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Thursday 31 July 2014

Writing - the recruitment scene in The Magnificent Mendozas

Here’s the promised excerpt from The Magnificent Mendozas. I'm not giving anything away - almost everything here can be gleaned from the book blurb. Descriptions of all the characters were given earlier in the book.

This is the important recruitment scene.

I hope you like it – and itch to find out what happened before and also find out how the story pans out. Notes of interest can be found at the end of the excerpt.

Diego is the circus owner; for the rest, I’ll repeat part of the blurb here, which might help: The gringo town of Conejos Blancos has just hosted the Mexican circus; no sooner do they move on to their next venue when Hart and over thirty desperadoes take over the town – and the adjacent silver mine! The sheriff is slaughtered and many of the citizens are held hostage.

            In desperation, two boys escape from the locked-down town.

            They recruit seven Mexican circus performers, the Magnificent Mendozas: the troupe comprises Mateo, the leader, and his wife Josefa, both expert knife-throwers; José, younger brother of Mateo, a trick rider who lusts after Josefa; Antonio Rivera, sharpshooter; Juan Suaréz, gymnast and trapeze artist with his companion Arcadia Mendoza, who is also expert with bow and arrow; and Ramon Mendoza, escapologist.


Josefa smiled down at the two boys where they sat on the edge of a narrow bed of furs in the capacious wagon, sipping mugs of coffee. Standing at the entrance flap, Mateo studied them also, stroking his pointed beard. Diego sat opposite them on another bed.

She laid a hand on the shoulder of the freckled lad. ‘Didn’t I see you in Conejos Blancos?’

Lowering his coffee mug, the boy said, ‘Yes, Ma’am. Name’s Emmett – Emmett Rosco– ’

‘The sheriff’s son,’ she said. ‘Yes, now I remember.’

‘I’m Gene, his best friend.’

Josefa studied them both, surprised at their appearance.

Diego growled, ‘Don’t you know you could be in deep trouble, sneaking in without paying?’

Looking glum, the pair nodded.

‘Leave them be, Diego, they’re doing no harm,’ Josefa said. ‘The show’s over.’

‘That may be so, but I’ve a good mind to send these two back to the sheriff. His father will know how to chastise him.’

Emmett’s lips quivered. Something was wrong; Josefa felt it in her bones.

Gene stood and moved protectively in front of Emmett, his face screwed-up. ‘Leave him be! His pa’s dead – murdered on Sunday!’

‘Oh, Madre de Dios.’ Her heart somersaulted and she knelt in front of Emmett. She grasped his shoulders gently. ‘Is this so?’
Tears rimmed his eyes as he nodded. ‘Yes… We escaped to get help – your help,’ he croaked.

‘Escaped?’ Diego echoed.

‘The town’s been taken over by a bunch of desperadoes,’ Emmett said in a quavering voice.

‘And they’re going to rob the mine!’ Gene added. ‘We’ve been walking all night!’

Josefa eyed Mateo. ‘That explains the state they’re in.’ She gestured at their muddy clothes, dirty faces, and tired eyes.
Emmett shrugged off her concern. ‘It doesn’t matter about us, Ma’am. They’ve taken everybody’s guns…’ Then, haltingly, he explained how the town was so swiftly taken over, mentioning the wounding of the doctor’s wife and the murder of the town drunk, Mr Watzman. Between them they enumerated the number of sentries and guards they’d spotted – sixteen plus five leaders. ‘We need your help, Ma’am.’ He delved into his pants pockets and brought out a weighty handkerchief bundle, opened it and displayed many coins. He held them out to her. ‘We can pay.’

‘Yes,’ said Gene. He looked at Emmett, seemingly at a loss to say more.

