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Saturday 30 November 2013

Friday's forgotten book

Yes, I forgot... Yesterday, I was so busy with the launch party and whatnot for Spanish Eye that there seemed no time to post the weekly FFB. Sorry about that.

Yesterday, I did receive paperback copies of books that had been hitherto forgotten, postfree courtesy of the book depository: The Venom Business, Drug of Choice and Binary all by Michael Crichton, writing as John Lange.

All eight books are now available. See my blog about all eight titles here.

Friday 29 November 2013

Torn from the news – ‘pea nuts’

Spanish Eye contains 22 cases from Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye.  Its release date is today, 29 November, from Crooked Cat Publishing.

The vast majority of these cases are based on true events…  The short story ‘Fair Cop’ was first published in magazine format in 2006: here is a very brief excerpt:

Fair Cop
“Nobody beats the shell man.”

Fairs bring out the best and the worst in some people. Today was Torre del Pozo’s annual feria. Perched a kilometre from the rugged rocks and sand dunes, the village was awash with colourful ribbons, flags and banners. The main street was closed off by police barriers and lined on either side by stalls. Near the ayuntamiento and church was a fenced and straw-filled arena where livestock would be sold. As I sat at an outside café table and sipped my second cortado of the day, the air was filled with the cries of cocks, the clucking of hens and the lowing of cattle. The fireworks would come later. If my informant was correct, and he usually was, today I would catch one of the most elusive among the ungodly.

Well, I said it was brief…

From time to time news reports echo the Cazador tales, and this is but one of them, from the Costa Blanca News of August 23, 2013:

Often, it seems like a merry-go-round, the itinerant con men trying to keep one step of the local police, while duping the unsuspecting public. To learn how this pertains to Leon Cazador’s little outing, please read the book…

UK paperback here

UK Kindle here

Amazon com paperback here
Amazon com Kindle here

Also available on Smashwords etc

Torn from the news – ‘haul at sea’

Spanish Eye contains 22 cases from Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye.  Its release date is 29 November, from Crooked Cat Publishing.

The vast majority of these cases are based on true events…  The short story ‘Night Fishing’ was first published in magazine format in 2006: here is a very brief excerpt:

Night Fishing

“…hold back the encroaching night of unreason.”

Dusk fled quickly, as it does out here in the south of Spain. The warm night air was humid and still. The full moon’s reflection glinted from the calm Mediterranean. Behind me, crickets chirruped but I barely heard them as I was concentrating on the little fishing boat out at sea, with its nightlight casting a circle of white around the stern. From the cliff top, I watched the three of them through 10x50 binoculars, and my fears were confirmed. Old Salvador Molina needed his strong sons to haul the net in because it seemed to contain a heavy object. My heart sank.

Sometimes, the night of unreason lurks in dark recesses, waiting to cloak the good earth, and it would seem that even this honest fisherman was not immune to the importuning of this evil night.

Well, I said it was brief…

From time to time police reports echo the Cazador tales, and this is but one of them, from the Costa Blanca News of August 23, 2013:

Often, crime syndicates don’t float items but submerge them, and they’re then marked with an unobtrusive buoy. Of course this smuggling technique is used worldwide and isn’t specific to the coast of Spain. To learn how this pertains to Salvador Molina, you’ll have to read the book…



Thursday 28 November 2013

Saints alive!

To most of us, it seems that Simon Templar, the Saint, has been around all our lives.  Which is probably quite true, since the fictional character created by Leslie Charteris debuted in 1928. He’s had quite a track record. Charteris wrote 14 novels between 1928 and 1971 (the last two co-written), 34 novellas, and 95 short stories featuring Simon Templar. Between 1963 and 1997, an additional seven novels and fourteen novellas were written by others.
My bookmarks drawn in 1964

Certain fictional prose* characters survive through the decades because their appeal touches some chord in us. For Tarzan, perhaps it’s the noble savage, for Bond, it’s his determination to overcome all obstacles, even those seemingly implacable, for Simon Templar, it’s his constant fight against ‘the ungodly’, as he terms the criminal element.

The early Saint stories reveal a different character, insouciant but deadly, compared to the later more cynical versions. But one thing they have in common is the desire to vanquish felons of all stripes.   

