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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Writing - research - update

I’m getting to the end of the novel set mainly in China (Shanghai and Nanjing) and this has involved quite a lot of interesting research, most of which won’t appear in the book (happily, say most readers!) – subjects such as:

Architecture
Surveillance
Food and farming
Pollution
Grand Canal
Wuxi district
Sino-Japanese relations
Corruption

An immense and fascinating country, with stoic and long-suffering people, and influenced by complex even contradictory politics. Yes, there are considerable human rights issues – and privacy and health concerns – and these will be touched upon, though not too much as the book is a thriller, after all!

The country’s most recent reform era began in 1978, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that free market ideas started to have a major impact on smaller cities. Locals coped with overwhelming change: the end of government-assigned jobs, the sudden privatisation of housing.
 
Pollution is serious. Not only dirty air, but contaminated soil and water. Yet action is being taken to combat this (whether fast enough is another matter.) For example, all local cabs and buses in Fuling now run on natural gas, in order to reduce pollution. Hundreds of factories bordering Lake Tai (a huge freshwater lake at risk) have been closed down or moved.

Here are some quotations from a 2013 National Geographic: There is an old saying of China: Dog loves house in spite of being poor; son loves mother in spite of being ugly. That’s our feeling. Today we are working hard, and tomorrow we will do what we can for our country.

Since the late 1970s, about 155 million people have migrated to the cities from the countryside.

Three Gorges Dam is the largest concrete structure on Earth – 5 times as wide as the Hoover Dam.

 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Significant Burgess

A report in the Daily Mail says that English Heritage won’t be putting up a blue plaque for Anthony Burgess on a property in Glebe Street, to commemorate that he lived there the author between 1963 and 1968. They suggested consideration may be made in five years’ time instead of the usual ten for reapplication.

I can’t find this item elsewhere, but if it is valid then it does seem rather crass, considering their statement for refusal is that ‘it is too soon after his death to evaluate the merits of shortlisting.’

Burgess died in 1993 – twenty-two years ago. I know he was prolific - he wrote 33 novels, 25 non-fiction pieces, three symphonies, over 150 other musical works and other works – but surely by now, not to mention over his lifetime, the merits of his output should be plain.

There is a UK plaque in honour of Burgess at the University of Manchester, which was unveiled in 2012. There is also a plaque outside his flat in Monaco, where he lived for seventeen years.
 
 

Born on February 25, 1917, in Manchester, England, Anthony Burgess was a novelist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and composer. He was fluent in nine languages. Well known novels included The Wanting Seed, Inside Mr. Enderby, Earthly Powers and A Clockwork Orange; the latter was adapted into a popular though controversial 1971 Stanley Kubrik film. He died on November 22, 1993 in London.


I have many favourite authors, and he is one of them. Leslie Thomas called him ‘a writer’s author’. There is an affectionate and enlightening lengthy article by Blake Morrison in the Guardian, (February 2015) concerning Burgess:


 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Gifts from a dead race' - part 2 of 2


GIFTS FROM A DEAD RACE


Part 2 of 2

 
Nik Morton

 ****

An arm round the old woman's throat, folds of wobbling flesh overlapping his hand, her breath foul in his nostrils, cloying, mixing with body odour. Her damned terrier snarled and snapped at his heels. And she was very much alive, struggling with verve. 'Come on, Paula! For God's sake, where's-?'

            Paula clamped the anaesthetic over nose and mouth and the wrestling slackened then stopped. The woman was now a dead weight in his arms. The dog sensed the change and backed off, mewling, confused, and suddenly afraid.

            They glanced up and down the street. Ill-lit and deserted. They dragged their unwilling patient across the pavement to the waiting ambulance. They all shuffled up the steps and into the back. Paula shut the doors and Rawlings shouted, 'Right, Lindman, get moving!' And he knelt down to check the old woman's breathing and blood-pressure. They christened her Old Minerva, in the superstitious hope that that goddess of the arts and sciences was looking favourably upon them.

****

Beneath the Basement Operating Theatre's glaring hot lights, Rachel lay cold and naked, lifeless and almost boneless.

            Rawlings pulled his eyes away but could not shake off the memories of their marriage. He looked across at Old Minerva's comatose figure, his throat dry. 'Let's hope the old woman's sacrifice will be worth it.'

            This was no longer Rachel, he told himself. Perversely, though he had the choice of corpses, he had picked hers; to give her death some meaning, to be useful, saving life even from the grave? He made deep incisions with the argon-laser knife, the focused beam sealing off blood vessels as it cut.

            All of Rachel's organs and their secretions were analysed and checked. Towards the end, he had to let Paula take over.

            Eleven aching, tiring hours passed. Effectively, they were sealed off from upstairs and the outside world. The result of the autopsy on Rachel Rawlings was now on reams of continuous printout paper, recordings, tabulations and computer-drawn graphs.

            'We'll take a break,' he said, feeding more information into the comparative physiology computer. 'I'll set the alarm for four hours' time. Okay?' Nobody disagreed. 'Then we'll start on Old Minerva.'

            He woke with a splitting headache, stiffness in his shoulder and a leathery mouth. 'The humming's stopped?'