Emmett said, as though his words were rehearsed, ‘You’re all heroes. We’ve seen how good you are with so many weapons. And I – we – reckon you could whup the bad guys real good.’
Gene nodded vigorously. ‘Yeah, you’re handy with knives, guns and bow and arrows – sure, you could…’
Diego held up a hand. ‘Wait, that’s enough!’ He sighed, adjusted his tight-fitting vest. ‘I sympathise with your town’s plight.’ He pursed his lips. ‘And I’m sorry about the sheriff – I mean, your father… But I have a business to run.’ He was about to say more, it seemed, but stopped and stared at Josefa as she spoke.
‘Mateo, get the family together,’ she said.
Diego shook his head, his jowls wobbling. ‘No, Josefa, you can’t be serious about this.’
She offered him one of her smiles. ‘We’re just going to discuss it.’
A few minutes later, the rest of the Mendoza troupe crowded into the wagon.
Ramon said, ‘Mateo’s told us everything.’
Antonio eyed Emmett. ‘Is Naomi – I mean, Miss Gray – is she all right, son?’
Emmett evaded his piercing deep brown eyes. ‘I don’t know for sure, Mr Rivera, but I think so. She’s being held prisoner in the mine office with her pa.’
Josefa had never seen Antonio look so tense, so angry. He’d never seemed to care a fig for any woman before; he simply used them. But something now in his manner was different. Maybe he was a changed man.
‘I must go,’ Antonio said, casting his gaze on the others. The look was plain enough. Come with me.

Diego grunted in disgust. ‘How can you agree to help those gringos?’ he demanded.
José nodded. ‘We owe that town nothing!’
‘They beat up Ignacio,’ Juan argued.
Arcadia clung to Juan’s arm. ‘And our takings weren’t so hot, either.’
‘It wasn’t the whole town who attacked Ignacio,’ Josefa said, ‘just a couple of drunk miners.’
‘Josefa has a point,’ Ramon said, his tone reasonable. ‘We shouldn’t brand all gringos the same.’

‘Why not?’ snapped José. ‘They do exactly that to us!’
Arms akimbo, Juan said, ‘José is right. Why put ourselves in danger for gringos?’
‘Precisely!’ Diego shouted.
‘Then I will go alone!’ snapped Antonio.
‘No, you won’t,’ Josefa said. ‘I’ll go with you.’ She glanced at José and gleaned pleasure from his disapproval, his face twisting.
‘Where my wife goes, so must I,’ said Mateo, resting an arm on her shoulders.
‘This is ridiculous!’ José barked, glaring at Josefa.
‘You forget,’ Diego said, ‘you’re going up against desperate men – killers. You heard the boy, they’ve murdered two people, shot a woman… When was the last time any of you fired a weapon in anger or killed anyone?’
Ramon cleared his throat, pushed out his chest. ‘We’ve done our fair share of fighting, Diego – before we joined your circus. None of us might like it, but we’ve spilled blood in our defence and that of our loved ones...’
‘This is different!’ Diego snapped.
Mateo shrugged and stroked his moustache, studying Juan, Arcadia and José. ‘I recall my cousin telling me about seven gringos who helped his pueblo against many bandidos.’
Juan laughed. ‘That was just a story.’
‘No, it was true.’ Mateo pulled a gleaming knife from the sash round his waist. ‘Pepe showed me his bullet wound scars,’ He gently touched the blade point to his left arm, the bicep and the forearm. ‘Here and here.’ He jabbed his chest, below the heart. ‘And here… He was lucky to survive. Not all of the gringos survived.’
‘Precisely,’ Diego said again. ‘You would risk your life and the lives of your family – your entire troupe – for strangers?’
‘The two little gringos have offered us much.’
Diego guffawed. ‘Twenty dollars?’
‘Twenty two and forty cents!’ Gene corrected.
Smiling, Mateo returned the knife to his sash. ‘No, Diego, I do not speak of the money they have offered. It’s called faith. These boys have faith in us, my friend.’ He scanned the rest of them and one by one they nodded agreement. ‘Just so.’ Mateo smiled. ‘You go on, Diego. We will catch you up in Colorado Springs.’
‘This is utter foolishness.’ Diego shook his head and made his way to the exit flap. ‘You’re all crazy, but I will pray for you.’
Josefa smiled at the circus owner. He clearly wanted to be angry, but he couldn’t bring himself to be, and she understood this as she looked at the trusting faces of the two boys, Emmett and Gene. They melted all their hearts, she felt sure.
‘But I don’t know what I will do to replace the Magnificent Mendozas!’ Then Diego flung the flap aside and left.
Emmett stood up. ‘Ma’am, I thought all of the circus people would come back to help.’ 

