G Gilman into e-book format (published by Solstice). This western line for Solstice is shaping up into an exciting project and I’m honoured and pleased to be a part of it.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Spanish Eye - front cover story

Pleased to see that The New Coastal Press monthly magazine is featuring one of the 21 stories in Spanish Eye - a shorter version - plus plugging the book. The nice thing about it is that the magazine's cover illustration is for the story, 'Adopted Country'.

For a couple of weeks, you can access the magazine at the link shown below. If you want to read it at leisure, then I'd advise you download it. The story is on p16.

http://www.newcoastalpress.com/PDF/New%20Coastal%20Press%20Agosto%202010_web.pdf

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Spanish Eye Talks Radio

On Thursday afternoon, I had a telephone interview to talk about Spanish Eye and the character Leon Cazador. It was on The Hannah Murray Show, Talkradioeurope.

Extract of Talkradioeurope listing:
19 August
2:20 - Nik Morton - Author of 'Spanish Eye' - Private Investigator Leon Cazador is half-English, half-Spanish and wholly against the ungodly. He is indeed a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil. Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases. In his adventurous life, he's witnessed many travesties of justice, so as a private investigator, he will use his skills.

http://www.talkradioeurope.com/

There's a 'listen again' button on the website but it may be a while till the August interviews are loaded. It was an interesting experience. A TV interview is scheduled for early September.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Spanish Eye published!



My collection of crime short stories, Spanish Eye, was published as an e-book on 29 June by Solstice Publishing.

Its first review can be found on amazon.com: ‘First, I have to confess, I am totally biased. I had the opportunity to work with Nik Morton in an editorial capacity on this collection of private eye stories. The manuscript was a pleasure to read. His voice is so unique, and his stories are as thought provoking as they are entertaining. There are beautiful moments in the prose that never get purple or fluffy. He masters the art of taking an adventure and condensing it into short shots.

’If you enjoy short stories, you'll love this collection featuring the same character and exotic settings. I am a total Morton fan now and waiting anxiously for his next release!’ – D Thorne.

Thanks, Danielle. You might like to check out her website too:
http://daniellethorne.jimdo.com/

Spanish Eye is available on Kindle for $6.89 at:
http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Eye-ebook/dp/B003UNKYW8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A317O7WZ1CN6AQ&s=books&qid=1278601323&sr=1-1

And available as a pdf file for €2.96/$3.99/£2.01 to read on your computer at:
http://solsticepublishing.com/spanish-eye-p-111.html

Blurb:

Leon Cazador holds back the encroaching night of unreason

Private Investigator Leon Cazador is half-English, half-Spanish and wholly against the ungodly. His connections run wide and deep, which is to be expected of a man who served in the Spanish Foreign Legion, liaised with Japanese police, and was a spy. Dive into his fascinating stories, based on real events. Glean insight into his past and the people with whom he rubbed shoulders. Cazador translated into English means hunter. He is indeed a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil.

Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases, among them Carlos Ortiz Santos, a modern day Simon Templar. Join him as he combats drug-traffickers, grave robbers, al-Qaeda infiltrators and conmen. Be witness to the dodgy Spanish developers and shady expat Englishmen who face his wrath. Traders in human beings, stolen vehicles and endangered species meet their match. Kidnappers, crooked mayors and conniving Lotharios will come within his orbit of ire. Even the vengeful Chinese and indebted Japanese are his friends—and enemies.

In his adventurous life, he's witnessed many travesties of justice, so as a private investigator, he will use his considerable skills to right wrongs in the most clever and unexpected of ways. Leon Cazador fights injustice in all its forms and often metes out his own rough justice. It’s what he does.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Missives to Mina - homage story


Here is a homage to a particular writer who was influential in creating a sub-genre of horror. It urges readers of the story to go find the book.

Also there's a plug for A Fistful of Legends. Sadly, the editor of the magazine - Costa TV Times - is moving on, so I'll have to wait and see what the new editor likes...

Review of A Fistful of Legends


The weekly English newspaper here on the Costas runs a book review. This time around it's the turn of A Fistful of Legends. Verdict: the review liked the stories and reckons they'd appeal to a wider audience than just fans of the western. I reckon that many Black Horse Western books would do the same too, if only people would cast aside their reluctance to pick up a 'western'.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Short story appraisal - 02


The first tale in Modern Short Stories is by Jack Schaefer: ‘Jeremy Rodock’, which is taken from the collection The Big Range. The story's narrator isn’t named. He’s looking back at the time of which he writes, when he was ‘young then with a stretch in my legs, about topping twenty, and Jeremy Rodock was already an old man.’ Whenever Rodock talks to the narrator, he calls him ‘son’. This is a good ploy by the writer: being unnamed, the narrator almost becomes invisible, because what he reveals is not about him but his subject, Rodock.

The narrator works for Rodock, who supplies quality horses to stage lines. When about forty mares and their foals go missing, Rodock and the narrator set out to find them. During their tracking, horse know-how is neatly divulged until finally they come upon the herd. Their discovery is two-edged, however. The rustlers played a mean and cruel trick that meant Rodock couldn’t herd the animals back to the ranch. It then became a battle of wits between him and the rustlers. An eventual showdown was inevitable, but that too didn’t quite boil down to a shootout. The nature of Rodock the man meant that the battle of wills continued with the rustlers. It would be churlish to divulge more, save that in his own words Schaefer strives to ‘depict the raw material of human individuality through action and plot’. He viewed the Old West as a place ‘in which energies and capabilities of men and women, for good or for evil, were unleashed on an individual basis as they had rarely been before or elsewhere in human history’. He tended to pit a strongly individualised character ‘against a specific human problem and show how he rose to meet it’. Schaefer’s stories are about individuals – an overused word above – but valid nevertheless.