This Robin Hood of crime functions as an ordinary detective in some stories, while in others he out-cons vanity publishers and other rip-off artists, corrupt politicians, warmongers, greedy bosses who exploit their workers, liars and other low life.

The style of the stories is often tongue-in-cheek, knowing, and from the narrator’s point of view, not necessarily the Saint’s. Yet we don’t particularly mind Charteris demolishing the ‘fourth wall’ from time to time, because these capers are fun – and rarely without a moral, it should be added. Some writing purists might opine that this style of writing wouldn’t get published today; that kind of comment is pointless. They’re written of and for their time, and can still be enjoyed. (Indeed, Charteris toyed with rewriting the early books to bring them up to date for modern readers – 1930s transposed to the 1960s, for example – but decided, rightly, against it; the task would have been fraught with pitfalls, too.)

You have to be aware of alternative titles, too. For example, The Last Hero has been retitled The Creeping Death, Sudden Death, The Saint Closes the Case (current in the US), The Saint and the Last Hero. Wikipedia (naturally) has a helpful breakdown that will help avoid duplicate purchasing: here
In the early novels, each chapter is headed with a sentence or two explaining what will transpire, without giving away anything, such as ‘How Simon Templar sang a song, and found some of it true.’

Omniscient, humorous, Charteris teases:

Meet the Saint. His godfathers and his godmothers, at his baptism, had bestowed upon him the name of Simon Templar; but the coincidence of initials was not the only reason for the nickname by which he was far more widely known. One day, the story of how he came by that nickname may be told: it is a good story, in its way, though it goes back to the days when the Saint was nineteen, and almost as respectable as he looked. But the name had stuck… p7, The Avenging Saint (Knight Templar, 1930)

‘Put up your hands, Herr Saint.’
‘Bless my soul!’ said the Saint, who was never profane on really distressing occasions. (p120, The Avenging Saint).

‘The art of crime,’ said Simon Templar, carefully mayonaising a section of truitea la gelée, ‘is to be versatile. Repetition breeds contempt – and promotion for flat-footed oafs from Scotland Yard…’

Patricia Holm fingered the stem of her wineglass with a far-away smile. Perhaps the smile was a trifle wistful. Perhaps it wasn’t. You never know. But she had been the Saint’s partner in outlawry long enough to know what any such oratorical opening as that portended; and she smiled. – (p39, The Brighter Buccaneer, 1933)

The Saint has had many partners, though none last throughout the series. For the first half until the late 1940s, the most recurrent is Patricia Holm, his girlfriend, who was introduced in the 1928 novel in which she shows herself a capable adventurer. Holm appeared erratically throughout the series, sometimes disappearing for books at a time, and vanishing completely in the late 1940s. A pity, because up to that point many readers thought that Holm was where the heart is... Templar and Holm cohabited; one wonders if the librarians felt as affronted as they showed over Tarzan and Jane (actually, the latter pair were married, though those offended never read that book).

Capture the Saint (1997), not counting a novelization of the 1997 film, The Saint, both written by Burl Barer, was the first original Simon Templar book published since 1983. It was issued by The Saint Club, a worldwide fan club for the series which Charteris established in 1936. Capture the Saint is the 52nd Saint book published since 1928 and can now be obtained as an e-book; it faithfully captures the flavour of the early Saint adventures, in style and language.

Now, in paperback and e-book format, the Saint adventures are being re-released (Mulholland books), all with stylish covers. Some books are not available until December 2013 or early 2014; still, you could start collecting now: here   If you select the book/e-book from this website, a small donation (via Amazon associates program) goes to the Saint Club.

The Saint Club was founded by Charteris in 1936. Before the war it donated its profits to a London hospital; after the national health service was established, profits were donated to the Arbour Youth Centre in Stepney. Now, the tradition is continued, with donations going to the Red Cross and different children’s charities.