            Lindman spoke. 'I think the hospital's shut down, Doctor...'

            The ceiling-to-floor ventilation was off. He jabbed a light-switch, the tube flickered into brilliant whiteness. At least the standby generators were working...

            'I switched over an hour ago, but let you all sleep.' Paula added, correctly interpreting his concern, 'Old Minerva is all right.'

            'How do you all feel?'

            They smiled, but he didn't miss the purple-rimmed eyes. 'Thermograph's warmed up and ready,' Mosely said.

            'Good.' As the heat camera measured the old woman's infra-red glow, translating the temperature distribution symmetry on a view-screen in varied colours, Rawlings asked Sister Summers, 'How'd the x-rays come out?'

            'Negative, Doctor. A couple of hairline fractures, self-healed. Nothing else.'

            'Nothing here, either,' Paula said, checking the thermograph.

            Rawlings sighed. 'Let's open her up, then.'

****

Lindman handed over another scalpel as the electricity from the Grid returned; the ceiling-to-floor ventilation now gusted like an arctic wind, splashing blood everywhere. 'Mosely, can't you turn the damned thing off?' Rawlings snapped, bracing himself as he performed an awkward excision.

            'I'll try...' Leaving the anaesthetic trolley, she twiddled the theatre console. The airflow decreased to a reasonable down-draught, but now piped music - used as an anaesthetic for low-pain operations - surged in, deafening. Mozart's Jupiter suite. Distraught, Mosely ripped out the wires and the muzak stopped abruptly.

            In the strange silence of snapped tapes, they repeated all the tests they had done on Rachel. A nagging fear was that the disease began in the bones; if so, then they were stymied, for the computer analysis Sister Summers produced revealed there had been nothing organically wrong with Rachel - except that her bones had turned to powder.

            Rawlings suddenly grinned. 'Well, well. Look - a real appendix!'

            Disinterestedly, Paula looked. 'So what?'

            'Remember our argument? If you're practising medicine in 20 years time,' he said, poking at it, 'you'll be lucky to see one of these perishers then!'

            'I suppose so,' Paula conceded, yawning.

            The appendix poked back at his scalpel.

            'More light, Sister!'

            As the lamps were hydraulically lowered, he watched, scrutinising one single section of the vermiform appendage. Fibrous tissue glowed red. But he never blinked; he out-stared it. The appendix moved.

            'It's alive, for God's sake - look!'

            'I am,' Paula answered in a hushed voice. She shook her head, disbelieving. 'But it - it's supposed to be dead - defunct three million years! It can't be functioning...'

            'Quick, we'll take some samples, analyse...' He was trembling, fearful lest his imagination was running away with the exhaustion.

            All the old woman's organs were functioning correctly - and he grudgingly thanked the modern medicine for that. Extensive tests empirically showed that the appendix was no longer defunct but secreting some kind of natural vaccine. Though there was no way of knowing, it seemed probable that the secretion had been triggered by the infection itself.

            'Check Rachel's records, Sister,' said Paula.

            'There's no need,' he interrupted. 'She's got an appendectomy scar. Negative appendix...'

            Paula's tired eyes glistened with tears. 'I think - you were right...'

            He couldn't swallow, staring down at the silly little worm-shape. He recalled his words at the outset - something about God not being able to help...

            For millions of years, it had been lying there, dormant not dead, apparently useless, just waiting for such an eventuality as this terrible plague from space. Fanciful, of course, flavoured with exhaustion and emotion. Instinctively, he felt his abdomen. At least he had managed to keep his own appendix intact, more by accident than by design. Could the new-born of the last three decades say the same? No. Many were doomed to die. Unless...

            Voice tremulous, Paula said, 'We must isolate Old Minerva's appendix secretion.'

            He wondered about her appendix then, hurriedly, added, 'If not, we'll use some of mine. We've got to devise a broad-spectrum antidote.'

****

In the high-streets of the affected world those who had avoided the pandemic space-virus began looting. Military curfews commenced on the evening that Rawlings and Paula isolated the vaccine, identifying its molecular structure so that it could be manufactured.

            The crash of the ground-floor window jerked his head round, cricked his stiff neck.

            'I'll see what's happening,' Lindman offered.

            For four isolated days without let-up, injecting adrenalin and Benzedrine derivatives, he had kept going. Now, with the phial of artificial vaccine by his side, he was close to tears and mental collapse. Hoarsely, he kept saying, 'We did it, Paula - we did it!'

            But she did not answer, was too intent on the doorway. She let out an involuntary gasp, and gripped his shoulder.

            Three armed paramilitary men stood there, one gripping Lindman who was sobbing; her skirt and blouse were torn.

            Tiredly, Rawlings stared, wondering what was happening. 'Who - who are you?' he asked weakly.

            'You're quite cosy here, mate, with all these women, eh?' growled the unshaven leader, his feral eyes glinting. 'In fact,' he spat on the floor, 'you're so sure of yourself, maybe you know something about this plague.' He turned to his mates. 'I reckon I heard you say you did it.'