This isn’t the only eponymous story Schaefer has written. Not surprising, really, since Schaefer was profoundly interested in characters and how they fit into the world.

The next tale is ‘To build a fire’ by Jack London and he also uses an unnamed character, though this story is written in the third person. 'The man' is stranded alone in the Yukon, with only a half-wild dog with no name for company. And the sun wasn’t due to fill the sky for many days yet; instead, there was ‘an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark…’ We don’t know why the man was here, though he was intent on meeting up with ‘the boys’ in camp before long. Unfortunately, he underestimated the intensity of the cold. The dog probably only stayed with him because he had matches and lit fires to create warmth. But there are only so many matches in a box. And the numbness that swamps the body’s extremities cannot be imagined until it happens: it is devastating. Throughout this tale, London gives us insights into the land and the climate and the basic lore of survival, based on his own experience.

London’s story is a fitting companion piece for Schaefer’s. Both take place in primitive wild and lonely lands. Man is surrounded by nature that is beautiful and threatening. Schaefer relates about the struggle between men of strong will, while London’s tale is about man’s conflict with awesome nature. London employs many good phrases, notably, ‘The cold of space smote the unprotected tip of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip, received the full force of the blow. The blood of his body recoiled before it.’ Great stuff and memorable.

It's about victims, not statistics


I'm pleased to reveal that my modern vigilante novel, A Sudden Vengeance Waits, set in the fictitious town of Alverbank on the south coast of Hampshire has been accepted by Solstice Publishing. The title comes from a poem by Alexander Pope.

The blurb may be something like this: What conditions create a vigilante? Is it a personal tragedy, the loss of a loved one, or the frustration over the inadequacies of current law enforcement? In the broken Britain of today, the Knight family attends the funeral of Gran, killed by a burglar. But the Knights aren’t the only victims of unpunished criminals. There are plenty of others hurt and grieving in the south coast town of Alverbank. It’s about victims, not statistics. The vigilante breaks bones and cracks heads of those guilty individuals who cause pain without remorse.Who is the vigilante? He – or she – is called the Black Knight. Will the Black Knight eventually cross the line and kill? Somehow, the Knight family seems involved and is going to suffer.

The excellent atmospheric cover shown here was produced by Solstice in a matter of two days. The editing and publication process will however take a little longer...!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Short story appraisal - 01


I have a rather large home library of unread books. They’re unread because I tend to keep buying new books before I’ve read the earlier purchases. My excuse is that books have a short shelf life in bookstores…

My curse is that I’m interested in many subjects so I collect non-fiction and fiction books within a great variety of disciplines and genres. From time to time, I’ll pull off my shelves a book or two I haven’t got round to reading; many of these are short story anthologies. As a writer of short stories, I like to immerse myself in this particular art-form, in an attempt at avoiding any staleness of approach in my own writing. As they say, writers should read.

A long time ago, in the early 1970s, I picked up a paperback entitled Modern Short Stories (1965), primarily because it contained ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ by James Thurber and stories by Ray Bradbury, Jack London and Jack Schaefer. It’s designed as an educational tome with an interesting Introduction and Notes at the end. The editor is S H Burton, MA. If you write short stories, then it stands to reason that you should read them.

Encapsulated, the introduction explains what a short story should contain. When the story ends, something that matters has happened; there has been movement. Plot in the story imposes a pattern. In addition, the writer is concerned with his characters and with his setting. And, finally and most significantly, ‘the short story involves values of one kind or another’.

Burton sums up very well, that ‘values embodied in the story will usually be expressed through the plot, the characters, the setting – and by the way in which the story is written.’ The style will be the guide as to the writer’s sincerity. ‘The best writers try to work unobtrusively, presenting their view of life through characters involved…’ It’s interesting that the editor labels the first two tales in this collection, ‘Jeremy Rodock’ by Jack Schaefer and ‘To Build a Fire by Jack London’ as ‘adventure stories’, not westerns.

In conclusion, Burton spells out what should be obvious to the writer. Short stories are of limited length, originally aimed at periodicals that have only so much space on offer. This imposed economy of words means that words must not be wasted. Every word must count in creating the world of the characters involved. Each word must ‘purposefully contribute to the overall effect’. A novelist can apply equal weight to plot, character and setting; a short story writer doesn’t have that luxury so must choose which to lay emphasis upon, the other two simply supplying just enough to maintain the illusion of reality. So a short story can be about character, or plot or the setting itself; yet in the final analysis it should illuminate an aspect of the human condition. That aim requires craftsmanship and dedication.

Next post, I’ll take a look at the first two stories in this book.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Book Award surprise


I was surprised and pleased to win the April bookaward for my thriller The Prague Manuscript. See: http://www.thebookawards.com/News.html

It seems I'm in good (though much richer) company with The Time Traveler's Wife winning in March. The nominations (which stand for the May voting are many, but among them) are: The Lovely Bones (reading this at present, remarkable first novel), Eclipse, The House at Riverton (no relation), The Vampire Diaries, Atonement, The Shipping News, The Lost Symbol, 44 Scotland Street and The Tarnished Star.