The Club acts as a focal point for anyone interested in the adventures of Simon Templar and the work of Leslie Charteris and offers merchandise and various Saint related publications. All profits are donated to charity. Annual subscription £3.50, lifetime £30. See the website here


* Footnote. I’m stipulating prose here. There are plenty of superhero comic-book characters who have bridged the decades and have become household names.
[Leon Cazador is a modern day Saint character, fighting injustice on behalf of the innocent and the weak. See him in action in Spanish Eye, on release 29 November (Paperback) here [] (Paperback) here [] - Kindle links tomorrow!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Man behind the stickman

Leslie Charteris, creator of the long-running Saint character, was born in Singapore in 1907 to a Chinese father and an English mother. He became interested in writing at an early age; at one point, he created his own magazine with articles, short stories, poetry, editorials, serials, and even a comic strip. I’ve been there, done that, as have many aspiring writers, I’m sure, though few of us have managed to attain the heights of Charteris! He attended Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, England. In 1926, he legally changed his last name to Charteris, probably plucking it from the telephone directory.

His first book, X Esquire (1927) was written during his first year at King's College, Cambridge, and accepted, so he left the university and embarked on a new career. His next book was The White Rider (1928). It was with his third novel, Meet the Tiger (1928), introducing his most famous creation, Simon Templar, the Saint, which transformed his life. It was a popular success. He continued to write English thriller stories, while he worked at various jobs from shipping out on a freighter to working as a barman in a country inn. He prospected for gold, dived for pearls, worked in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, toured England with a carnival, and drove a bus.

Interestingly, Charteris indicated he was dissatisfied with the first Saint book, suggesting its only merit was as the start of the long-running series. Occasionally he chose to ignore the existence of Meet the Tiger altogether and claim that the Saint series actually began with the second volume, Enter the Saint (1930); ‘this book contains the first novelets I ever wrote about the Saint’ – introduction to my 1992 Coronet edition of Enter the Saint.
In 1932 he relocated to the United States, where he continued to publish short stories and also became a writer for Paramount Pictures, working on the George Raft film, Midnight Club. Apparently, he was excluded from permanent residency in the United States because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of ‘50% or greater’ Oriental blood; ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, subject to certain conditions’... As a result, he was forced to continually renew his six-month temporary visitor's visa. Eventually, an act of Congress personally granted him and his daughter the right of permanent residence in the United States, with eligibility for naturalisation, which he later completed.

In the 1940s, Charteris, besides continuing to write Saint stories, scripted the Sherlock Holmes radio series featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce; also in that decade, a number of movies were produced based upon The Saint.
Although he would write a few other books, his literary lifework would consist primarily of Simon Templar Saint adventures, which would be relayed in novel, novella, and short story format over the next 35 years (with other authors ghost writing the stories on his behalf for another 20 years after that; he acted as an editor for these books, approving stories and making revisions when needed).

The Wikipedia article about him would have us believe that the ‘long-term success eluded Charteris’ creation outside the literary arena until the 1962–1969 British-produced television series The Saint went into production with Roger Moore in the Simon Templar role.’ I must wonder at this statement. For example, my 1936 copy of The Last Hero shows reprints for 1930, 1931 (twice), 1933 (twice), 1934 (twice), 1935 and 1936… (It was sad when publishers stopped noting the reprint history on the copyright page; doubtless, there were valid reasons, not least authors switching publishers!)

Short stories lend themselves to an hour-long TV episode and many of the Saint stories were scripted from Charteris’ tales. Inevitably, as the material ran out, original scripts were commissioned, and unusually Charteris permitted some of these scripts to be novelized and published as further adventures of the Saint. The character remained popular even after the end of the TV series, and indeed a second British TV series, Return of the Saint starring Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, was aired. And in the 1980s a series of TV movies produced by an international co-production and starring Simon Dutton kept interest in The Saint alive. The movie starring Val Kilmer as a modern Saint is best forgotten.

The adventures of The Saint were chronicled in 52 books. Charteris stepped away from writing the books after The Saint in the Sun (1963). The next year Vendetta for the Saint was published and while it was credited to Charteris, it was actually written by science fiction writer Harry Harrison. Charteris appears to have served in an editorial capacity for later volumes that were adapted from TV episodes and of course retained the cover credit; in effect, he became a ‘house name’.