            'You're mistaken,' Paula said icily, walking towards them. 'Doctor Rawlings has found-'

            The leader's SLR butt crunched into her jaw, sent her reeling into the bench.

            One of the soldiers cheered.

            Still not fully comprehending, his euphoria at their success still hazing his thoughts, Rawlings stepped forward. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Paula was hurt. Why? 'Paula?' he croaked. And as he manhandled the surprised leader out of the way so he could attend to Paula, bullets punched into him, jerking him into blackness, into oblivion.

            Blood coursed from his ears. Ears that were deaf to the screams of Lindman and Mosely.

            Sister Summers fought in vain while Paula retched in a corner, painfully supporting her broken jaw with bloody hands.

            Forgotten, the phial stood in a rack on the anaesthetic trolley.

* * * * *

Originally published in Auguries magazine, 1984.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2015

GIFTS FROM A DEAD RACE started life as an explanation for the appendix and was first written as a sexier and longer version and was accepted for publication in MEN ONLY, but due to editorial staff changes it never saw the light of day until featured in AUGURIES in this much tamer offering. 

***

If you enjoyed this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.
 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton/dp/1909841315/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399383023&sr=1-4

 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00GXK5C6S/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399383023&sr=1-4&keywords=nik+morton
 
http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00GXK5C6S/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399382967&sr=1-5&keywords=nik+morton
 
Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):


Floreskand, where myth, mystery and magic reign. The sky above the city of Lornwater darkens as thousands of red tellars, the magnificent birds of the Overlord, wing their way towards dark Arisa. Inexplicably drawn to discover why, the innman Ulran sets out on a quest. Although he prefers to travel alone, he accedes to being accompanied by the ascetic Cobrora Fhord, who seems to harbour a secret or two. Before long, they realise that it's a race against time: they must get to Arisa within seventy days and unlock the secret of the scheduled magical rites. On their way, they stay at the ghostly inn on the shores of dreaded Lake and meet up with the mighty warrior Courdour Alomar. Alomar has his own reasons for going to Arisa and thus is forged an unlikely alliance. Gradually, the trio learn more about each other -- whether it's the strange link Ulran has with the red tellar Scalrin, the lost love of Alomar, or the superstitious heart of Cobrora. Plagued by assassins, forces of nature and magic, the ill-matched threesome must follow their fate across the plains of Floreskand, combat the Baronculer hordes, scale the snow-clad Sonalume Mountains and penetrate the dark heart of Arisa. Only here will they uncover the truth. Here too they will find pain and death in their struggle against the evil Yip-nef Dom.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Saturday Story - 'Gifts from a dead race' - part 1 of 2


GIFTS FROM A DEAD RACE

Part 1 of 2

 
 
Nik Morton

Projected behind the newsreader was a picture of Earth, the sun, and a red-arrowed elliptical line. 'And it is believed to be travelling at eighty miles a second and should bypass Earth close indeed, about five million miles away. First spotted by a Peruvian astronomer, Santiago Almeida, as a smudge on a telescopic film...'

            Rawlings fingered the switch-off button and snuggled down in bed beside his wife Rachel. He smiled. She was already asleep. They'd both had a hard day at the hospital. Gently he kissed her slightly parted full lips and snapped out the bedside light.

****

Astronomers first became alarmed when the Almeida meteorite approached the sun. The first glimmerings of a comet-like tail were released, charged gases and particles streaming in the solar wind.

            It was impossible to tell from Earth, but near the meteorite's surface some unimaginably powerful fissionable material from a dead race had reacted to the sun's proximity, exploding on its far side.

Almeida altered course...

****

'What were you arguing about with Paula Mayfield today, love?' Rachel wanted to know as they nestled close in bed, only half-watching the late-night movie.

            'Oh, the usual - my pet annoyance...'

            She rose on one elbow to look down on him. Her grey-flecked blue eyes were earnest, framed by auburn hair that gladly hung free after the constriction of the day in hospital. 'We're living in the dawn of the 22nd century - we must move with the times.'

            He kissed her lightly, sighed, his grey eyes dulled by grim thoughts. 'I know. The days of pollution are past, we live in the Recycled Age! Buildings, transport, the oceans, even people - all becoming scrupulously clean.'

            'Well, yes... That's the idea. Looking after Spaceship Earth.'

            He pulled back the sheet and smiled - an impish grin, she'd called it on their honeymoon: 'Like a leprechaun.'

            She ruffled his thinning black hair. 'You don't convince me of your subversive views this way, you know.'

            'True, but it's fun trying...'

****

Food was bacteria-free. This was the hydrogen age; every nuclear plant had been shut down over the last two decades and the nuclear waste rocketed into the sun. The population explosion seemed stemmed. First had come world-wide fluoridation; it ruined the teeth in sixty years, but by then you were ready for dentures anyway. Next, the introduction of birth-control agents in the water supplies: a family unit must have no more than two children; if they were permitted to have children, a pill was issued on prescription to dissolve in water, nullifying the birth-controlling properties.

****

Almeida was heading for mid-Atlantic. Computer-predictions calculated that the population in its path would not amount to estimated losses due to radioactive fallout so, with some relief, fingers poised on the nuclear rocket buttons edged back. The world watched.