Pop along and vote, if you see one of your favourites nominated - or nominate your own favourite.

Monday, 10 May 2010

TRIPWIRE by Brian Garfield



I was loaned this book by my Swedish friend Iwan. It’s one of his favorite books. This edition is a US hardback, 2nd printing in 1973 and signed with a personal note from the author dated 1975. The cover picture is poor and though relevant the title isn’t particularly good, either; yes, much later, Lee Child used it too. The cover calls it a novel, yet it is a western; maybe this is because Garfield has a very good track record with best-selling books in a variety of genres and the publishers feel the book transcends the genre. These are minor quibbles, however.

This is a great story, tightly written in 185 pages.

Buffalo soldier Boag helps out with a gold heist only to be double-crossed, thrown overboard from a steamship and shot. Doggedly, he tracks the men who robbed and hurt him. Boag is a believable character and we take the hard long journey with him. There are setbacks. He meets a variety of individuals, helps some and others help him. He’s a likeable man, but you don’t want to cross him.

The denouement is riveting and exciting. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

SPANISH EYE


Tales from Leon Cazador, Private Investigator

I’ve just signed a contract with Solstice Publishing, USA for this book of 21 short stories featuring Leon Cazador. The stories were published between 2005-2009 but I have rewritten them for this collection.

The Solstice cover was designed within a day or so and I reckon it’s very eye-catching.

The book still has to go through the Solstice edit process so I don’t know yet when it will be available as an e-book and a print book. Watch this space.

Blurb:

Private Investigator Leon Cazador is half-English, half-Spanish and wholly against the ungodly. Sometimes he adopts an alias, Carlos Santos: he is a modern day Simon Templar, willing to hold back the encroaching night of unreason and help the gullible and downtrodden. He combats drug-traffickers, grave robbers, al-Qaeda infiltrators, misguided terrorists and conmen. Dodgy Spanish developers and shady expat English face his wrath. Traders in human beings, stolen vehicles and endangered species meet their match. Kidnappers, crooked mayors and conniving Lotharios come within his orbit of ire. Vengeful Chinese and indebted Japanese are his friends – and his enemies. Leon Cazador fights injustice in all its forms. It’s what he does.

Friday, 30 April 2010

100th Published Short Story


The COSTA TV TIMES weekly magazine out here in Spain has published my hundredth short story. Entitled ‘The Museum of Iniquity’, it’s a fun murder mystery, which also happens to use 36 titles from the plays, short stories and books of Jeffery Archer!

There’s also a plug for the anthology A Fistful of Legends.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Welsh Cowboys and Outlaws


We all know it's a small world, and getting smaller with the aid of the Internet. Not so long ago, I was browsing in a shop here in Spain when I picked up and bought one of those UK nostalgia books packed with old photographs: Monkseaton and Hillheads (Whitley Bay). Inside was a photo of the house where I lived for most of my first seventeen years of life!

Another shop nearby stocked a couple of It’s Wales books, short 92-pagers, and I was drawn to this one – Welsh Cowboys and Outlaws by Dafydd Meirion (2003).

While the prose is slightly repetitive – ‘decided’ and ‘many’ are two overused words – the information, gleaned from a number of intriguing references, is interesting and possibly a good source for a plot or two of a western or historical saga of the Old West.

Meirion tells us that perhaps 250,000 Welsh left Wales for America – compared to 4.5 million from Ireland. The largest proportion originally settled in Pennsylvania (17%), while the rest wended their way west as the expansion gained pace. Of the 10,000 whites who died during the treks westwards, apparently only 362 were killed by Indians. Most succumbed to disease or the weather or renegade whites and Mexicans.

He also points out that Hollywood rarely depicts the ethnic split of cowboys, for example: only 63% were white; 25% were black; 12% Mexican.

He touches briefly on a wide range of Welsh characters. Isaac Davis, the Mormon renegade who raided settlements; the James brothers, whose great-grandfather was a Baptist minister from Pembrokeshire and emigrated to Pennsylvania; Sheriff John T Morris, who gunned down Belle Starr’s husband; Frank Jones and John Reynolds Hughes of the Texas Rangers.

Edward Davies from Llanrwst entertained in saloons; as did John G Jones from Bethesda, north Wales. Morris Price left Powys and travelled to Illinois where he started a small ranch which grew into one of the biggest. John Rowlands who was raised in a workhouse in St Asaph near Denbigh emigrated to America and changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley and became a famous journalist and of course tracked down Dr Livingstone in darkest Africa. Then there’s Robert Owen Pugh of Dolgellau who married the granddaughter of Chief Blue Horse of the Oglala Sioux; quite a character, Pugh, and a staunch friend of the Indians in their hours of need. And there are plenty more in these few pages. Also mentioned briefly is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show visit to Cardiff; the locals didn’t take kindly to local lasses walking arm in arm with Indians!

Friday, 2 April 2010

On the trail of 'last chance' Morton


This week’s Costa Blanca News has run a full-page article about my western writing.

Here is the page (Expertly joined by my old pal Neil from two scans ).


Inevitably, a few things got lost or altered in translation from interview to page. Needless to say, I don’t write ‘how is y’all’ dialogue, contrary to what is suggested… The article states that I have ten westerns under my belt, when in fact I’ve only got four – though my latest sale is my tenth book printed/accepted. (I’ll just have to get busy and write those other six pronto!) Also, when I studied ten BHWs and analysed them, I thought that I could write one too – I didn’t think I could ‘do better’. Such quirks make for a better article, I guess!