He also edited (and contributed to) The Saint Mystery Magazine, a digest-sized publication (I wish I'd kept my copies!). The final book in the Saint series was Salvage for the Saint, published in 1983. "The Saint Club" a fan club that Charteris himself founded in the 1930s; he described it as ‘a pretty elastic organization... we ruthlessly insist on the annual minimum subscription of 2s 6d (15p). We have to do this, because these funds assist the Arbour Youth Club in a blitzed East End area of London, a very charitable job in one of London’s neediest and most neglected areas.’ The announcement about the club appeared at the end of his books, and concluded with ‘Watch for the sign of the Saint – he will be back.’ And he will be - his adventures are being reprinted in paperback and e-book (see tomorrow's post).

Charteris also wrote a column on cuisine for an American magazine, as a sideline. He was one of the earliest members of Mensa. He was married four times, lastly in 1952 to the Hollywood actress Audrey Long (born 1922); the couple eventually returned to England where Leslie Charteris spent his last years living in Surrey. Leslie Charteris died aged 85 in 1993 at Windsor, Berkshire, survived by his wife.
[Leon Cazador is a modern day Saint character, a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil. Meet him on 29 November in Spanish Eye.]

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Crackers for Christmas!

It's commercial break time...

It's mega cyber sales day, 2 December! Which means Christmas orders need to be sent out very soon to avoid disappointment...

If you're thinking of buying a book for a loved one, the choice can be formidable. Yes, you can go on recommendations - always a good idea; or you can check the loved one's bookshelf, just to make sure the latest in the series isn't there already, or, dare I suggest, you can try something new and even daring.

A book isn't just for Christmas, it can be for life (or until the bookshelf collapses under the weight of books...)

Christmas Crackers by David W. Robinson is the tenth tome in the popular STAC series. Published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Merry Murders. It's Yuletide again and faced with a demanding writer, Joe, Sheila and Brenda must deliver tales of murder and mayhem. Who slaughtered Santa? Who committed a felony on a ferry, topped a teller, killed a copper and did Lee really go gunning for a gumshoe? In the background there is the Novel of the Year award and Joe is faced with finding another brutal killer. Its Christmas, but not everyone harbours peace and goodwill, and for the three sleuths, it means... MURDER most festive. Short stories with crime interlaced with humour, an ideal stocking (or Kindle) filler!

The paperback can be purchased here

The Amazon com Kindle version can be purchased here

The Amazon co uk Kindle version can be purchased here

See also an earlier post on STAC here

Spanish Eye by Nik Morton features 22 tales from Leon Cazador, private eye. Published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Stories that have been published in a number of magazines, some of which won prizes, some insightful, some humorous, and some tragic. Through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private investigator, we experience the human condition in many guises. The tales evoke tears and laughter, pleasure at the downfall of criminals, and anger at arrogant evil-doers.  

Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases, among them Carlos Ortiz Santos, a modern day Simon Templar; he is wholly against the ungodly and tries to hold back the encroaching night of unreason.

Cazador translated into English means hunter. In his adventurous life he has witnessed many travesties of justice; he is a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil.

Spanish Eye just in time for Christmas! UK purchase the paperback here

Spanish Eye just in time for Christmas! UK purchase the paperback here

Spanish Eye just in time for Christmas! Purchase uk Kindle version here

Spanish Eye just in time for Christmas! Purchase Amazon com Kindle version here

Monday 25 November 2013

Dear Editor - realism needed!

Our wannabe alien writer is getting a little pushy, it seems...


Sunday 24 November 2013

Dear editor - response to rejection

Our alien wannabe writer has another letter for the editor...

... or perhaps not perhaps the best way to respond to a rejection letter...

Saturday 23 November 2013

Torn from the news – ‘human trafficking’

Slavery is still with us, over a hundred years after it was ‘abolished’. Human trafficking is one unpalatable aspect of this international crime. It provides one strand to the convoluted network run by el Jefe in my thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

 The work to fight these gangs is never-ending, as this report from the Costa Blanca News dated 7 August, 2009 testifies.

Book excerpt:

Anton Belofsky was a Russian oligarch, who enjoyed life and shared his good fortune with the beautiful people. His lavish lifestyle meant that he always kept an eye out for more ways to make money. This was his eighth visit to Tenerife in a year and each time he’d been paid handsomely for his trouble. After the fourth time, Customs became suspicious and decided he must be a drug smuggler. They gave his luxury cruiser Mara a thorough going-over but found nothing, and in fact spent a great deal of time and money replacing damaged furniture and locks. Some of the male customs officers had been very apologetic, possibly because Anton surrounded himself with up to ten beautiful women. Anton suspected that they lingered over their searches so they could ogle the scantily-clad women longer. No matter, his merchandize was unharmed and vastly profitable.

