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Sunday 18 December 2011

A 50-Year Wait-01

Way back in 1962, I happened upon Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Warlord of Mars. I’d already devoured several Tarzan novels, published by Four-Square at 2/6d. I read this, the third in the original Martian trilogy and was hooked. Then I bought the first in the series, A Princess of Mars and like many boys of my age, fell in love with Dejah Thoris. I still have this book in my collection:

At the time I used to draw bookmarks for my favourite books. Here’s the bookmark for A Princess of Mars, drawn in 1962.

The story of John Carter’s first visit to Mars was serialised in the February to July 1912 issues of All-Story Magazine, then entitled Under the Moons of Mars, as written by Norman Bean. Bean was the early penname of Burroughs, though he’d used Normal, rather than Norman, but it got screwed somehow. The full novel was first published in book form in 1917, after Burroughs’ phenomenal success with Tarzan.

Burroughs’ Martian adventures – all eleven of them – inspired the scientists Carl Sagan and Arthur C Clarke and novelists Ray Bradbury, Robert A Heinlein among many others.

At last, in 2012, an epic film entitled John Carter is being released – 100 years after the publication of the original story, and 100 years after the publication of Tarzan of the Apes. Indeed, 2012 could be Burroughs’ year, and deservedly so. Burroughs was born in 1875 and died in 1950. A crater on Mars is named in his honour.

John Carter trailer

John Carter fan site

Official ERB John Carter site

Thursday 8 December 2011

OLD GUNS - cover artwork

Old Guns can be pre-ordered now from Robert Hale or Amazon or postfree anywhere in the world from thebookdepository. You can also get a glimpse of how the cover was designed by Tony Masero. Check out his website

July, 1892.

Sam Ransom, 62, learns of the death of Abner, his old partner. Abner left a warning note – the Meak twins were out to get Ransom and the rest ‘because of what happened at Bur Oak Springs’. Ransom sets out to alert his old friends, Jubal, Rory and Derby.
Bur Oak Springs happened over two decades ago. The place was a ghost town even then. Ransom’s family is put in jeopardy and they can only be saved by Ransom and his friends returning to the ghost town, to confront the Meak brothers and their gang. There’s a sense of déjà vu about this; yet, there are fresh revelations too. It’s a showdown: young guns against old guns.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Editing tips - Before you go

Many writers – beginners and published – overuse the word ‘before’.

Storytelling or narrative should flow with ease and contain its own internal logic. People act and react. Conflict begs for a response, depending on the characters involved. The sequence of actions should be logical, too.

An example:
He closed the window before he left.
That’s okay, I suppose. Though why it couldn’t have been written as:
He closed the window and then left.

Another example:
Before he opened the drawer, he smiled.
That’s illogical in the chronological sense. Often we don’t see the character then opening the drawer – it’s just open. Better to write:
He smiled and then opened the drawer.
Logical sequence restored. Otherwise, we’re being told about an action out of sequence. The revised version shows us the actions in the logical order.

The large woman picked up a rag before reaching for the kettle. “Take the children back to their ward,” she said. “They still may have time to have their evening meal before they go to bed. See to it they have their uniforms returned and store their clothing.”
“Yes, sir.” She curtsied before reaching toward the children.

Maybe: The large woman picked up a rag, which she used on the handle to lift the kettle...
‘Before they go to bed’ is fine.
She curtsied and then reached toward the children.

So, before you dive in and use that word, think before you type!

Thursday 13 October 2011

Editing tips - Every which way

Ups and downs of writing action can’t be overstated. Sometimes, the writer overwrites and overuses words without realizing it.

Here’s an example from an early draft ms I received.
Taking his chances, Rick slipped upwards around a steep pathway of rugged rocks. It was a close call as shot after shot split the air near to his body. The pressure only relieving when he heard the heavy sound of John’s Sharps taking up the action from below. Shots echoed up the hillside as John, recovered now, picked his favoured spots and blasted the crest of the hilltop where he guessed the sharpshooter hid. He left the way clear for Rick to rise and clamber up over the edge of the hilltop.

Exciting, but it needed a little work.
Taking his chances, Rick slipped around a steep pathway of rugged rocks. Shot after shot split the air close by. The pressure only lessened when he heard the heavy sound of John’s Sharps taking up the action. Shots echoed as John, obviously recovered now, picked his favoured spots and blasted the crest of the hilltop. That left the way clear for Rick to rise and clamber up over the crest of the hill.

So what did I change?
I removed: upwards, It was a close call, near to his body, relieving, up the hillside, where he guessed the sharpshooter hid. The latter removed because it’s making an assumption about what John was thinking and slows down the action. There may be countless ways the passage could be rewritten to improve it further, but the editor isn’t in the business of rewriting, just improving the narrative flow and identifying errors of spelling, word usage and internal story logic.

Here’s another excerpt:
Rick staggered. He heard the loud screech of complaining timber over the sounds from below and he felt the gantry shift as aged support ropes beneath him snapped. The barrow that held him began to slide dangerously as the platform tilted. He struggled to clamber over the sides, but the steep angle of descent made it difficult. It appeared that Rick was heading for a messy death among the remains of the mining sheds far below.

Again, a good action set piece.
Rick staggered. He heard the loud screech of complaining timber over the sounds of the gunfight and he felt the gantry shift as aged support ropes snapped. The barrow that held him began to slide dangerously as the platform tilted. He struggled to clamber over the sides, but the steep angle of descent made it difficult. He was heading for a messy death among the remains of the mining sheds far below.

Here we had over, below, beneath, tilted, over, steep, descent, below… Too many directions. By simply getting rid of a couple, it’s a little less haywire, I felt. Note I also removed ‘It appeared that’ which tends to jump out of Rick’s POV.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Editing tips - With one mighty leap

Usually, our fictional characters don’t possess super powers. They can’t see through walls, for example.