The Costa Blanca News is sold north and south along the Spanish costas. As to whether it will galvanise any readers into buying Black Horse Westerns, well that's another question without an answer...

Monday, 29 March 2010

VALLEY THIEVES by Max Brand - review


I’ve got two editions of this book – recent gifts from Swedish friend Iwan. An American edition, 1933 plus the first UK edition, 1949, and the dust jacket is from the latter. While I’ve read a number of Max Brand books, I haven’t read any of his Silvertip stories, so this is a first for me.

Narrated in the first person by Bill Avon, it relates Jim Silver’s continuing battle of wills and wits with his arch-enemy Barry Christian, in the process of which Silver’s wolf Frosty and his powerful horse Parade are abducted. We also meet the enigmatic Harry Clonmel, another bigger-than-life character.

There’s no indication when the story takes place, though a few references may suggest the mid-1890s. Silvertip’s pal Taxi seems to have a penchant for modern inventions; he owns an automatic pistol (1893) and carries an electric pocket torch (the first 2-candlepower lantern, weighing in at 2lb would make his pocket very heavy; invented 1892; the tubular torch, 1898). The evil Barry Christian has a concealed derringer up his sleeve, operated by elastic; elastic braid or knicker elastic came out about 1887 while elastic bands were around post-1845.

The writing style isn’t particularly great, but Brand delivers on storytelling. Here, he writes about a West where there are good men and true, where even villains seem to possess some humanity. Old Man Cary is the patriarch of a family of bad blood; he’s well drawn and multi-faceted: he reeks evil yet has a sneaking regard for Silvertip.

Silvertip – so called because of the ‘tufts of grey hair over his temples, like the beginning of little horns’ – is not an anti-hero but a mythopoeic hero. As Avon says, ‘… a hero is a property of every ordinary man and because of such men as Jim Silver the rest of us stand straighter. He was a man who had never been found in a cruel, mean, or cowardly action.’ These heroes are necessary, even in this day and age. Too often, so-called heroes espoused by the media have feet of clay. Perhaps there’s a need for more honest and true sportsmen, movie stars and politicians around to set examples to the young. Maybe loss of faith has something to do with it, now our world is overwhelmingly secular and acquisitive. Bill Avon said of Silvertip, ‘His faith in me made me strong. Another man’s faith always multiplies one’s own, I think.’ Self-belief and self-worth grow from the influences of others.

I came away from a relatively simple western tale with these thoughts, which surprised me a little. Brand doesn’t openly preach, but his tales clearly have a moral tone, which may appear quaint these days, and yet perhaps many of his readers dearly wish to go back to those simpler times.

Friday, 26 March 2010

A SMALL STEP… SO FAR


Today, I got a pleasant surprise when I learned that my story ‘A Gigantic Leap’ featured in Midnight Street #13 (Editor: Trevor Denyer)is on the rather long long list of short stories nominated for the 2010 British Fantasy Society’s awards. Those listed are all nominations from BFS members.

Review from Gareth d Jones, sfcrowsnest.com
"Nik Morton takes us on 'A Gigantic Leap' as he re-imagines a piece of Soviet history and wonders what might happen if the American paranoia about space-born germs had been justified. It's a gently told story, narrated by an old man who has seen too much in his hard life. Then in the last few paragraphs, the stress and alarm build up nicely. All of the international panic and national security issues occur in the background, though, so as not to spoil the calm flow of the story. It's nicely done."

This tale is a particular favourite of mine, so fingers crossed, though it’s up against very stiff competition and several big names. Still, nice to be included.

Pictured is the first page of the story from the magazine, with an excellent relevant illustration from Surabhi Wade.

In alphabetical order, here is the short story long list
(from http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/):