            This journey was no exception. As the cruiser approached Santa Cruz, he lounged on the plush leather couch on the stern upper deck and spoke with a nasal twang into his handset. ‘Nicolai, I want to examine the merchandize one last time.’

            ‘Very good, sir.’

            Moments later, Sorina climbed up the steps and offered him a smile. Her small round face was angelic, while her diminutive figure was the complete opposite; the voluptuous curves hardly contained in the red bikini suggesting demonic passion. She sent his pulse racing. ‘Very good, my dear.’ She was Romanian and didn’t understand English, Spanish or Russian, but she nodded at his gentle tone. She walked a little unsteadily in her red high heels and sat in an ungainly manner on the couch next to him. ‘You probably require a little more decorum. But you’ll do.’

            Next stepped out Gayla, big boned yet slim, with angular hips and a thick moist mouth. She wore a green swimsuit that tantalized with its many cutaways, revealing pale flesh in unexpected places.

And so the parade went on – Elena, Ludmila, Annika, Dorotea, Sofia, Pia, Tena and Lia. Ten women – from Greece, Italy, Russia, Romania and Sweden – smuggled in on false papers to provide pleasure for men with money.

Ten expensive women.

            Surrounded by his merchandize, Anton chewed his thumbnail and his thin lower lip turned down. Well, nine expensive women, he allowed. He must save one for el Jefe, as usual.

            ‘Sir,’ said Nicolai on the intercom, ‘Customs have radioed – they want to come onboard when we get alongside.’

            Belofsky snickered. ‘I bet they do – just to get an eyeful of our pretty women!’

- Blood of the Dragon Trees, (pp25-26)


Buy it from Amazon UK here

Buy it from Amazon com here
UK Kindle here
Amazon com Kindle here




Friday 22 November 2013

FFB - The Man Who Drew Tomorrow

This large-format colourful book (published in 1986) is sub-titled ‘How Frank Hampson created Dan Dare, the world’s best comic strip’. Obviously, some purist comic collectors may argue over the word ‘best’, but there’s no denying that Frank Hampson exhibited a remarkable flair for invention and draughtsmanship, with incredible detail and colour in a period when post-war austerity still held sway (1950).

Dan Dare appeared on the front page of the
British comic Eagle on 14 April 1950.

In retrospect, Frank rationalised his creation of the famous pilot of the future: ‘I felt the prognostications about technology were too gloomy. Attitudes were too pessimistic, with The Bomb, the Cold War and rationing in the forefront of everyone’s mind. I wanted to give hope for the future, to show that rockets and science in general could reveal new worlds, new opportunities. I was sure that space travel would be a reality… Dan was the man I always wanted to be; Digby, his batman, was the man I saw myself as…’

In the early days, the Dan Dare strip was sent to Arthur C. Clarke to check that the sci-fi details were believable, but this arrangement lapsed when Clarke pointed out that the art studio was wasting its money on getting him to check it, the details were always authentic – so much so that an aeronautics engineer for RAF Farnborough asked for source material to help in the designs then of a space-suit!
From the beginning when the Reverend Marcus Morris approached Frank with the idea for a revolutionary boys’ comic of the highest calibre, Frank was inflamed with the ideals set. It was to have a morally uplifting tone, Christian in outlook, educational, and with artwork of superior craftsmanship. He set up a studio and hired associates and together with his father, Pop, Frank created Dan Dare.
A bust of Dan Dare, Southport, England

Almost every frame of the strip was sketched in rough first by Frank – he also wrote the storyline – and then photographs were taken of various team members to act as models for the finished strip drawings (Joan Porter, Greta Tomlinson, Robert Hampson, Harold Johns, Don Harley, Peter Hampson, and Eric Eden - Harley and Eden with Keith Watson were also artists on the strip). Most of the team members commented that even Frank’s rough sketches were good enough to be the finished article, but Frank was a perfectionist and this attitude often entailed the team working into the early hours of the morning to finish the strip: eight people to produce two pages of artwork may seem extravagant, but time has vindicated the approach – Frank was voted the best post-war writer and artist of strip cartoons in 1975 by an international jury of his peers.