In this example from one ms, we’re in the POV of the main male character, Jack.

He said, ‘We’d better be going.’
Jane excused herself so she could get dressed. Back in her room she flung open every drawer in the dresser, wondering what brought Jack to their unit. Tops went flying until the floor disappeared under the mass. She reappeared, looking a picture of wide-eyed innocence, in a simple jogging suit.

So not only do Jack's eyes follow Jane through the walls, he gets into her head too. An abrupt and totally unnecessary POV shift. I’ve seen this time and again – and it’s probably the movies that are to blame. The viewer shifts wherever the director decides to go, and rarely settles on a main character viewpoint. Visualise, yes – but make it sensible and realistic.
The offending words were excised at the editing stage, thus:

He said, ‘We’d better be going.’
‘I won’t be long, I’ll just get dressed,’ Jane said and rushed into her bedroom. Minutes later, she reappeared, looking a picture of wide-eyed innocence, in a simple jogging suit.

I replaced the ‘tell’ with Jane’s actual speech. Also, Jack – and the reader – can see her moving to her bedroom now.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Editing tips - Phony

The telephone conversation is another potential pitfall for the unaware writer. It can come across as phony – pun intended, but you probably guessed that.

Here’s an example. Several contemporary mss I receive might replicate this.

Brent listened, unimpressed as Joe tried to bullshit him again with computer jargon. ‘I don’t give a shit about any of that! I want it taken off the net…’ he demanded.

‘What do you mean it’s not that easy?’ Brent incredulously asked. He sighed and Joe started again.

And so on…

This scene is from Brent’s POV. So why doesn’t Brent – and the reader – hear Joe speaking on the other end of the phone?

Writers watch TV and movies and see only one side of a phone conversation (unless the director uses a split screen technique) so they jump in and do the same. The difference is, the story on the screen isn’t from the character’s POV. The viewer isn’t in the character’s head. On the page, the reader’s in the character’s head until such time as the POV changes.

If Joe had a few lines of speech, it would be a little more credible. Brent could have encapsulated the rest in his narrative head. Such as, ‘Hey, Brent, it isn’t that easy,’ Joe whined. Then Brent makes his outburst. Getting Brent to repeat the words the reader doesn’t hear is for the stage, not the book. Instead, Joe should have said those words.

Just a hang up of mine, I guess.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Editing tips - Clause for confusion

I’ve come across this kind of mistake a few times in submitted mss and even in published books.

Again, an appropriate example from Broken Silence:

‘Gibbs had once been a heavy-weight boxer; successful in his time… Since retiring from the ring, Madley had decided to keep him as a pet; a fierce, snarling, slathering Rottweiler at that, all bite and no bark.’

Good phrase to end with. It’s a pity that the sense is confusing, though, as the two clauses actually relate to different people. What the second sentence suggests is that Madley retired from the ring, which isn’t the case at all. It should have read, ‘Since Gibbs retired from the ring, Madley had decided to keep him as a pet…’

So, make sure the words you use mean what you intend them to mean.

Friday 30 September 2011

Editing tips - Just a word

There are a select number of words that just force themselves on the writer. I’ll get round to them, eventually. Just for now, though, let’s look at that particular word, ‘just’. (Word repetition intentional…!)

The word insinuates itself into paragraphs. It needs excising unless it’s really doing its job.

Take, for example, a paragraph in Lonesome Dove (again, I’ve recently read it so it’s readily available with an example; many other books, mine included, probably have similar paragraphs that still need further editing).

… For a moment his spirits rose, just from the sound of Gus’s voice. It was Call and Gus, his old companeros. It was just a matter of making them realize what an accident it had been, him riding with the Suggs. It was just that they had happened by the saloon just as he was deciding to leave. If he could just get his head clear of the whiskey he could soon explain it all.

Just too many repetitions (5), I feel. Such repetitions are referred to as word echoes – they’re hovering around in the writer’s head at the time and spill out at the slightest provocation. Self-editing should cut them down – or remove them altogether.

Anon, I'll supply a few other echo words that crop up too frequently.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Editing tips - Shifting POV

We’re all told to maintain a consistent character Point of View (POV) within a scene. There's a good reason for this and, for genre fiction, the advice makes sense. The reader is involved with a particular character in his or her head. Jumping from one character’s thoughts into another’s breaks that tenuous link and reduces the reader involvement.

When first writing a scene, it’s possible that you’re not sure whose POV to use. Once it’s down on the page, then decide – usually the person who is affected the most emotionally. If you’re sticking with a single character POV throughout the novel, then there should not be an issue – but make sure no other character’s thoughts creep in!

Here’s a brief excerpt from Broken Silence, a first novel by Danielle Ramsay.

‘In fact he needed to make a call. One he didn’t want Conrad overhearing. He walked over …’
(This paragraph in his POV goes on for nine lines, then it’s followed by a new paragraph.)

‘Conrad studied Brady’s figure from the safety of his car and wondered what was going through his head… He watched as Brady took out his mobile phone, curious about who he was calling.’

Then the narrative switches back to Brady’s POV.

This is lazy writing and editing and unnecessary. All that needed to happen was something like this: ‘Brady glanced over his shoulder. Conrad was watching him. Doubtless wondering who he was calling. He swore under his breath. None of his business!’

Moral: double-check your POV stance.

If that switch is really important – divulging another character’s secrets or inner turmoil, think about making a ‘scene break’. Or convey the other character’s thoughts in dialogue and body and facial responses. Or consider using the character’s thoughts elsewhere, when it’s that character’s longer consistent POV. Usually, though, you can delete these POV switches without much loss to the narrative – and thus maintain a consistent link with the reader.