A GIGANTIC LEAP, Nik Morton, Midnight Street #13
ANOTHER END OF THE EMPIRE, Tim Pratt, in Strange Horizons, June 22
AT FIRST SIGHT, John Llewellyn Probert, in The Catacombs of Fear (Gray Friar)
BRYSON FEEDS FAMILIES, T.F. Davenport, Black Static #12
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, Justin Carroll, in Dragontales: Short Stories of Flame, Tooth and Scale, ed. Holly Stacey (Wyvern)
CAT AND MOUSE, Marie O’Regan, in NVF #4 and Deadly Dolls (NVF)
CERTAIN DEATH FOR A KNOWN PERSON, Steve Duffy, in Apparitions, ed. Michael Kelly (Undertow)
CHARMS, Shweta Narayan, Strange Horizons, August 24
CLOCKATRICE, Tanith Lee, Fantasy Magazine, October 5 post
DEADHOUSE STEPS, Mark Chadbourn, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
EDISON’S FRANKENSTEIN, Chris Roberson, in Edison’s Frankenstein (Postscripts #20/21), ed. Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers (PS)
FINISTERRE, Maria Deira, Strange Horizons, August 10th
FISHERMEN, Al Robertson, Interzone #221 (TTA)
FUTURE CITIES, Allen Ashley, from Once And Future Cities (Eibonvale)
GEORGE CLOONEY’S MOUSTACHE, Rob Shearman, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
GOLDEN LILIES, Aliette de Bodard, Fantasy Magazine, August 10 post
GRANNY’S GRINNING, Robert Shearman, in The Dead That Walk, ed. Stephen Jones (Ulysses)
GROWING PAINS, Ian Whates, Hub #101
HERE WE ARE FALLING THROUGH SHADOWS, Jason Sanford, Interzone #225
IF WISHES WERE HORSES, Tiffani Angus-Bodie, Strange Horizons, May 25
IMAGES OF ANNA, Nancy Kress, Fantasy Magazine, September 14 post
IN THE GARDEN, Rosalie Parker, in The Fifth Black Book of Horror, ed. Charles Black (Mortbury)
IN THE PORCHES OF MY EARS, Norman Prentiss, from This Is the Summer of Love (Postscripts #18), ed, Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers (PS)
JOLLY ROGER, Robert Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
LIFE AFTER DEATH, Mark Butler, New Horizons #4 (BFS)
LIFE-O-MATIC, Paul Kane, Estronomicon, May 2009 (Screaming Dreams)
LILY GLASS, Veronica Schanoes, Strange Horizons, April 27
LOVE AMONG THE LOBELIAS, Robert Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
MARLEY’S HAUNTING, Simon Kurt Unsworth (Ghostwriter)
MASQUES, Paul Kane, in Return of the Raven, ed. Maria Grazia Cavicchioli (HorrorBound)
MICROCOSMOS, Nina Allan, Interzone #222
MOTHER SPONGE, Mur Lafferty, Hub #83
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER, Nina Allan, Black Static #12
MY SECRET CHILDREN, James Cooper, Black Static #13
NINJA RATS ON HARLEYS, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, in Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW)
NON-ZERO PROBABILITIES, N.K. Jemisin, Clarkesworld #36
NOTES TOWARD A COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Fantasy Magazine, August 5th post
OF MELEI, OF ULTHAR, Gord Sellar, Clarkesworld #37
OFFERINGS, Stephanie Burgis, Fantasy Magazine, August 24 post
ON CONSIDERATION OF THE MUSES, Eric Stener Carlson, in Cinnabar’s Gnosis, ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
ONE LAST LOVE SONG, Rob Shearman, from Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (Big Finish)
PELICAN BAR, Karen Joy Fowler, Eclipse Three, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade)
PLAYING WITH SPADES, Mari Ness, Fantasy Magazine, August 3 post
PROOF, Gary McMahon, in Apparitions, ed. Michael Kelly (Undertow)
RED CHRISTMAS, Jim Steel, Supernatural Tales #16
SALT’S FATHER, Eric Gregory, Strange Horizons, August 3
SANCTUARY RUN, Daniel Mills, in Strange Tales III, ed. Rosalie Parker (Tartarus)
SERVITOR, Paul Kane, DeathRay #21 (Blackfish)
SHUCKED, Adrian Joyce, Interzone #225
SILENCE AND ROSES, Suzanne Palmer, Interzone #223
SURVIVOR’S GUILT, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Black Static #14
THE BELOVED TIME OF THEIR LIVES, Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia, from The Beloved of My Beloved (NewCon)
THE BLACK FLOWERS OF SEVAN, James Lecky, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #1
THE CHYMICAL WEDDING OF DES ESSEINTES, Brendan Connell, from Cinnabar’s Gnosis ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
THE CONFESSOR’S TALE, Sarah Pinborough, in Hellbound Hearts, ed. Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane (Pocket)
THE CONVENT AT BAZZANO, Allyson Bird, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
THE DEVONSHIRE ARMS, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Clarkesworld #32
THE ELEVENTH DAY, Christopher Fowler, Black Static #14
THE GHOST OF ONIONS, Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, Strange Horizons, July 20
THE KILLING STREETS, Colin Harvey, Interzone #226
THE LAST GALLERY, Joel Lane, Midnight Street #12
THE MYSTERY, Peter Atkins, in Spook City (PS)
THE PICTURE, Rosalie Parker, Supernatural Tales #15
THE RULEBOOK, Christopher Fowler, in The Dead That Walk (Ulysses)
THE STRETCH, Christopher Fowler, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
THE TRUE VINTAGE OF ERZINE THALE, Robert Silverberg, from Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honour of Jack Vance, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (HarperVoyager)
THE WAGER, Daniel McGachey, in They That Dwell in Dark Places (Dark Regions)
THE WHITE BULL OF TARA, Fiona Patton, in Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (DAW)
THE WORLD ENTIRE, Ron Weighell, in Cinnabar’s Gnosis, ed. Dan Ghetu (Ex Occidente)
TWAIN, James Barclay, in The BFS Yearbook 2009, ed. Guy Adams (BFS)
VENETIAN PAPERWEIGHT, from Mostly Monochrome, John Travis (Exaggerated)
VIC, Maura McHugh, Black Static #10
WALKING WITH A GHOST, Nick Mamatas, Clarkesworld #33
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL MARIANAS, Mike Chinn, from The Bitter End: Tales of Nautical Terror, ed. Jessy Marie Roberts (Pill Hill)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE NIGHT, Michael Marshall Smith (Nightjar)
WHITE CHARLES, Sarah Monette, Clarkesworld #36
WORLD WITHOUT END, Marie O’Regan, The Thinking Man’s Crumpet #2

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Mention by the Western Writers of America


Congratulations to Matthew P Mayo for getting his short story 'Half a Pig' (from A Fistful of Legends - Express Westerns) mentioned as a finalist in this year's prestigious Spur Awards. Well done, Matt!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Write and write some more

Interesting agent’s blog. http://www.thecroceagency.com/
which is currently featuring an excellent short interview of Ray Bradbury about his writing schedule. He is an inspiration to all writers - if they half a wit to notice.