This was in fact a long-overdue accolade, for prior to this he spent virtually fourteen years in the wilderness hiding from the fans that pursued him and suffering from a series of debilitating illnesses. He hid because he was deprived of the copyright to Dan Dare, his creation. Under the terms of his contract he was not allowed to draw Dan Dare after leaving. After completing the remarkable strip about Jesus, The Road to Courage in 1961, Frank left Eagle never to return.
My drawing, 1986

Eagle lasted from April 1950 until April 1969, 991 issues. It was reborn in 1982, though a pale reflection of itself, yet survived some 500 issues before its demise in 1994. Having just turned sixty in 1979, Frank was presented with his Open University BA, something he did to fill in the empty hours, though the studying of art was a lifetime love too. In July 1985, at the young age of sixty-six, he died.

Crompton’s book is very well illustrated, using pages from the old Eagles and studio photographs and sketches, plus glimpses of Hampson strips that were n ever taken up by Fleet Street. Dan Dare was a team effort, but the driving force was undoubtedly Frank Hampson. His treatment by Fleet Street, its accountants and editors, seems tragic, even if his personality and work methods didn’t suit them. This book, even now, is a must for anyone who remembers Eagle with a fond glint in the eye; it is useful to art students and comic enthusiasts alike, and is invaluable as an object lesson in the dangers of signing away copyright.
[Case in point: Jerry Siegel in 1975 launched a public-relations campaign to protest DC Comics’ treatment of Joe Shuster and himself, as in the early years they’d signed away their rights to Superman. Ultimately, Warner Communications, DC’s parent company, awarded Siegel and Shuster $20,000 a year each for the rest of their lives and guaranteed that all comics, TV episodes, films, and, later, video games starring Superman would be required to carry the credit that Superman was ‘created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’. The first issue with the restored credit was Superman #302 (August 1976)].



Thursday 21 November 2013

The shot heard round the world

The phrase ‘the shot heard round the world’ has a specific origin but since then has been used as a means to describe various incidents, from world-shattering events to sporting achievements, whether golf, baseball or even darts.

The phrase was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Concord Hymn of 1836 and it refers to the weapon discharge that signalled the beginning of the American War of Independence, referred to as the American Revolutionary War.
Oppressive government was beginning to wear down the colonials in thirteen colonies of British North America and the Massachusetts Colony was ripe for sedition in the spring of 1775. Conflict appeared inevitable and preparations by the Americans went on throughout the previous winter, producing arms and munitions and clandestinely training militia, including the minutemen. The Governor, General Gage, obtained secret knowledge of the preparations and decided to counter them by sending a force out of Boston to confiscate the weapons stored in the village of Concord and also capture the leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying at nearby Lexington.

The atmosphere in Boston was tense and the colonials set up a messaging system to pass on news of the advancing British troops. Paul Revere, a metal-worker, arranged for a signal to be sent by lantern from the steeple of North Church – which figures in that enjoyable film National Treasure. On the night of 18 April, 1775 the lantern alarm was sent and Paul Revere and William Dawes followed it by riding inland to spread the warning. In the pre-dawn light of the following day, the beating drums and peeling church bells summoned about seventy militiamen to the town green of Lexington. They lined up in battle formation as the redcoats approached through the morning fog.
My wife Jen and I visited here in July 1997...
Statue of a minuteman
A skirmish at Lexington during the British advance found the militia outnumbered and they fled. However, at the Old North Bridge that spanned the Concord River, five full companies of minutemen and five non-minutemen militia occupied the hill overlooking the access to the bridge while other supporters continued to stream in, eventually numbering about 500 against the combined force of the British Light Infantry companies totalling about 110 men.
North Bridge
The British broke ranks and fled, to be rescued by the reinforcements of the Second Duke of Northumberland. They then marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal. In the days following, the Siege of Boston would begin and the French would side with the Americans to help them win the war.

Emerson’s poem was written for the event of dedicating a memorial by the Old North Bridge and it runs:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard ‘round the world,
The foe long since in silence slept,
Alike the Conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deed redeem,
When like our sires our sons are gone.

Spirit! who made those freemen dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.