Monday 26 September 2011

Editing tips - Don’t tell me and then show me

The adage for a public speaker is ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to say, then I’ll say it, and then I’ll tell you what I’ve said.’ Fine, that kind of repetition is to register the salient facts with the audience.

Some writers tend to follow this adage, and I feel they’re doing themselves a disservice. They tell us what is about to happen, then show us. In fact, any dramatic effect has been lost.

Any number of books can be used to make this point – including my own, I’m sure. Anyway, take, for example, this excerpt from Lonesome Dove. I’m only using this book as I’ve just read it, and it’s well worth reading. (I’ve removed the character name, so as not to spoil it for any subsequent reader).

'He found them an hour later, already stiff in death. He had raced as fast as he could over the rough country, not wanting to take the time to follow the river itself but too unsure of his position to go very far from it. From time to time he stopped, listening for shots, but the dark plains were quiet and peaceful, though it was on them that he had just seen the most violent and terrible things he had ever witnessed in his life…

(three paragraphs later…) He could see the three forms on the ground as if asleep…'

So there’s half a page of dramatic, suspenseful writing, but it’s wasted because we already know the outcome. There’s probably a name for this literary device that anticipates and waters down the dramatic scene. I’d much rather delete that first sentence and show the reader through the character’s eyes and emotions how he came upon the three ‘stiff in death’.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Heroes of Fukushima get Award

Those brave heroes of Fukushima who risked high radiation to battle the nuclear disaster in Japan have won Spain’s prestigious Prince of Asturias Concord prize this month.

On 11 March this year, the towering wall of water from the tsunami battered the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering reactor meltdown and leakage of radiation into the environment. Tens of thousands of people within a 20km radius were evacuated, but selfless workers endured high doses of radiation to combat the crisis.

The Prince of Asturias Award jury stated, ‘This group of people represent the highest values of the human condition by trying to prevent, through their sacrifice, a nuclear disaster… disregarding the grave consequences that this decision would have on their lives.’

As a result, many workers developed chronic pathologies such as arrhythmia and hyperventilation. The jury identified three groups of heroes of Fukushima: the 50 volunteer employees of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company; the firefighters who worked to cool the reactors; and the Japanese armed forces who dumped water on the reactors from the air.

In conclusion, the jury said, ‘The behavior of these people has also embodied the values most deeply rooted in Japanese society, such as the sense of duty, personal and family sacrifice for the greater good and dignity in the face of adversity, humility, generosity and courage.’

The original fifty who stayed on at the plant swelled by a few hundred as time passed.

Winners of the Prince of Asturias Award are endowed with 50,000 euros, a sculpture and a diploma. The actual presentation will be made by Crown Prince Felipe, the prince of Asturias, later this year.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Lonesome Dove - a point of view

Published in 1985, Lonesome Dove has rightly gained many accolades and is a firm favorite for thousands of readers. At almost 850 pages, it’s a mammoth account of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, affecting a cast of twenty or so characters. Its size alone deterred me from reading it until now. (I’ve read War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, and the Pillars of the Earth, among other lengthy novels, so I’m not averse to long books; it’s just that I didn’t think I’d be held by a book about a cattle drive for over 800 pages. I was wrong – mainly because of the characters.)

A quotation at the front, from TK Whipple, Study Out the Land, perhaps sums up McMurtry’s intention. “Our past still lives in us … what they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” McMurtry seems intent on debunking the myth of the cowboy; here we find they’re ordinary, not particularly bright, with simple empty lives in a gritty unforgiving world devoid of much culture. Yet, despite this, some of his characters grow into mythic proportions. Going on, though belabored by heart-rending grief, is heroic, and that’s what many in this book do: go forward, go on.

McMurtry employs the omniscient point of view (POV), beloved of so-called literary writers. Not for them the struggle to maintain consistent POV, rather they’d opt for the rather lazy head-hopping that thrusts the reader into the minds of several characters in the same scene. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course – though modern agents and publishers tend to prefer consistent character POV.

The main drawback with the omniscient POV is that the reader doesn’t get into any particular character’s head long enough to form a bond. So when a main character dies – and McMurtry does tend to kill off people the reader’s getting to like – the effect isn’t as devastating as it might have been if the character had been more deeply lodged in the reader’s psyche. By its very nature, omniscient POV isn’t as intimate as individual POV. The author is not only playing God, he’s letting you know he is.

That apart, I enjoyed the book immensely and was moved in parts. I felt that the creation of Gus McCrae is a classic – though inevitably we learn most about him from his voice, not his intimate thoughts.

So, don’t be put off by this tome’s length. It’s well worth reading. There’s a prequel and a sequel too!

Saturday 10 September 2011

54 nuclear reactors speckling the coast

Contamination 6 months after the double whammy that hit Japan. It won't go away.

Food contamination from the nuclear plant is a big worry, besides affecting a lot of farmers’ businesses. Yet perhaps there’s good news too. Rice harvested this year in the Fukushima Prefecture went on sale this month, with farmers reassuring customers that it’s free from contamination...

I've been in contact with Yuri, an AP journalist and she has produced a very thoughtful and interesting despatch on this subject. There's no real alternative to nuclear energy for Japan. Here's the link to Yuri’s story:

You can also gain further insight by reading Charlie Whipple's blog at

Friday 9 September 2011

Hubris or political expediency?

The future has arrived. Threat of nuclear meltdown was all too real in the last six months...

Japan’s heavy reliance on nuclear power is now seen as a serious mistake. Naturally, it’s easy to be wise after the event. And, to be fair, the damage sustained by the Fukushima nuclear plant was not in the Chernobyl league, serious though it is. Considering the tremendous forces that the plant withstood, the engineering safeguards seem to have worked – if only just. Hubris prompted siting many nuclear power stations on the cusp of the quake-prone archipelago. Maybe financial and political expediency had something to do with it.