Write, write and write some more is the way to go. I should know, I've been doing that for 40 years or more!

His books are on my shelf and I can still remember so many of his tales, which is he measure of the man and the writer.

As Stephen Vincent Benet said, 'A short story is something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime.' That's Ray Bradbury.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Book of the film: Vertigo


The book Vertigo was originally written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac in French, D’Entre Les Mortes (1954) and translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury as The Living and the Dead in 1956. I don’t believe the book’s beginning would attract a publisher nowadays; as it contains far too much exposition via lengthy dialogue. Still, the story itself is intriguing – hence the adaptation for Hitchcock’s 1958 film. Perhaps not surprisingly, the film diverges considerably from the book, save for the crucial deception.

The book's protagonist Flavières left the police due to his inability to cope with vertigo (or possibly acrophobia), and seemed at a loose end so he was grateful when his old friend Paul Gévigne asked for his help. However, Flavières wasn’t too happy when he found out he was hired to follow Paul’s wife, Madeleine. She was a mystery, it seemed. She had altered psychologically since they married and was obsessed with her strange past. Worse, Flavières found himself being obsessed by the beautiful Madeleine.

Unlike Kim Novak’s curvy blonde character of the movie, the book’s Madeleine was dark and slim. Of course we know that Hitchcock seemed to have his own obsession with blonde actresses. Madeleine wore a grey suit – as did Novak. And only her name was retained for the film; Flavières became Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) and Paul became Gavin Elster.

The story begins during the phoney war, before the Germans had invaded France. As it was written some nine years after the war, there’s no obvious reason why it wasn’t set in the 1950s, save that perhaps there’s a parallel between the fall from grace of Flavières and the collapse of his country. It’s obviously a French story, as Flavières ponders about Paul’s concern for his wife: after all, Madeleine ‘had every right to have a lover if she wanted to.’ Yes, typically French, that. Though even at this early stage (p22), Flavières found that he hoped she didn’t have a lover, as he felt he’d suffer acutely at the knowledge.

I don’t believe the film realistically showed the growing obsession James Stewart had for Kim Novak. The book conveys this gradually, subtly: ‘… he was mortified by the joy he felt at the prospect’ of following Madeleine. By p32 ‘he had only to think of her to lose his sense of proportion.’

Following the tragic events of Madeleine’s suicide, the German offensive of France began in earnest. Flavières went to pieces and ‘made little distinction now between the national disaster and his own. France was Madeleine lying crushed and bleeding at the foot of a church tower.’

At the beginning of Part Two, Flavières returns to post-war Paris, and his past seems to haunt him still. The similarities between the book and the film are there, though the Paul character died during the war. It would be unfair to detail much else, save to observe that since this is a French novel, it most definitely has noir undertones with an unhappy ending, in effect to gratify Flavières’ ‘taste for melancholy, solitude, and impotence.’

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Two books sold in two months

I don’t think I can maintain this pace, but it’s a great feeling.

In January, I sold my 9th book, the erotic novel Assignment Kilimanjaro, to Xcite Books and it’s already available as an e-book on their website and on iTunes. If you’re offended by graphic sex, don’t go there.

In February, I’ve just sold my fourth western Blind Justice at Wedlock to Robert Hale.

I’ve got a couple of manuscripts out with publishers, but don’t hold out much hope of getting a hat trick in March…!

Still awaiting the publication of the fantasy quest novel Wings of the Overlord, sometime soon from Libros, I hope...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Remorseless Time


My 91st short story just published!

Today I received a cheque and complimentary copy of Telling Tales #4 – Winter 2009 – for my science fiction story ‘Remorseless Time’, which is featured and begins:

‘Why do you go back?’ the very thin and pallid temporal engineer asked, the last in a long litany of familiar questions. One of these days, he might get a different answer from me. But not this time.

‘I want to suffer contrition,’ I said, as usual, ‘but can’t.’

Sitting opposite, the NB judge leaned back and sighed. ‘You can’t change the past, Mr Thurston.’ The judiciary’d dispensed with wigs fifty years ago. He looked like a kindly uncle rather than a hanging judge. Not that they hung anybody in New Britain. In a way, indoctrination was much worse. Death was final. Indoctrination seemed like a living death to free spirits like Donna, Tim and me…

Telling Tales is a well-produced, attractive A5 magazine, and the editor pays, which is laudable. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, why not try out a subscription? Check it out at www.meadowpublications.co.uk or contact the editor, Andrew at andy.jackson@talktalk.net.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Hammer and Honey

For many years I’ve wanted to write a WWII Resistance thriller. It seems that I’m gradually working up to it. The recent short story win with ‘Codename Gaby’ is my second story of that period of heroism and betrayal. My first was published in the Coastal Press in 2007 and was inspired by the fact that in France old soldiers are afforded respect and gratitude by the populace.

HAMMER AND HONEY


Smart and imposing in their blue uniforms, two traffic policemen stood on the small concrete island in the centre of the congested Paris crossroads. Suddenly, the elderly gendarme saluted an old man who shambled past on the western boulevard’s pavement. The old man didn’t acknowledge the mark of respect. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed.