            Still travelling at thousands of miles per hour, Almeida singed the tree tops around Salisbury Plain and on impact obliterated Stonehenge and nearby Winterbourne Stoke. The tremors toppled Amesbury Abbey onto mid-afternoon shoppers and traffic.

            Turf and bedrock layers were peeled back like flower-petals with the shattering explosion, leaving a 50ft deep crater, half a mile wide. As the spectacular cloud fountained high into the air, seismographs around the world recorded the upheaval. Within minutes, helicopter rescue teams lifted off from the tarmac of the RAF experimental base at Boscombe Down.

****

Afterwards, she said, 'I'm still not convinced.'

            Now, he looked serious. 'I'm a little deflated at your response...'

            She laughed and hastily confirmed the truth of this.

            Undeterred, he said, 'Do you remember in training, reading about the rape of the phallus?'

            'Circumcision. Yes. Something about it being almost an obsession with American doctors in the middle of last century?'

            'Yes. Well, we've extrapolated on that since, haven't we?'

            'Why not? An excision made on babies today is merely removing unwanted, useless and often troublesome organs. Vestigial-'

            'That's the problem. We've become so clean-conscious, so bloody function-minded, so anything that could cause trouble is removed and discarded. Dissidents, criminals, foreskins - ouch!' She had tweaked his. 'Appendices, extra toes, supernumerary nipples - you name it, and we'll get rid of it!'

            'And I'll now get rid of this...' She leaned forward, her hair stroking him.

****

Steaming and hissing, the countless pieces of Almeida strewn around the area of devastation spewed out microscopic spores.

            The pernicious virus soared into the air, mingling with clouds and winds.

****

Their bleepers interrupted with urgency.

            Swinging out of bed, Rawlings jabbed the transceiver on the cabinet: the receptionist said in a high-pitched voice: 'General recall, Doctor. A rush on - emergency admittances. Some weird epidemic...'

            Rachel groaned under the covers. 'We'll be there in ten minutes, Nurse,' he said. 'Thank you.'

            Reception's computerised admission system was overloaded. Young nurses and auxiliaries were purposefully scurrying everywhere. Porters with trolleys filled the foyer.

            Admissions reported agonising pains in their joints; shortly afterwards, multiple complex fractures would result as the rigidity of the bones broke down. Within a very short time, the bones turned to powder. Death through lack of skeletal support...

            'God!' Rachel said, turning away from the patients.

            Savagely, Rawlings snapped, 'He won't help us!' and pulled her with him to his soundproofed office.

            After a reviving wash, he contacted Central Hospital: they might have more to go on. Rachel had been sick in the basin and was now recovering, wiping her drawn face. Cupping the phone, he asked, 'Feeling better?' She nodded, ashen-faced. She looked as bad as he felt.

            Central reported no clues. Their report made him shudder. 'Yes, all we can do is scoop up the remains, get ready for the next lot,' he said then hung up.

            At that moment Rachel's bleeper sounded. A look almost of relief passed across her face. 'I'll get down to surgery,' she said hoarsely.

            'Right, love - take care.'

            Alone, he scoured his memory for any military establishment experimenting with bio-chemical warfare agents. None. A derailed chemical shipment - perhaps radioactive? Another Seveso incident, a Bhopal leak? It seemed too far-fetched, though, even if isotopes did affect the bone-structure. Nothing acted that fast. Besides, there was so little radioactive stuff around these days, unlike last century when they say you didn't know where you'd trip over it.

            Suddenly he went very cold. A Chinese biological attack? But the government would alert everyone, wouldn't they?

            He switched on the desk-viewer.

            '... nationwide reports of a mysterious debilitating disease. Health organisations are on full alert, all off-duty staff are being recalled. The Prime Minister has assured the nation that this is not - repeat, not - an enemy attack. There is no reason to panic. Cricket at...'

            Disillusioned, he phoned reception. 'Nurse, this is Dr P Rawlings. Has the Principal arrived yet?'

            'No, Doctor. Mr Scannura phoned in about ten minutes ago, he's trapped in a traffic-jam on his way here. He was trying to get a police helicopter to life him, the last I heard.'

            'I see. Thank you. Can you get Doctor Mayfield, please? How many doctors have - only four? Oh... Yes, I'm taking over till the Principal gets here, then. Oh, and what are you telling callers? Right, keep it low-key, there's enough panic as it is... Well done.' Thank God we're not at Central.

            As he waited for Paula Mayfield, he watched the latest news-flash. The truth was percolating through. The northern hemisphere, including Russia and China, had been affected. The graphics displayed a purple plume swathing from southern England across Europe and Asia. The meteor was to blame. Yet, perversely, commentators observed that there was no wholesale infection; it was strangely selective: mostly the younger people succumbed. Most of the more vulnerable elderly people were unaffected.

            'You wanted to see me?' Paula's freckled face was sickly pale, in stark contrast to her flaming red hair.

            'Yes.' He wiped a paper handkerchief across his weary face, dried the fear-sweat from his palms. 'Take a seat, Paula.' Face impassive, she perched on the chair's edge, as if afraid to spill fragile emotions.