Near the Fukishima Daiichi plant is the ghost town of Minamisoma, which suffered the loss of several hundred residents during the disaster. Then the remaining thousands were evacuated. Their lives and livelihoods are on hold until something can be resolved. How many more lives are in stasis – perhaps due to government intransigence?

See Charlie Whipple's website for a lot of detailed background and even moving images.

Monday 5 September 2011

Japan's tragedy six months on

September 9 is remembered for many deaths

9/11 is significant as the tenth anniversary of the mass murders of almost 3,000 people from many nations and religions perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. This terrible loss of life was due to man’s inhumanity to man.

As there are plenty of natural disasters that cut a swathe through countless innocent lives, it seems deplorable that anyone could contemplate killing innocent people simply because of a different value system. The terrorists’ twisted logic probably argues that no westerner is innocent, since they don’t follow a certain strict code of behaviour. Wars and conflicts happen for a variety of reasons, too complex to go into here; whether a quest for power or resources, or the imposition of ideals and beliefs. But there's another conflict - against nature...

9/11 also marks the six-month point of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a devastating double whammy from Nature against the islands of Japan that claimed over 20,000 missing or dead. In those months, like many, I’ve been moved by the resilience of the Japanese, particularly the many orphaned children, who strive against formidable odds to rebuild not only their lives but their nation.

I thought that in the lead up to this six-month marker, I’d open up some discussion on the effects and consequences of this natural catastrophe.

All author and publisher royalties go toward aid of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami survivors for these 2 e-books: WHEN THE FLOWERS ARE IN BLOOM by Nik Morton and A MATTER OF TEA and other stories by Charles T Whipple.

The Quiet Man

TJ Miles is a member of the Torrevieja Writers Circle who wields a good observational and often humorous pen is also a successful artist, holding exhibitions in many countries. TJ' favourite film is John Wayne's The Quiet Man and his homage is a series of original paintings from that film. The exhibition was at the end of August in Dublin, but you can see the artwork online here:

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Spanish Eye is a fabulous read

Despite all the support 'systems' out there, writers can still seem alone. Even those with a few titles to their name. Strange, how stories affect people differently. I'm sure my book Spanish Eye has been read by several readers (not in the hundreds, to be truthful), but they seem reticent to comment; did none of the tales appeal, I begin to wonder. Then my doubts are removed when I see a rare but very welcome review.

Part of a new review of Spanish Eye on reads: "While reading these twenty-one exciting stories I experienced a myriad of emotions. I laughed, cried, and became incensed. I cheered and clapped, but most of all I felt a confirmation of universal values." Thank you, Elizabeth Sullivan, Ph.D.

That's the kind of review that makes a writer's day.  For today, then, those self-doubts can go hang.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Dan Brown meets Dracula

Just had a review of Death is Another Life on Amazon and Goodreads. I wish I'd thought of that snappy strapline!

Dan Brown meets Dracula. Robert Morton's Death is Another Life is a fast paced, intelligent read that kept my pulse pounding until the last page. Vampires are certainly enjoying a revival, but Morton's take is entirely fresh, certainly not like the ones so overdone today. - Heather K Savage, author.

So, thank you, Heather!

PS - This in the same week that a reader told me that once he started the prologue of The $300 Man, he couldn't put it down. He even read it while walking the dog!

Friday 6 May 2011

When the Flowers are in Bloom

I've taken a leaf out of Charles Whipple's book (see A Matter of Tea below) and will be donating all my royalties from this e-book to the survivors of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As will the publisher, Solstice Publishing.

My Foreword says, ‘Reading about the cataclysmic devastation that hit Japan in March, I was greatly moved by the attitude of the survivors. People of all ages went out of their way to help each other. Looting seemed a rare event. There was a determination to overcome this terrible adversity. Lives and towns would be rebuilt, eventually, even if it would take years. The people would endure.

‘It is this theme, the strength of the human spirit that I have attempted to capture over the years in many of my short stories. Some of these tales may seem sad or traumatic but, despite that, I trust that hope, love, honor and integrity shine through, transcending the blight of evildoers, disability and natural disaster.

‘As writers, we strive to walk in the shoes of our characters. Fiction writers lie in order to grasp the truth. In some small way, I hope these stories reveal truths about the human condition.’


These twelve diverse stories travel far and wide, over the globe and through history, to examine the human condition. Whether a quest for atonement decades after the Second World War, or to repay a debt of honor, Japanese characters reveal their fragility. In Sarajevo, Bosnia or the grim projects of New York, life must go on.

Characters show us that disability is not a handicap. Forgiveness and redemption are human qualities the world is short of today, perhaps. They’re needed by those who disinter the past and graves from an old war in Spain. Birth and death – they’re here. So is honor, duty, courage and love.

All royalties which would normally go to the author and the publisher will go directly to help the Earthquake and tsunami victims.

The e-book can be ordered from the Solstice Publishing site ( or other online outlets, including Amazon:

Thursday 14 April 2011

A Fistful of Legends - a view of the Old West

Jeremy L.C. Jones is a fan of the Express Westerns anthologies, A Fistful of Legends and Where Legends Ride. So much so that he's invited 8 contributors to AFOL to respond to his questions about the Old West, mostly prompted by James Reasoner's concise and illuminating Introduction.

The link can be found here:

His booklife pages are worth visiting regularly, too.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Old Guns

Just sold my fifth Black Horse Western to Robert Hale, Old Guns. A tale with a difference, as it moves from 1892 to 1859 to 1866 as the past catches up with a number of ageing ex-lawmen...