Naturally, the shot couldn’t be heard, he was using artistic license, but the repercussions of the first shot were indeed felt around the globe – even to this day. Nobody really knows whether a ‘farmer’ – militiaman – or a soldier of the British army fired the first shot of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Another shot that was heard round the world was that which assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June, 1914. His killers were Serbian nationalists. The Archduke was in Sarajevo to assert Austrian imperial authority over Bosnia, a Slavic territory.
Painting of the assassination of the Archduke
This assassination triggered the cascade of events that quickly produced war, though the causes of the war were multiple and complex. After the assassination, Austro-Hungary didn’t rush into any decision about a response but waited for three weeks while a large part of the army was on leave to help in the gathering of the harvest.

On 23 July, assured by unconditional support of the Germans if war broke out, Austro-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, and among the demands was that Austrian agents must be allowed to take part in the investigation, since they held Serbia responsible for the assassination. Amazingly, the Serbian Government accepted all the terms, except that of the participation of the Austrian agents in the inquiry, which it saw as a violation of its sovereignty. Austro-Hungary rejected the Serbian reply and broke diplomatic relations and declared war on Serbia on 28 July, proceeding to bombard Belgrade the following day.

This prompted Austro-Hungary and Russia to order the general mobilisation of their armies. The Germans, having pledged their support to Austro-Hungary, sent Russia an ultimatum to stop mobilisation within twelve hours.

On 1 August, the ultimatum having expired, the German ambassador to Russia formally declared war.

The next day, Germany occupied Luxembourg, as a preliminary step in the German’s Schlieffen Plan, which required Germany to attack France first and then Russia. Another ultimatum was delivered to Belgium, requesting free passage for the German army on the way to France. Don’t mind us, while we march through your land to invade your neighbour. Not surprisingly, the Belgians refused.

Almost at the eleventh hour, Kaiser Wilhelm II asked the German generals to cancel the invasion of France in the hope that this would keep Britain out of the war. Horrified by the prospect of the utter ruin of the Schlieffen Plan, the German military refused on the grounds that it would be impossible to change the rail schedule – typical...

On 3 August Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium the next day. Britain had vacillated over the growing storm clouds, partly due to the monarchy’s connections to the Kaiser, partly due to a reluctance to go to war when still unprepared. Nobody had listened to ‘warmonger’ Churchill. But the violation of Belgian neutrality - to which Prussia, France and Britain were all committed to guarantee - gave Britain little choice but to declare war on Germany on 4 August. Next year will mark 100 years since the beginning of the slaughter of millions of young men, the snuffing out of a generation.

The conflict of the First World War had a profound effect on society and nations and began the disintegration of the British Empire.

Thanks to radio and television, the shot that was actually heard round the world was the bullet that killed President John F Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November, 1963. Well, three shots are supposed to have been heard by witnesses. Kennedy was hit in the head and throat while being driven in a motorcade past the School Book Depository building. Governor Connally was also shot. Kennedy slumped in his wife Jackie’s arms and the limousine was driven at high speed to Parklands Hospital. He died thirty-five minutes after being shot. He was the fourth US president to be assassinated.
The image that is indelibly fixed

Besides changing the course of history, the Kennedy assassination spawned an amazing collection of conspiracy theories, among them: Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, the Mafia, the oil industry, anti-Castro groups, Castro supporters, Krushchev, Freemasons, Onassis and the Illuminati, the Corsican Mafia, the Israelis, Frank Sinatra, Soviet hard-liners and anti-Civil Rights agents in the CIA, many of which are quite fascinating even if totally untrue…



Wednesday 20 November 2013

Odd Shoes and Medals - reminiscences

Over a dozen years ago, my wife Jennifer and I made friends with Ronald Hudson and his wife Maria. They had a villa in Spain and we were intending to emigrate there. As time passed, I learned a little of Ron’s past – and it turned out to be quite remarkable. As a young lad he was fostered by about fourteen families. Although he was reminiscing about being a kid in the Second World War, his recall was clear. He always wanted to write his life story, but felt he wasn’t able to ‘get it down right’.
Ron and his sister Audrey

Some years after my wife Jen and I moved to Spain, I settled in to writing for magazines and began selling the occasional novel. Moderate successes. Enough to consider offering to ghost-write Ron’s story. We began in 2008. It would be intermittent, this project, because Ron only visited his villa in Spain a couple times a year, as he still worked (though well over state retirement age).