            'I think we'll have to go it alone, without Scannura.'

            'Agreed. We must attempt something - we all feel so helpless...'

            The view-screens lit up with the names of personnel who had made it to the hospital. Disconcertingly, one or two names blinked out: victims...

            'A dual autopsy, then, one on a victim, another on a healthy old person, to determine the difference.'

            Paula's eyes widened.

            'Yes, it's probably criminal - and it could take longer than we've got... But we have no choice, have we?'

            Hands tight-clenched in her lap, she lowered her eyes and nodded.

            'Naturally, we'll try keeping a lid on it.' He scanned the list. 'We can trust Nurses Mosely and Lindman and Sister Summers. I daren't take any other doctor. We'll meet in Basement Theatre, seal it off, if-'

            The door swung wide, no knock, no explanation.

            'What is it, Nurse Lindman?' he snapped.

            Lindman's Jamaican skin was almost bloodless, large attractive eyes awash.

            'What is the matter, Molly? Paula asked more gently.

            'It's Doctor Rawlings, Mrs Rachel-'

****

He felt devoid of feeling. He had seen too many grotesque corpses in too short a time to feel anything but numb. His wife was like all the others. The blood in his body pounded, which seemed strange, for he felt sure that he no longer had a heart. He felt empty. Memories of their moments of tenderness not so many hours ago kept replaying in his mind, brutally superimposed by the sight of her now. He turned away, said gruffly to Paula, 'We've got one body, then...'

            But finding a live guinea-pig would prove more difficult.

To be concluded tomorrow…

Friday, 27 March 2015

FFB - Good Omens


Good Omens was co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and originally published in 1990. It may seem apt to post this review since Sir Terry Pratchett has recently died. I reviewed this in 1990 when it came out in paperback:

‘I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s writing for DC Comics, and of course love Pratchett’s Discworld books, and pleasure of pleasures, the combination works well.

‘It’s an Omen spoof, where the anti-Christ child ends up with the wrong parents. Aziraphale is the sort-of good angel (and part-time rare-book dealer who teams up with the sort-of bad Crowley (‘an angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards’). They get together to prevent the imminent Armageddon (next Saturday, apparently) because they like the status quo just as it is.

‘There are many amusing scenes, from the absent-minded evil nuns at the baby hospital to the Four Apocalyptic Horsepersons vying with some Hell’s Angels no less. The humans are an even stranger lot, which is to be expected, I suppose.

‘It’s daft, lovely, full of compassion and cleverly done Just Williamesque kids whose logic is priceless. If William Brown had ever been considered the son of the devil by all those poor folk who suffered in his books, then they’d be surprised at how his alter ego (Adam, the anti-Christ!) turns out.’

This was Gaiman’s debut as a novelist, though he had already gained a large readership through the medium of comics. Since then of course he has written seven books, some collaborations and won several awards.

 

 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Uncanny coincidence

We’re all shocked and saddened by the airplane crash – Germanwings Airbus A320, Flight 9525.

Last night, my wife Jennifer was reading Clive Cussler’s Corsair (2009), a novel ‘from the Oregon Files’ co-written with Jack Du Brul, and noticed in the story details about a 737 plane crash (pp130/131) that has pre-echoes of the latest tragedy.

‘… we had to consider engine failure – radio dying scenario but discounted it… (we think ) the plane’s tail came off… a structural failure in the tail could very likely damage the radio antennas, which would explain the blackout… it could also knock out the plane’s transponder at the same time…’

‘The screen showed a mountainous area, nearly inaccessible to anything other than a chopper or a serious four-wheel drive… the wreckage stretched for a half mile or more up the slope…’

The same year of this book’s publication there was a plane crash – Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 – on 1 June. It entered an aerodynamic stall and fell into the Atlantic, killing 228 passengers and crew. The black boxes were not recovered from the ocean floor until 2011.
 
 
 
Later: 27 March: Since writing the above, it has been revealed that one of the pilots deliberately murdered everyone onboard. At the risk of inserting a spoiler, the above book has further echoes, apparently!
 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Blog Guest - Nancy Jardine - and book launch news!

Hello, Nik. I’m totally delighted that you’ve let me come to share my new launch news with your readers.

Glad to have you visiting, Nancy. I'll hand over to you now.

Those who already know me a little will have learned that my writing spans the fiction sub-genres of historical romantic adventures; contemporary romantic mysteries; and time travel adventures for a middle grade/YA market. My next two books to hit the launch pad are from these quite different styles of writing – though both were delightful to create!

I’m very excited that on the 27th March 2015, Crooked Cat Publishing is re-launching a new general reading edition of Monogamy Twist, a light-hearted contemporary romantic mystery. The fabulous quirky new cover, designed by Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat, reveals a grand house at the centre of the story which is a really excellent image since the plot is based around a Dickensian theme.
 
Monogamy Twist
Luke Salieri finds he’s been bequeathed a dilapidated mansion in Yorkshire… but he can only fully inherit after some weird and antiquated stipulations are fulfilled! He’s never met his benefactress Amelia Greywood; hasn’t even heard of her, but Luke’s never one to back down from a challenge. He needs expert help, though, to find out why he was chosen. Rhia Ashton, a historian and family tree researcher, seems perfect but it turns out that she has her own ideas of what will make Luke’s strange request worthwhile. Compromise is the name of the game for Luke… and for Rhia.