July, 1892.
Sam Ransom’s looking forward to his 62nd birthday with his wife and two children. Then he gets a telegram from the Bethesda Falls sheriff. His old partner Abner was mortally wounded, but before he died Abner left a note – the Meak twins were out to get Ransom and the others ‘because of what happened at Bur Oak Springs’. Their families weren’t safe, either. Ransom sets out to warn his old friends, Jubal, Rory and Derby. But he’s too late to prevent another brutal death.

Bur Oak Springs happened over two decades ago. The place was a ghost town even then. The Meak twins seem set on a crusade of vengeance, but why?

Ransom’s family is put in jeopardy and the ultimatum is clear. He and his friends must return to the ghost town again, to confront the Meak brothers and their gang. There’s a sense of déjà vu about this; yet, there are fresh revelations too.

It’s a showdown. The young guns against the old guns.

Monday 11 April 2011

A Matter of Tea and other stories

An e-book in aid of the Earthquake victims.

"Delicate as bisque china, dangerous as a snake den, Charles T. Whipple's writing resonates across the seven seas. Tales of sacrifice and honor that flick at the heart and encircle the soul." – Marsha Ward. Stories include: A Matter of Tea, The Dragon of Torigoe, The Floating World, Kamo Ike, From Chojagasaki Bay, Masakado's Revenge, and Bonus Sections.

Royalties are for relief efforts in Japan.

Charlie says:

"The title story of this collection is the same story that won the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition. This is the first time the story has ever been published. And with it, other stories I have written that are set in Japan, plus a look at a brand new series called Chronicles of the Dark Mirror. A full chapter of the first book, The Seeker.

The only thing I do well is write. When the earthquake hit Kobe in 1995, friends and I hauled food and necessities from Tokyo to Kobe. But this time, the damage and the suffering makes Kobe look like a picnic. (I apologize to the people in Kobe for that simile but the destruction and the death toll and the homelessness in Tohoku is so vast, it defies description.) Aerial comparisons of before and after are shocking to say the least. And the only thing I can do is write.

So I decided to let you read these stories and help the people in Tohoku at the same time. Buy this book for a buck -- well, for 99 cents -- and I and my publisher will give all the income we receive from your purchases to worthy charities that are helping in Tohoku. I will personally pick the charities and I will personally report to you about what has been or is being done.

Help me out. Buy this book of stories about Japan. Get your friends to buy a copy, too. Spread the word. Help me help the victims of Japan's horrendous earthquake and tsunami."

You can also access it on Amazon, of course.

Death is Another Life

Where there is light, there is shadow

This cross-genre thriller is set in present-day Malta and has echoes from pre-history and also the eighteenth century Knights of Malta.

Malta may be an island of sun and sand, but there’s a dark side to it too. It all started when some fishermen pulled a corpse out of the sea... Or maybe it was five years ago, in the cave of Ghar Dalam?

Spellman, an American black magician, has designs on a handpicked bunch of Maltese politicians, bending their will to his master’s. A few sacrifices, that’s all it takes. And he’s helped by Zondadari, a rather nasty vampire.

Maltese-American investigative journalist Maria Caruana’s in denial. She can’t believe Count Zondadari is a vampire. She won’t admit it. Such creatures don’t exist, surely? She won’t admit she’s in love with him, either...

Detective Sergeant Attard doesn’t like caves or anything remotely supernatural. Now he teams up with Maria to unravel the mysterious disappearance of young pregnant women. They’re helped by the priest, Father Joseph.

And there are caves, supernatural deaths and a haunting exorcism.
Just what every holiday island needs, really.

My latest e-book, from Solstice Publishing.

Friday 25 March 2011

Dateline Sendai, Japan

This is a letter of thanks and rather uplifting news from a friend of a friend, which deserves a wider readership. The writer teaches English in Sendai.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, and share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly, where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not.

No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses are a mess in some places, yet then there’s a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. And all happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty: the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains at Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them magnificently silhouetted against the sky. And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entrance-way. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door, checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers, asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, up to now, this area is better off than others. Last night, my friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me, with Love in return, to you all...


My Friday's Forgotten Book for today. The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick is a 2003 mystery novel. It takes place in 1996 and features Father Anselm, a monk at Larkwood Priory, Suffolk; he used to be barrister. For some reason Schwermann, a fugitive war criminal, seeks sanctuary here. Nearby, Agnes is dying and before she breathes her last she gives her granddaughter Lucy some notebooks, diaries that reveals secrets and hopes from Agnes’s days working in the French Resistance. Lucy’s interested in Pascal Fougeres, who seems connected in some way with Schwermann.

‘I wish he’d left the past alone. It’s not a safe place while it touches on the living.’

Threads that connect to the past, to tragic events in France in 1942. When there was betrayal and death. Apparently, the Church was involved in the cover-up of two escaping Nazi sympathisers who were responsible for the collapse of the resistance group called the Round Table – Agnes’s group. One of the hiding war criminals is discovered in Whitley Bay, my home town! There’s love and tragedy and forgiveness.

‘But it was too late. Certain things, once said, can change at a stroke the interior workings of love, leaving the outside architecture untouched.’

This is an interesting, intriguing and convoluted story about history and the truths disguised as falsehoods – and the reverse. Brodrick’s characters come across as ordinary flawed people, some with mysterious pasts, others ignorant of their connections with bloody events. The writing style is eloquent, the words moving.

‘Lucy, you’ll find as you get older you start seeing yourself from the outside. Particularly your childhood…’

Brodrick used to be an Augustinian friar then left the order to become a barrister.
Different. Recommended.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Hell Fire in Paradise - Review

Regular readers will know that I admire Charlie Whipple’s writing. He writes as Chuck Tyrell. This book was published in 2010. While the cover painting is well executed, it doesn’t do the story or book any favours. And what a story!