So for roughly two hours per visit, I typed while he dictated his memories. In the interim, he would jot down reminiscences as they occurred to him back in UK. Neither he nor Maria were adept at working on the manuscript on the computer, so there was no interplay or work via email.

I kept a record of our sessions. There were two in October 2008, two in 2009, three in 2010, and two in 2011. When I’d finally completed the manuscript, amounting to some 38,000 words, I sent it to UK for Ron to print off and read through. He also supplied a number of photographs.

Then it was time to find a publisher. As Ron was over eighty, we didn’t feel it was sensible to run the gauntlet of submission and rejection. He wanted to see his memoire in print. So I loaded it to Amazon’s Createspace and found the entire process hassle-free.

Where does the title come from?

Here’s an excerpt from the section, 'Earlier Ron', which explains the ‘odd shoes’:

School days were a mixture of pain and joy. I remember being pleased when the River Trent overflowed and flooded the streets and houses of Branston. I should have felt sorry for the people, but I guess, but I was too young to make that leap of empathy. They were in quite a pickle over it even though it was a fairly regular occurrence.
            Of an evening, Gran would say, ‘The drains outside are gurgling.’ This was her cue to put bread, milk and candles on the stairs as by morning the whole of the back room and at least two stair-treads would be under water.
            I was as pleased as Punch because I thought this meant no school!
Why didn’t I like school? It seemed like all boys and possibly most girls were always glad to get off school. Even so, there were some aspects that I did like, such as the company of my peers and eating the ‘fallers’ – apples in the ditch along the roadside of Homelake. School was filled with the constant embarrassments, the lack of any encouragement at home, the constant feeling of inferiority, I suppose.
            Back to the flood. Granddad put on his wellies and carried me on his back to a dry raised part of the street’s pavement. So, after all, I didn’t miss school because of the floods.
            Little did I realise those wellies were to be mine one day when my shoes wore out. Gran had tried her best, I suppose. At one time I’d worn odd shoes and attempted blacking the brown one to match. At least Wellingtons were hardwearing. Rain or shine, they were the only footwear I had, even if far too big for me. They rubbed the back of my knees until the skin was red raw. I rolled them up or down to relieve the pain of the chaffing. And holes kept appearing in the heels of my socks so I peeled them under my foot each day and inevitably the socks got shorter and didn’t protect my legs from the walls of the abrasive rubber wellies.
             I don’t understand why people have fetishes about rubber; my early memories are just plain horrible.
The medals were presented to him when he served in the Royal Navy, in the section titled, 'Later Ron'. The concluding part is called Ron the Gas, as his post-naval career was working with gas appliances, very possibly the oldest qualified gas fitter in the country.

Odd Shoes and Medals
Ron Hudson
Non-fiction from Manatee Books. “War broke out when I was eight. My short pants had holes in the backside, which was doubly embarrassing because I didn’t have any underwear and anyone could see my bum. So I used to walk sideways to school if any other kids or grown-ups came by. Miss Grafton, the teacher, let me stay at my desk during playtime to avoid embarrassing exposure. She liked me a lot and I used to take love letters for her to an American soldier. “

These reminiscences cover a span of over seventy years and will jog several memories and remind people that the so-called poverty of present times is nothing compared to the 1940s and 1950s.

Young Ron and his sister Audrey were shunted from one home to another, in excess of a dozen, ‘fostered’ by ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, and indeed for many years the pair of them didn’t know where the other sibling lived!  His absentee father barely gave him a thought – though he did present him with ill-fitting clogs, once…

Occasionally, he was shown kindness and, despite moments of great despair, he carried on and eventually joined the Royal Navy. Ironically, for the first time he found a place he could call his home: the navy. He travelled the world, saw the sights, and ‘learned a trade’. When he was demobbed prematurely by politicians, he embarked on a career in British Gas, and has a few amusing tales to tell about (nameless) customers! He set up his own business and became the oldest registered gas fitter in the country, until he retired at age eighty.

As told to Nik Morton

Paperback, 156 pages, 6x9ins
Amazon com here
* - 'wellies' - waterproof, rubber wellingtons