Mateo chuckled. ‘Sorry, young man, but your rate of pay is not very enticing. You get seven of us – the Magnificent Mendozas. That should be enough.’
Eyes and mouth wide, Gene stared, then said, ‘Seven against twenty-one?’
Mateo nodded. ‘Three-to-one – not bad odds, I think. Your Texas Rangers would be comfortable with these odds, no? Besides, we will have the element of surprise.’

Notes of interest, perhaps.

1. In fact the odds are somewhat greater than three-to-one, but they don’t know that at this stage.

2. I’ve tried not to be too blatant with the allusion to the seven gringos who saved a Mexican village.

3. I’ve attempted to inject humour, pathos and the kindness of strangers.

4. Already implied in the book, José covets his brother’s wife, Josefa, hence the interchange here.
5. Antonio had developed an attachment to Naomi Gray, the mine owner's daughter, hence his concern here.

6. If this were a film, each speech would be short, perhaps no more than two or three lines; in fact, even in a book, the length of a speech should be broken up, to reflect real life. So that's what I've attempted here. The only potentially long speech is Emmett’s, but that is broken up by reported speech, briefly relating the events that the reader is already privy to.

7. Ideally, each character present should contribute to the dialogue or why is he or she there? The downside of that is that giving each character something to say or contribute means that there’s the strong risk of overdoing the use of ‘said’. In this scene I’ve tried to reduce the frequency by using actions tied to speech.

8. Bravery is down-played; no histrionics (well, just a little – ‘not bad odds’).


The Magnificent Mendozas is available now in hardback only.

From the book depository, post-free worldwide here
From Amazon UK here
From Amazon COM here

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Making of The Magnificent Mendozas

The story of The Magnificent Mendozas runs something like this:

Southern Colorado, 1879. The gringo town of Conejos Blancos has just hosted the Mexican circus; no sooner do they move on to their next venue when Hart and over thirty desperadoes take over the town – and the adjacent silver mine! The sheriff is slaughtered and many of the citizens are held hostage.

            In desperation, two boys escape from the locked-down town. They recruit seven Mexican circus performers, the Magnificent Mendozas: the troupe comprises Mateo, the leader, and his wife Josefa, both expert knife-throwers; José, younger brother of Mateo, a trick rider who lusts after Josefa; Antonio Rivera, sharpshooter; Juan Suaréz, gymnast and trapeze artist with his companion Arcadia Mendoza, who is also expert with bow and arrow; and Ramon Mendoza, escapologist. In order to penetrate the cordon of sentries and free the hostages, the troupe employs their many skills.

            Not everything runs smoothly, however. Soon, it’s a battle of wits between the Mendozas, Hart and his men and the townspeople. There’s betrayal, bravery and plenty of quick-fire action… and death on both sides.

If you read yesterday’s blog (Magic Seven), you might have a strong inkling how I was influenced to write this book.

A few years ago, I was intrigued by the Mexican government’s objection to how Mexicans were perceived in several western movies. So, I thought, why not turn the idea on its head?  Instead of gringos coming to Mexico, why not have some Mexicans helping out a gringo town?  Then I had to decide who these Mexicans were going to be. I didn’t want to slavishly copy the original western (though that was a copy, as we know, of a Japanese movie). So, I would not make the Mexicans gunfighters. Then, after I’d done a little research, it came to me in a blinding flash.