‘Emile,’ the younger gendarme asked, ‘why did you salute that old guy? Was he an ex-Commissioner of Police?’

‘No he wasn’t, Henri. But he deserves my respect, nevertheless. In fact, all Paris should salute Monsieur Meline. In France, we honour our old war heroes while across La Manche their government and youth mug them...’

This was Emile Girard’s last day of duty and young Henri was his replacement. Emile was due to attend his retirement party later that evening at Le Chat restaurant. ‘I don’t ask it lightly, Henri, but make sure you salute whenever you see Monsieur Meline.’

Puzzled, Henri removed his kepi and scratched his head. ‘Naturally. I only wish you wouldn’t be so mysterious.’

Pursing his thick lips, Emile blew his whistle at a frantically gesticulating Citroen driver and peremptorily stopped the traffic, oblivious of the accompanying screech of brakes and inevitable chorus of honking horns. He signed for a bent grey-haired little old lady to cross the street and while she did so he said over his shoulder, ‘Tonight, Henri, at my party, I’ll tell you all about the old man.’
***
Shoulders stooped with the weight of years and memories, Pierre Meline stopped at the wrought-iron gate entrance to the small park and glanced briefly at the noisy traffic and the aged gendarme blowing his whistle. Good old Emile, he thought, I’m going to miss him.

Slowly, his aching bones obviously causing him much discomfort, Pierre walked through the gate, the new flowers affirming rebirth in the bright and shimmering sunshine.

Ah, Paris in Spring! His spirits soared, if only briefly.

Lowering himself onto an empty wooden bench, Pierre pulled out an orange from the pocket of his careworn jacket and expertly opened a penknife and expertly peeled the fruit.

Memories peeled back, too, of a time when he had been a strong young man...
***
‘This is Miel,’ said the underground network’s leader.

Miel was her code-name, the only name they would ever know her by, which had been bestowed upon her by some wag in Baker Street in recognition of her fluent and honeyed rendering of the French language.

Pierre Meline just stared.

Apparently, she was half-French and half-English and, apart from the fact that she had been landed by Lysander earlier this evening, that was all they knew about her.

He thought that her diluted French blood still showed in her deportment and those high aristocratic cheekbones. Her ancestors obviously fled the guillotine by crossing La Manche and settling there in England. But he could forgive her even that historic betrayal as long as he could gaze on her short curling auburn hair and intelligent glinting hazel eyes that didn’t seem to miss much.

Introductions consisted of code-names only. Pierre was Marteau.
***
Lucy Hardy’s eyes met Marteau’s and her legs suddenly went very weak. He was as short as her yet carried himself so well he appeared taller. Cheeks and chin were covered in what appeared to be perpetual stubble which gave him a down-cast appearance, which would doubtless help him to melt into any crowd, which was all to the good, considering Le Marteau – the hammer – was the French Resistance’s most deadly assassin. He was very proficient, ensuring that his victims all appeared to die in accidents, thus avoiding recriminations against the local populace. Yet his dark brown eyes were gentle, belying his deadly calling. She saw pain and compassion there and her heart fluttered. She had never before experienced such a strong and instant attraction to a man.

Mentally shaking herself, Lucy stepped forward and shook hands with Marteau and the four other men.

As a member of the Special Operations Executive, she’d been sent to form two elite explosives teams to destroy railway bridges and transport in preparation for the invasion, though Colonel Buckmaster obviously wasn’t saying when the Allied invasion would happen. It might be this April, 1943 or much later. Probably much later, she thought. But the sabotage teams needed to be trained and in place and ready to go whenever they were called upon. That was her job.

Lucy had no illusions about her chances of survival. Several other women – usually wireless operators – hadn’t returned to Baker Street. But she was undeterred and more determined than ever to ‘do her bit’ against the evil menace that threatened to thrust Europe back into the Dark Ages when fear alone ruled.

Over the next few months Lucy trained two teams of men in the art of blowing up things. She had learned her skills well in the highlands of Scotland a mere eleven months earlier. Then, it had seemed unreal. Now, she was in earnest. Lives were at stake. Every day she had to be vigilant. There were passwords to be used and lookouts to be posted and contacts to be trusted.

Betrayal was their biggest fear and cost lives. Brave people of so many underground networks had been informed on; then the Gestapo had dragged them away to Avenue Foch or some other dark basement where they suffered for their country, their ideals and their friends. Baker Street experts told every agent not to talk for at least forty-eight hours, as this would give the rest of the network time to get away. Fine, in theory... Betrayal was inevitable under those dark, lonely and sinister circumstances. After all, those who resisted were not super-human – just flesh and blood.

Time and again Lucy found herself being drawn to Marteau in their clandestine meetings in barns and under bridges. She felt sure that he was attracted to her too. But there was a war to fight and this was no time to go falling in love. She had a job to do.

These sensible arguments ran through her head each night that she lay restive in bed after she had returned from a meeting with Marteau. She knew that personal involvement could seriously affect the stability of their network. She must act responsibly. Certain emotions had to be held in check. She almost weakened during one unguarded moment as Marteau had whispered, ‘When this is all over, cheri, I would like to take you to my apartment – the view is magnificent.’

‘I would like that too,’ she had replied levelly though she felt her heart hammering.

‘You honour all my countrymen by fighting with us,’ he had said, kissing the back of her hand. Then he had slid away into the enveloping darkness.