Laurel Baker’s husband is killed in a freak accident and her two sons are burned to death in the blaze that destroys their home by Paradise Creek. Grief and guilt and a deep emptiness engulf her. So when logging magnate Dunn comes by to buy her land, it’s an opportunity to sell up and move on. Despite the darkness that has entered her soul, she won’t give up. Her men are buried on this land and it’s going to stay hers. When fence constructor and widower Finn and his two boys pass through Paradise, Laurel invites them to stay to fence in her land. This new family lightens her darkness.

Dunn is plain stubborn, however, and as his dreams seem to dissipate in the bottom of a whiskey bottle, he determines to be rid of Laurel Baker once and for all.

Tyrell has deftly sewn a tragic and moral tale. Even the bad guys aren’t all bad. Dunn keeps taking reluctant steps to his doom, shoved by circumstances and his pride. As ever, the subsidiary characters seem to live – whether that’s good neighbour Seth, friendly Apache chief T’Pone, or town marshal Webber. As I’ve come to expect, the book brings alive the flavour of the food, the smell of the campfires and the sounds and sights of the West. And there are plenty of telling phrases employed; for example, ‘Time passed as if dragged by logging chains.’ Thoughtful and apt.

This is a first for the writer, a female protagonist, and he captures the character well. She’s feminine yet tough, gentle yet firm. She’s a match for Dunn and his cronies. A match that she lights to blow them to hellfire in Paradise.

Recommended, but then you’d guessed I was going to say that.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

The Giant book of the Western

Published in 1991 as The Mammoth Book of the Western, this is a reprint dated 1995 with a slightly revised title.Superb cover!

Twenty-seven short stories. Great value. There are excellent tales by the late Elmer Kelton, Willa Catha, Max Brand, James Warner Bellah, Elmore Leonard, Jack Schaefer and Loren D Estleman – several of them actually Spur winners.

Of late, there’s been talk about how revisionist westerns now deal with the Indians in a more balanced way. Yet the issue of the noble savage had been around quite a while, as editor Lewis points out in his introduction. ‘… amplified by the decision of the Curtis magazine group that the Indian point-of-view must not be shown in its journals, a decision which stemmed from the audience outrage that greeted Zane Gray’s fictional attempt in 1922 to depict a love affair between a white woman and Amerindian man, in Ladies’ Home Journal. From the 1950s, however, the American Indian began to be more sympathetically – and realistically – portrayed in the popular western…’

This can be exemplified by the included stories of John G Neihardt’s ‘The Last Thunder Song’ (1907), Oliver La Farge’s ‘The Young Warrior’ (1938), Dorothy M Johnson’s ‘A Man called Horse’ (1949), and Steve Frazee’s excellent ‘Great Medicine’ (1953).


Tuesday 1 March 2011

Vulture Gold - Review

This was Chuck Tyrell’s debut novel, and he hit the ground running. In fact, his main character embarked on the run of death against fourteen Jicarilla Apache warriors. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story begins with a gold heist – desperadoes stealing from the Vulture Mine bullion room gold bars totalling $100,000. Vulture City’s town marshal is Cherokee half-breed Garet Havelock, nicknamed Iron Knee because he his kneecap was shot off by his nemesis, Barnabas Donovan some years back. He may have a limp, but he’s rigid in his determination to uphold the law, whether that’s to protect the same Donovan from a lynch mob or to save a group of whites by agreeing to undergo the grueling death run.

Havelock’s life is complicated by the fact that the Governor’s daughter has been kidnapped. Beaten, shot, hurting, he vows to recapture the escaped Donovan, rescue the kidnapped girl, and recover the stolen gold. A tall order for any man. But Havelock isn’t any man. Vulture Gold’s scope is verging on the mythic. Havelock is a believable strong character, whose integrity can’t be bought or twisted.

Throughout this gripping narrative, you believe you’re there, in the heat and dust, mixing with the incorrigible Pappy Holmes, exchanging jibes with the Yavapai Indian, Horn Stalker, and outwitting the enigmatic yet quixotically honourable Juanito O’Rourke. There are characters aplenty in these pages, all fleshed out, not least Havelock’s faithful bucksin horse, Buck and the Apache chief, Puma. And there’s a girl, the half-sister of Donavan, just to create more confusion and send Havelock’s troubled heart beating that little bit quicker.

If you want a fast-paced, literate, authentic page-turning adventure, look no further. It also happens to be a western.

Friday 25 February 2011

Lust to read will never dwindle with a Kindle

Some said it was the end of an era. After five years as Chairman of the Torrevieja Writers' Circle (TWC), I was stepping down. My last day wielding the gavel was Wednesday, 23 February. There were about 28 members in attendance and several apologies. The first half was a normal session of reading and critique, then cakes, buns (thanks to the bakers)and drinks for the halftime period. There followed a presentation of a Kindle, contributed by the members. I was very touched by this thoughtful present. (Some whispered I've been a bit touched for ages, hence the puns...) Mary K (Hasta Luego)and Chris (Woe...)read out poems, which were both appreciated and struck several chords. Several - about 22 stayed behind to eat a menu del dia. A really good day, thank you all!

I finished off with a small 'thank you':

After five years as Chairman, I ask myself, why do we come to the TWC meetings? Presumably, we all like to read – whether books or magazines. Most of us were brought up with a love of books – either imparted by our parents or our teachers. Even in this age of the e-book, books play an important part in our lives. As Cicero said, ‘A room without books is like a body without soul.’

The Canadian-Japanese Professor of English, Samuel Hayakawa said, ‘In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read… It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.’

They’re talking about books. But we aren’t a reading circle. We strive to write. As E L Doctorow said, ‘Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.’

So it’s the placing of your bum on a chair and writing. No pressure, there then.
Still, as we know – no pressure, no diamonds.