It’s probably no surprise that the plot for the novel came about as a combination of my watching the then current BBC TV Charles Dickens serial of late 2010 and while I was also embarking on the first forays in researching my own ancestral background. I found a decided black sheep in one of my great-grandfathers: and Rhia finds a good few family surprises for Luke in Monogamy Twist. Rhia and Luke were lovely characters to invent but some readers have told me that they love Thor, the Irish wolfhound, even more!

I extend a warm welcome to your readers to join my Facebook Launch Party for Monogamy Twist on the 27th March 2015. Quirky goodies can be won. There’ll be music; food; lovely locations in Yorkshire… Why not pop in and say hello!


PRE-ORDER AVAILABLE NOW FROM AMAZON:


***
The Taexali Game
My other new launch – The Taexali Game, a time travel historical adventure for a middle grade/ YA readership − will be in April 2015. Set in northern Roman Britannia (current Aberdeenshire) in AD 210, my valiant trio – Aran, Brian and Fianna – must work through a set task list, part of which is to help both the ‘baddies’ and the ‘goodies’ in the story. The problem is that there are local Celtic tribespeople who are just as nasty as the invading Roman Emperor Severus and his barbaric son Caracalla. Working out who to trust is a perilous business. Literally sparring with death is a daily occupation back in AD 210, but in The Taexali Game, my teens are up to the challenges facing them!

Graphic designer Neil Saddler has done a fabulous job of blending the main elements of the story in the wonderful cover design he’s created − depicting locally recognised background scenery in Aberdeenshire; the threat of invasion from the Ancient Roman Legions; and my time trio who are about to launch themselves into the adventure!  The Taexali Game will be available in both paperback and ebook formats.

 ***
Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She currently shares a home with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, 3-year-old granddaughter and 1-year-old grandson. It’ll continue to be a busy household till late summer of 2015 when the new build home will be completed for the young ‘uns in what was Nancy’s former back garden. The loss of that part of the garden won’t be missed, she says, since there should now be more writing time available this spring and summer! Childminding is intermittent over the day and any writing time is precious. (If interested in how a new house is built these days, follow her blog posts named ‘Gonna build a house’ )

All matters historical are her passion; ancestry research a lovely time-suck. Nancy regularly blogs and loves to have guests visit her blog. Facebooking is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds. [Not easy – Nik] Any time left in a day is for leisure reading and the occasional historical series on TV.

***
Author links:

Twitter @nansjar 

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   


Novels also available from Barnes and Noble; W.H. Smith; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other places.

Thank you, Nik, for the opportunity to share my news with your readers! 
 
Pleasure's all mine, Nancy. I hope you find lots of readers!
 

Writing – Chapter headings

There’s no requirement to label your chapters. Simply use plain numbers or Chapter 1, 2, 3 etc., or variations.

However, I like to use titles, and often play with words. My first western’s Chapter One was entitled Rue the Lash – which was a play on the old western film star Lash LaRue. Sad, I know, but maybe a few old hands made the connection. Anyway, a whip did figure in the chapter.

You don’t have to have a Prologue; and even if you do have one, you don’t have to have an Epilogue. Some writers – and readers! – don’t bother with prologues. I try to use the Prologue and Epilogue to bookend the tale; in my book Old Guns (2012), The Prologue is Penitentiary, the place where the story begins; and the Epilogue is called Penitent, and it ends in the penitentiary. The hook worn by Corbin Molina, the hero in The $300 Man (2009), is significant. It serves as a deadly weapon and saves him more than once. He’s not less of a man, but more of a man with it. The title of the Prologue is ‘The Hook’, which in filmic terms means, the hook to pull the reader in, which it tends to do. And the symbolism runs full circle to the Epilogue, entitled ‘El Gancho’, which is Spanish for ‘the hook’, a nickname the Mexicans have given Molina. And of course Malinda, his true love, plays on the words, to state that she’s hooked – in love.

            And in that latter book, Chapter One’s title, Heaven’s Gateway is the name of a bordello. An apt name, from the male perspective, I imagine. Other titles – Behind every good man – a phrase I revised to “you’ll find a bad woman”. Lean Pickings – I was tempted to call it Slim Pickings, another play on words, but desisted in deference to the western actor, Slim Pickens. And The Pen is Mightier doesn’t need elaboration – and it proved thus, since Corbin stabbed a villain in his eye with a pen.

            Don’t fret over chapter headings, either. Use them if you’re inclined – but it’s best to wait till the book is finished and after you’ve decided how to break up the story into chapters.

Certainly, you don’t have to plan what happens in each chapter – just let the story flow. But you do need to have a map to your destination, even if it’s a bit rough around the edges.

That map is the plot-plan.

- Write a Western in 30 Days (pp 70/71)

[The above guidance can be applied to any genre fiction, of course! The main thing is, have fun with your titles, it can become an additional reading experience for your readers.]
 