Many circuses toured the American West in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and several were Spanish or Mexican. Before I began writing The Magnificent Mendozas, I noticed a little film had been released and for an instant my heart sank. Was The Warrior’s Way (2010) going to ruin my storyline? Would I have to make adjustments to avoid copying? (Synchronicity in creative work crops up a lot, more than plagiarism, and that will make a blog one day, too!) The Warrior’s Way is a fantasy where East meets West and although it features a circus and fairground, it is happily nothing like my storyline: it is weird, colourful and quite spectacular, however.
So, now I had to knuckle down and create a circus troupe who would in effect be the magnificent seven. Like the movie characters, each would possess a skill that would prove useful. [I felt that the skills of the seven men in the movie were underplayed at the end, but that might have to do with the rushed script and filming as much as anything else.] That’s one of several unwritten laws about character creation – if your character has a skill, she or he should be seen to use it.

I enjoyed plotting the book, and writing it. I was a little daunted by the number of subsidiary characters (who had to be named), but noted that most genre films of this type would have a similar number in the cast. Here, I purposefully mention ‘films of this type’ while referring to this book, as it was my intention to write cinematically as much as possible, while still sticking to character point of view for particular scenes.

Initially, I wanted my seven to avoid killing since they were not hired gunmen though they had experience at killing in their past; a small departure from the shoot ‘em up perception of westerns. Inevitably, the action ramps up to a point where that becomes impossible and the killings do begin… At risk are not only the seven, but the townsfolk held hostage. And there will be deaths and loss on both sides, as the blurb promises…
Tomorrow, I’ll post an excerpt and continue with this analysis.

You can obtain a hardback copy of The Magnificent Mendozas

From the book depository, post-free worldwide here
From Amazon UK here
From Amazon COM here

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Magic Seven

Of all the numbers, seven is considered the most mystic or sacred.

Pythagorean considered four and three to be lucky numbers, and of course when added together they make seven. Among the Babylonians, Egyptians and other ancient peoples there were believed to be seven sacred planets, and this was espoused by old astrologers and alchemists, each planet having its own ‘heaven’ (and there’s the phrase ‘to be in seventh heaven’).

We don’t need reminding that there are seven days in creation, seven days in the week, seven virtues, (seven deadly sins!), seven divisions of the Lord’s Prayer, seven ages in the life of man.

Ancient teaching propounded that the soul of man, or his ‘inward holy body’ is compounded of seven properties which are under the influence of the seven planets. Fire animates, earth gives the sense of feeling, water gives speech, air gives taste, mist gives sight, flowers give hearing, the south wind gives smelling; so the seven senses were perceived to be animation, feeling, speech, taste, sight, hearing and smelling. [Not sure what the other three winds gave!]

The Seven is used to identify a group of seven people, such as the Seven Champions, the Seven against Thebes, the Seven Sages of Greece, and in modern times, Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.
The option rights of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic film Seven Samurai were bought by producer Lou Morheim for $250 in 1958, with a view to making an Old West version of the story. Morheim took the project to Anthony Quinn, then directing Yul Brynner in The Buccaneer. Quinn agreed to take the part of Chris, the chief gunfighter, and Brynner would debut as the director. However, UA persuaded Brynner to take the lead and Quinn a supporting role, but Quinn backed out acrimoniously. Brynner hired Martin Ritt to direct, but delays with the script meant that Ritt dropped out and in his place came John Sturgess.

The first version of the screenplay presented the Seven as ageing Civil War veterans, but it was then rewritten for younger characters. Several writers worked on the film before it was ready, though it was rushed as an actors’ strike was imminent.

The film was planned to be shot entirely in Mexico. However, the Mexican government still sourly recalled the less than favourable treatment of Mexican characters in Vera Cruz in 1954. They insisted that the script be amended so that the villagers initially attempted to buy guns rather than straight away hire gunmen, so they wouldn’t appear cowardly.

The studio wasn’t taken by the film, thinking it was slow and outdated and its release in 1960 didn’t set the world alight in the States. However, when it hit Europe, the box office returns told a different story. The studio revised the poster and re-released the film in a lot more US theatres. By the mid-60s, the film was so profitable, they wanted a sequel; there were three made in total: Return of the Seven (1966), Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), and Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972). And in the 1990s there was a TV series. Now there are rumblings that MGM will do a remake of The Magnificent Seven.
While you’re waiting for that, you might like to read the hardback The Magnificent Mendozas, which puts a different slant on the familiar tale.