Clearly, he would not take advantage of her. He respected her too much. In fact, Lucy had earned the respect of all of the Frenchmen she trained. On two terrible nights she had been out on raids and risked her life to bring back injured men – well, boys, really. Neither was more than nineteen, she knew. But that was not unusual. Even schoolchildren helped the Resistance. And everyone feared the reprisals. It was no wonder that there was treachery from time to time.
***
The woman was returning from a secret rendezvous, a parcel of fresh meat under her arm, when Lucy stepped out from concealment, the leaves of the bush rustling. ‘Have you been somewhere interesting, Adele?’ Lucy asked.

‘I might have,’ snapped Adele, gazing haughtily down her nose. ‘What is it to you, courtisane?’

Adele wasn’t the only woman in the area who believed that Lucy slept with all the men she trained and fought alongside. Lucy bit her lip, ignoring the insult, and stepped forward. Her mouth was dry. She didn’t like doing what she must do, but she had suspected Adele for weeks now. The presence of the black-market meat clinched it. The best trade for food was either money or information – and Adele didn’t have any money – and sex was rarely a good bartering tool. There could be no doubt, anyway, as she had seen Adele meeting with the SS officer.

When she had finished, Lucy wasn’t proud of herself. But it was necessary to silence the woman in order to safeguard the others. She didn’t linger, either, because she knew that Marteau was meeting the leader of another network and they were scheduled to move out five British airmen tonight. And Adele had known that too...

Her heart lurching with fear all the way, Lucy hurriedly pedalled to the secret cache behind the abandoned house. Here, she unearthed a bren-gun and shoved the weapon into the wicker basket on the front of her bicycle and covered it with a towel.

Praying she would be in time, she cycled towards the meeting-place.

Through the dark night Lucy pedalled across two fields and even carried the bicycle as she had to wade over a babbling brook.

Then, as clouds scudded away to reveal the full moon eerily lighting the treetops of the nearby forest, she wept with relief when she realised that she was almost there and she was going to be in time.

At that moment, motoring up the road a few yards below her was a convoy of two Wehrmacht personnel carriers and a staff car with Gestapo, army and SS officers.

Breathless now, her hands clammy with fear, Lucy grabbed the weapon and shoved her bike behind a bush. Hurriedly treading over dead branches and leaves, she moved forward and leaned against the trunk of a tree that overlooked the bend in the road. She was short of breath and her heart pounded against her ribcage. She braced herself.

Weapon safety off. Now all she had to do was pull the trigger. Simple, really. This was the first time that she had fired on real people. Do it! She told herself. For the others!

The bren’s stock kicked against her and the first fusillade went wild, smashing into trees to the left of the convoy, but she held steady and lowered her aim, peppering the wind-screens of the now swerving vehicles. The two personnel carriers crashed into roadside trees and the staff car slewed to the right and was abruptly upturned in a ditch.

As the troops jumped down from the rear of the personnel carriers and the officers hid behind their car, Lucy melted into the forest. She was quite satisfied. The gunshots would have been heard by Marteau and the others at their meeting-place. Now they would get away and be safe to fight the enemy another day.

The intensive search lasted all night.

Lucy was captured at dawn.
***
‘I don’t want to remember that time, Pierre,’ Lucy now said, sitting beside him in the park.

‘No, cheri, I can understand that.’ He glanced sideways at the bent grey-haired little old lady and handed her a segment of orange. She took it without comment. ‘I survived. That is what matters.’

She popped the segment into her mouth and smiled. ‘You know, it was years before I took for granted the wonderful taste of fresh fruit.’

‘Yes, me too.’ He nodded. ‘I heard about you. Even Ravensbruck could not quench your spirit.’

She had actually escaped from a bombed transport train en route to Ravensbruck and managed to find her way back to Britain. His underground cell was finally overrun but he got away to Spain. After the war she took a while to recover and by then the world had moved on. Indeed, they believed that the other was dead. Neither knew their real name so there was no possibility of organising any kind of trace; besides, there was still much secrecy after the war. She fell in love and married, but sadly their union was never blessed with children. Her dear husband had died five years past. She had nobody else. Then by chance a few weeks ago she had read about Pierre – her Marteau – being awarded yet another medal by his grateful country. Only then did she know that he too had survived.

‘We are old now, Pierre. We only have our memories – and our aching bones!’

‘No, cheri, we have something much greater. We have French blood in our veins.’ He looked askance at her and hunched his Gallic shoulders. ‘Well, half in your case, but it is dominant, no? And we have the honour to have fought in the French Underground Resistance.’

She smiled fleetingly and gazed into eyes that were now a lighter brown yet they still made her legs feel weak. ‘Honour, Pierre, in this day and age?’

He stood up a little unsteadily and bowed towards her, offering his hand. ‘But of course, Miel. May I have the honour of escorting you to my apartment? The view is still magnificent.’

She took his hand and got to her feet. ‘I had thought that you would never ask, Marteau.’

Arm in arm, they walked out of the park.
***
Emile the gendarme finally handed over to his replacement. As he reached the pavement he abruptly stopped and stared at the old man and woman who were leaving the park, strolling arm in arm. Paris, he thought, you still weave your magic, non?

END

If magazine length had allowed, I'd probably have used less exposition and addressed the point of view towards the end, but essentially this tale has to be omniscient POV to work. N

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Codename Gaby

My World War II French Resistance story 'Codename Gaby' has just won the bookawards short story competition 2010. It can be read as a pdf document via
http://thebookawards.com/