 
 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hiatus

I'm busy writing, re-writing the third instalment in the Avenging Cat series, so I'll offer my apologies for the less than regular appearance of this blog for the last week or so.

What's the Avenging Cat series?

The first is CATALYST.

Available now, paperback and e-book.
Amazon UK
Amazon COM
Blurb:
Catalyst, a person that precipitates events.

That's Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan. Chemist. Model. Avenging Cat. She seeks revenge against Loup Malefice, the man responsible for the takeover of her father's company. An accomplished climber, Cat is not averse to breaking and entering to confound her enemies.

Ranging from south of England to the north-east, Wales and Barcelona, Cat's quest for vengeance is implacable. But with the NCA hot on her tail, can she escape the clutches of sinister Zabala and whip-wielding Profesora Quesada?
The second is due out in May from Crooked Cat: CATACOMB.

Tentative blurb is:

Catacomb, a subterranean cemetery: a place where ancient corpses are found – or new ones are dumped…

After their recent success in Barcelona, both Cat and Rick continue their vendetta against Loup Malefice and his global company, Cerberus, penetrating the lair of Petra Grimalkin in Nice.

But death stalks the pair, as do the dogs of law from the NCA, Basset and Pointer.

Cat’s trail of vengeance next leads to the Cerberus health food processing plant in the Maghreb…  She puts her skills to good use in Morocco where she again confronts the psychotic killer, Zabala.  From the exotic streets of Tangier to the inhospitable High Atlas Mountains, danger lurks and a deadly ambush awaits…

The third, approaching the end of a work in progress: CATACLYSM

Set in Tenerife, Shanghai and Nanjing...

Sunday, 22 March 2015

'Can't see the wood for the trees' - part 2 of 2

CAN'T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

Part 2 of 2

 
Nik Morton

 

Ilex - holly - Wikipedia commons
 

Ilex, looking to all the world like a holly tree, sent his dispatches from Chequers:

            Election in the offing. Parties equally divided: the upcoming SDP likely to cause consternation. Opinion polls predict that they will hold the controlling votes in Parliament. Plans afoot to carve up the country into a tripartite state.

            Thirty-five miles outside Brussels, at Casteau: The secrets of NATO here at SHAPE are no longer hidden. Russian agents also possess this information. Follows...

            Outside the white concrete and tinted glass buildings at the Manned Spacecraft Centre at Houston, a couple of saplings had great difficulty penetrating the sound-proofing, but eventually their ultrasonic capillary lifted details from the men of NASA.

            At the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome there were only a half-dozen brother Larix larches. Enough.

            Data seeped in continuously, night and day. Now the gigantic Sequoias were brimming full. They would shortly have to send out what they held so far, to make room for additional input. The picture was nowhere near whole; but it was emerging, clarifying...

            Privately, Sequoia G pondered on the human designs on Space. Was that why the Conquest had begun?

            Many trees, such as Acer in Oxford, moved at night, seeking out better sites. Movement was incredibly difficult and ponderous in Earth's gravity, though their hyper-sensitive antenna-like leaves afforded ideal early-warning of any approaching human creatures; the dogs they could contend with...

            It was a sluggish business, a night-long ordeal. First, the roots that had continuously sought water had to heave themselves out of the earth. This was not easy. The roots' delicate tips had penetrated the soil with a corkscrew motion, circumventing rocks or simply heaving them aside or cracking them wide open with secreted dissolving acids. So they were deep, in some cases like the icebergs of the sea, two-thirds of their bulk submerged.

            As their own scientists had long ago discovered, sonic-waves continued to exist long after their emissions, for it was impossible to destroy energy. Now, Salix was able to sweep the leaves of the newly harnessed vassal-trees of Earth and learn what they had 'heard'.

            The broad picture possessed many promising aspects. Yet there was a gloomy side also.

            Presently in existence were innumerable nuclear arms silos buried deep beneath the Earth's surface, poised, watchful, primed. True, most were targeted on ideologically opposed countries. Even Ailanthus, the 'tree of heaven' reporting back from China's Sinkiang Province, indicated that they were aiming at every Western country, including those in possession of merely token military forces.

            But should an invasion from Space occur, it seemed logical to assume that all this weaponry would be speedily deployed in the defence of the planet in a common cause.

            So Sequoia G was far from happy when he issued the 'send' message to his confederates. Within the breadth of a nanosecond, the entire mass of data collected hitherto was beamed out of the Earth's atmosphere, way beyond the planets of Neptune and Pluto, far off into Deep Space.
***
For two hours Roger seethed on the cottage doorstep. Where the hell was she? He stepped up and down the ash-covered driveway, trying to keep warm. It was forecast to be a grim, cold winter. Though only the first week in October, there was a nasty bite to the air. His thoughts repeatedly reverted to that day only two weeks ago, in Port Meadow. It seemed incredible that it had been so warm then.

            He must make Pauline see sense. She can't possibly be happy with Michael deVille. She must have realised, he told himself, he wouldn't just be content with her brush-off on the phone. After all they had meant to each other, to end it with an impersonal phone call? Had meant to each other? But he still loved her! There's irony for you. At first he had enjoyed the chase. She had simply been yet another conquest. But that had backfired shortly after their first illicit night...