Many of you have written for years and received little or no pecuniary reward, but that doesn’t stop you, nor should it. Richard Bach, who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, says, quite rightly, ‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.’

So, if it isn’t for the financial reward, why do we write? Is it because we must? Katherine Mansfield said, ‘Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.’ Maybe we want to make sense of the world, or understand ourselves, our past. Indeed, the life of every person is like a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another.

I think I’ve used this quotation from O Henry before, but make no apology for using it again: "A good story is like a bitter pill, with the sugar coating inside of it."

Maybe that’s it: we just like telling stories! To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything. Of course, you don’t have to rely on imagination; you can reminisce about your past. You don’t have to write fiction. You can write memoirs and poems, rants and articles. It doesn’t matter, really, so long as you write. You write to be read, however. You write for an audience, even if that’s an audience of one or the circle members only. You don’t write for praise, though it’s always welcome. You write to affect others, to raise a laugh, stir an emotion, elicit a tear. You don’t write to slavishly copy your favourite authors. Each one of us is unique, and we see the world and humanity in different ways. The secret is that in our writing we invite the reader to see the world – our imagined world – as we see it.

In my five years of Chairmanship, I’ve been privileged to listen to a vast array of writing from the TWC members – poems that made me think or cry, stories that made me laugh and empathise, articles that made me see some aspect of life with a fresh eye. Many of you have already done it, but I would recommend that in your writing, make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.

Thank you for putting up with my terrible puns over the years. I’ll miss banging my gavel, and inevitably I’ll miss several gems that will be read out in future meetings, since I will no longer be a regular attendee. However, to use a final quotation, in the immortal words of the Terminator, ‘I’ll be back.’

Friday 18 February 2011

ENDURING LOVE - Raymond Chandler

It took over fifty years but on Valentine’s Day this year, author and screenwriter Raymond Chandler finally got his wish and he was reunited with his wife. I haven’t read much about this – it was in the Los Angeles Times, and I noted it in the Craig Brown column in the Daily Mail. Craig Brown is a humorous writer, often bursting pompous bubbles. This piece is both straight and quite moving.

Chandler’s wife Cissy was much older than him. She died in 1954 and he never really got over it. He wrote, ‘She was the best of my heart for thirty years, ten months and four days. She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound.’ He died about three years later, but unfortunately his alcoholism prevented him from properly finalizing the paperwork that would ensure his last resting place was alongside his beloved Cissy.

Then in 2009 Chandler fan Loren Latker unearthed the expressed wish of Chandler to be buried with Cissy. It was a wish, and not legally binding. Loren hired Aissa Wayne, daughter of John Wayne, and after eighteen months of legalities, the Los Angeles judge gave the go-ahead for Cissy Chandler’s ashes to be moved to her husband’s grave in the San Diego cemetery.

A cortege of cars of the Philip Marlowe period, accompanied by Dixieland jazz band, made the ceremony most memorable, and actor Powers Booth, who played Marlowe, attended with other celebrities.

The shared headstone has a quotation from The Big Sleep: Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Coming soon - The Riflemen

The third Solstice Western will be ready soon. Keep an eye out for its striking cover.

Two men - against an army!

Mexico, 1868. Two men. One white, one colored. Proficient in only one thing. Shooting with the long arm. The greatest long range weapon of the age. The .50 caliber Sharps rifle.

When the two ex-sharpshooters, Nick Guardeen and Thaddeus Johnston receive an invitation from the Arizona State Governor, they answered his call out of courtesy for a fellow veteran. But he offers them something they've never had before. Land. The prospect of their very own homestead leads them to accept a highly dangerous mission across the border into Mexico.

Hounded by a merciless gang of assassins, they press on into the desert redoubt of the self-styled and ruthless General Wyatt whose crazy ambition is nothing less than reinstating the Confederacy. Their only help is the beautiful Christine Lenoir. Her hatred for the General is the reason she risks all and remains a spy in the heart of the renegade fortress.

Alone in the wilderness, they need all their skills and technique to survive against Apaches, murderers and a reinstated army of rebel forces.

Cover painting/illustration by Tony Masero.His website is at

Thursday 3 February 2011

A Day in the Life...

Banco Sabadell produces a quarterly magazine, Prestige. The latest issue, #46 Winter features A Day in the Life of... me, talking about my fondness for Spain and my short story collection Spanish Eye - tales from Leon Cazador, PI.

The magazine is around for about three months and is sent to the international clients of the bank group and can be found in all their banks - so that may be thousands. Doesn't mean they'll all want to get a copy of Spanish Eye, though.

Coincidentally, as well as mentioning those 21 tales about Leon Cazador, the magazine runs a feature about Leon, the medieval and photogenic Spanish city.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

New job - Chief Ed

Today is quite exciting for me, as I start work as the Editor in Chief of Solstice Publishing. Where before I was responsible for submissions to the new western imprint, now I’ve been hired to deal with all submissions. Fortunately, I have an excellent and keen team of editors.

Since first taking up an editing pen in the 1970s, I’ve always found it exciting to open a new submission, hoping to discover new voices and great stories. I hope to find a good number of really good stories within all genres published by Solstice.

Naturally and inevitably, there will be a goodly portion of material that ‘still needs work’. And that’s the point: anyone beginning in this writing business must keep writing regardless of rejection, striving to learn from other writers. They must persevere. A thick skin, inordinate patience and a good dollop of self-belief will help, too. Maybe a sense of humour helps too. A rejection isn’t personal, it’s subjective, merely an opinion. True, that opinion may be based on years of experience and knowledge of the market, but it’s still subjective. Many a household name author was rejected a lot of times. That’s not the point. A rejection should ask you at least to take a step back from that work and be self-critical: after time and further reflection, is it good enough or could it be improved?