            He pulled his glove back. She was due here with Michael well over an hour ago. Where the hell were they?

            Impatience getting the better of him, Roger took a swig of whisky from his glove-compartment's metal flask.

            If only he could end it amicably, like she had said. But he intended going through with the confrontation, baring their deception for Michael to see. It was a risk; he might alienate her completely. But he had to try it. He was desperate for her.

            This is ridiculous! He shrugged inside the wool-lined car-coat. They could have had a puncture. Michael was too frail and impractical to change a wheel. And Pauline probably wouldn't be able to unscrew the wheel-nuts...

            He slumped into the sports car. I'll give them five more minutes, he decided. Then I'll go looking for them.

            Another whisky wouldn't go amiss, either. The act of scouring the road for them might cool his rising impatience. And, if they are stranded with a flat, his 'timely' appearance might serve him in good stead with Michael.

            Five more minutes then.
***
It would take the Earth's astronomers some time to make out Arbor's shape, for there were few light surfaces on him to reflect Sol's rays, leaving his unlit mass to merge with the blackness of space. Only the gradual obscuring of distant stars would give any clue that he was there at all.

            Arbor stretched about three miles wide, seven miles from topmost branch to his nether roots, with a mighty girth of six miles. He was travelling at maximum velocity now, forty miles per second.

            Whilst sailing steadfastly through space, he was in the fall of his life span. He possessed no leaves, for they had provided the initial boost to send him on his way. Deep umber, pitted and scored, roots gangling and crawling to the fore, Arbor's gigantic naked boughs pointed abstractedly in the direction he had travelled. Silently, ominously, he moved through space, heading roots first for the blue-green orb of Earth.

            Not long now...

            At a distance of 933 million miles, Sequoia G's second transmission of massed data homed in on Arbor's central taproot. Hungrily digesting these facts in an instant, Arbor commenced evaluating, planning, deploying stratagems.

            It was strange how trees - so closely resembling his own people - should be quite common on Earth and be trusted and regarded as harmless, planted in places of honour, thought of with sentiment, even love. Most strange.

            The primary problem was to devise some method of effective defence against the Earthside nuclear weapons. Arbor decided to dispatch the information to the prodigious force to his rear. Fifty thousand warriors of his age and sagacity fanned out in a circular van and when eventually spotted would appear to any astronomer merely as a stray planet - until it was too late.

            As the forward scout Arbor hoped the scientists with the Conquest Force would come up with something before he arrived.

            In the meantime, his duty required him to issue authorised orders to Earth: As the building youth of our race, you were specially chosen for our preliminary thrust force. The time has now come for you to select your targets: Use utmost caution. On no account must any clues be left that would lead to suspicions being aroused.

            Arbor steeled himself to pursue with the final directive: Those whose sacrifices entail perishing for our noble cause, our supreme Conquest, they will be honoured beyond their dreams. Their names shall go down in our Esteemed Annals as the harbingers of doom to all Earth people!

            There, it was said.
***
'Christ!' Roger couldn't believe his eyes. He tried braking but he was too late, travelling too fast, reactions sluggish. He felt the reverberating dull thump and sensed the car jerk up onto its hind wheels and continue growling forward, up into the air.

            Tyres screamed and burned. The ear-rending crash jarred his entire body. The seat-harness dug into his chest and stomach, made him retch, short of air, head spinning.

            Shards of glass stung his face. Contorted metal creaked and groaned. His legs were numb. Drunkenly, he wiped his brow and his hand came away clammy, wet, red.

            Through the mists of semi-consciousness, he peered between the splintered, starred windscreen, over the crumpled bonnet; the headlights had ploughed through the Daimler's front seats, embedding the engine deep in the rear.

            He wasn't capable, but he wanted to be sick.

            Acer, mortally wounded, struggled off the roadside into the undergrowth and lay down, shaking in unremitting agony. Dimly he remembered his duty, and rose ponderously, each movement excruciating, tearing his nerve fibres to shreds. Slowly, he sank his roots under the soil once more, his mission accomplished. Scarred, branches splintered and missing, Acer stood unbowed and proud, and died.

            Roger was shaking violently behind the steering wheel when the police accident unit arrived. Pale with shock, he was mumbling incoherently to himself.

            'What a mess!' exclaimed a case hardened constable. 'He's driven right through the windscreen!'

            Paling, his companion replied, 'The other car. Looks like Mr deVille's Daimler - the Foreign Secretary and his missus...'

            The voices barely penetrated. Roger sensed the constable's gentle hand on his shoulder. Forcing his lips to cease their maddening tremble for at least a few seconds, he whispered, 'The tree - it - it jumped into the road!'

            Smelling the whisky-breath, the constable swore. 'Jesus, if I've heard that once, I've heard it a thousand times!'

* * *

Previously published in World of Horror, 1974 under the penname Platen Syder.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2015.
 
If you enjoyed this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat (2013), which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.


 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00GXK5C6S/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399383023&sr=1-4&keywords=nik+morton
 
http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00GXK5C6S/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399382967&sr=1-5&keywords=nik+morton