A third Solstice Western – The Riflemen by Tony Masero – is being prepared, and he's just completed the cover, which is excellent. A couple more western novels are in the pipeline.

Submissions details.
Electronic only
American English spelling
Double quotes for speech
Indent paragraphs
No line spaces between paragraphs
Maximum 100,000 words
See website:
Manuscript with synopsis should be sent to:
Westerns –
Everything else (see website for genres) –

Monday 31 January 2011

The House Always Wins

My short story, ‘The House Always Wins’ was the genesis of my second Black Horse Western, Last Chance Saloon. It can be found on p16 of the magazine New Coastal Press, which can be found at:

The magazine can be downloaded as a pdf and read at leisure; it will be replaced by the February edition in a couple of weeks or so.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Solstice Westerns - launch-02

The second book from Solstice Westerns is Mead’s Quest, which is set in the early days of last century. The blurb tells of a poignant story that just also happens to be a western novel.

Idaho, 1906. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Mead was glad to see his pa buried. He wanted to be free of him and the ranch – but it wasn’t that simple. His past, painful though it was, held an astonishing surprise: an inheritance beyond his wildest dreams. It had something to do with a small leather ledger, the railroad and a family he’d never known. Leaving the ranch might help him locate his roots.

The clues were scant, the trail was cold, but the result of Jacob’s quest would be stunning.

Unfortunately, his sudden wealth attracted Neil Browning and his cousin, Randy, who had plans on relieving Jacob Mead of his money and his life. There will be bloodshed and tears before long.

Jacob’s story weaves movingly through the lives of an intriguing assortment of people, plunging him into danger, terrible anguish and heart-stopping delight as he tracks down members of his family during the awakening of the Twentieth Century.

Jacob’s heart is big and forgiving, it seems, which is just as well. His life wasn’t particularly easy or good, yet he transcends the pain and anguish to become a decent man; though he recognizes that he needs to better himself, get educated, and find his roots. His quest is long and full of surprises for the reader and him. It’s something he needs to do to find closure, something that many in his position were never able to accomplish.

“America's orphan trains delivered more than 150,000 children across the land to whomever would take them. Jacob Mead was one, taken in by an abusive man and his almost equally abusive wife. His struggle to survive, to become a responsible man, and to find his missing siblings forms the core of Mead's Quest. A startling tale of life and death as the West stumbled into the 20th century.” – Chuck Tyrell, international prize-winning author of Vulture Gold, Hell Fire in Paradise, and The Snake Den.

Mead’s Quest would make great historical reading for high school and middle school students. It presents history in a wonderfully entertaining format. Thanks for the enjoyable hours. — T. Michael, Lane Community College

A touching, sensitive, suspenseful story, I was moved to tears. — W. Jenkins

The plot is solid and fascinating. It is a story based on fact and it carries with it a strong feeling of reality. — D. Hays, Statesman Journal literary editor.

I must say that Mead’s Quest was one of the best books I’ve ever read. The characters had believable emotions, Neil Browning was the perfect bad guy, the setting, the time period, everything was just wonderful. I can’t wait for the next book to come out. — R Cox

While these books are only available in electronic format at present, there’ll be print versions published in about ten months.

Solstice Westerns - launch-01

A few months ago, I was appointed as Chief Editor of the Solstice Western imprint of the US publisher Solstice Publishing. The first two e-books are now available from online bookstores, with more on the way. Each cover image maintains the feel of the imprint while also promoting the strong storylines. You can order either or both at the links on the left.

These tales are not your typical westerns with men in white and black hats shooting it out. There are many facets to both. Take the blurb for The Snake Den, for example.

Arizona, 1882. Falsely accused of theft, 14-year-old Shawn Brodie is sent to serve three years in the Hellhole called Yuma Territorial Prison. Lamb to the slaughter, maybe?

The Mexican Zapata wants to stick him with a knife, the warden wants him to mend his thieving ways, and the sergeant of the guard wants to get into Shawn’s pants. If he won’t do what Sergeant Tarkington wants, he’ll end up in the Snake Den, a cube of iron straps hung from the ceiling of a dark cave. If he doesn’t do what Zapata says, he’ll end up with a nail sticking out of his eye. If he can’t convince the warden that he’s not a thief, he’ll spend his days tromping Colorado River mud to make adobe bricks.

Is his young life going to be made up of beatings, rape, and incarceration in the deadly Snake Den? The odds seem stacked against young Shawn ever getting out of Yuma Prison alive.

The Mexicans hate the whites, the Chinamen and blacks stay out of the way, and the whites fight among themselves. Somehow, Shawn must learn how to defend himself, and chance throws him in with Shoo Lee, a cellmate, an Oriental proficient in the barehanded fighting technique Kara Ti. Perhaps if he becomes Shoo Lee’s disciple he can endure...

Advance review copies have picked up good comments, too.
“Remarkable. A page turning thriller set in a frontier prison where a boy convict learns about the tough world of survival as he grows into a man. Told with gritty courage and honesty – a surprising blend of East and West, it’s a coming-of-age story like none you’ve ever read.” – Corinne Joy Brown, author of McGregor’s Lantern, Sanctuary Ranch, and Come and Get it!

“Chuck Tyrell has brought authenticity and poignancy to a western with a difference...”
– Jack Martin, author of The Ballad of Delta Rose.

I’ll feature the second book in a separate post. While these books are only available in electronic format at present, there’ll be print versions published in about ten months.


Sorry I haven't updated this blog for several weeks. While the festive season might have been an excuse, it was only part of the story. Both my wife and I succumbed to a popular bug - we wre not alone! - and were laid low for two or three weeks. Jen is only now recovering her voice - a bind, since she loves to sing... Then we were host to our old friends from UK for two weeks...

Anyway, excuses over.

Maybe posts will appear more regularly from now on.