From the book depository, post-free worldwide here
From Amazon UK here
From Amazon COM here

More tomorrow…

Monday 28 July 2014

Writing competition - first mystery novel

Writing competition - Best First Traditional Mystery Novel
Prize: $10,000.00. Entry fee: $0.00. Deadline: October 15, 2014

Minotaur Books and Malice Domestic, imprints of St. Martin's Press, are inviting mystery fiction writers to enter this year's Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

The judges will award a $10,000 standard publishing contract to the author who has written the best book-length story in the mystery genre.

Submission guidelines:

1. Submit one manuscript of over 65K words written in English.

2. The manuscript must be original, unpublished, and the work of the author.

3. The author must not have had a mystery book previously published.

4. Murder, mystery, and/or crime should be the core elements of the story.

5. The characters, both the innocent and the presumed guilty, should know one another. The suspects should display valid intentions and logical possibility to have executed the crime. The protagonist must be the "detective" who solves the crime.

The $10,000 prize is offered as an advance against royalty payments.

I can’t enter as I fail on guideline 3, but I wish everyone who is able to enter the best of luck!



'...a very entertaining read...'

We write genre fiction to entertain. If you want to send a message, then that's fine too, though Western Union might be more appropriate (as Sam Goldwyn reportedly said) – or, these days, maybe use Facebook or Twitter!

I’m pleased to say that a reviewer has been entertained by one of my books:

“With a strong mix of male, female, and child roles, and the dramatic rescue methods used, all told in Ross Morton’s very readable style, this book proved to be a very entertaining read.”

My latest western, The Magnificent Mendozas has received an advance review. Please ride on over to Steve Myall’s blog to read the full review; you won’t see this review on Amazon.


Thank you, Steve!

This hardback can be purchased at the book depository and despatched post-free anywhere in the world.

I'll be writing a little more about the book later this week.

Sunday 27 July 2014

'The crimes are appalling...'

A new review of  my romantic thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees  can be read in full here:

A few snippets can be found below:

Blood of the Dragon Trees is the first Nik Morton novel I’ve read. Based on this one, I can’t wait to read the other mystery/thrillers he has available. Set in Tenerife, a place I have visited several times, I hoped the author would be able to recreate the setting without giving it the feel of a travelogue. I needn’t have worried. His clear knowledge of the place enables him to put the reader on the island without overdoing the settings in the slightest.
The action is fast paced and the romantic elements don’t slow this down, rather they add another layer to the intrigue. For those who like to try to guess who the bad people are while reading (like me) there are plenty of artfully placed clues and misdirection, which only become obvious towards the end of the novel.

The crimes are appalling, the characters well drawn and credible, and the settings superb... Go and buy a copy. You won’t regret it.

Thank you, Frances di Plino, an author to watch.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Saturday Story - 'Tagged'

With the latest news about targeted radiation for breast cancer sufferers, it seems yet one more giant step will be made against this indiscriminate killer disease. In the beginning of June there was an encouraging report about a seemingly miraculous recovery from advanced melanoma after being treated with a new immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumah.

For some years it has been known that there’s a close relationship between the body’s immune system and cancer.  Recently, understanding has reached to the cellular and molecular level.

Cancerous tumours grow so vigorously because they’re able to switch off the auto-immune response that would normally combat unfamiliar cells found in the body. The tumour cells have a protein on their surface that binds with a compound on the surface of the cells that make up the advance guard of the immune system. The binding action turns off the defensive cells, allowing the tumour to flourish.

The new generation of drugs bind to those proteins on the tumour cells’ surface, stopping their interaction with the defensive cells. This enables the immune system to do its job and fight the cancer.

In effect, it is the body itself that can now fight the cancer. Professor Justin Stebbing, Consultant oncologist of London believes that in five years’ time immunotherapy will be the backbone of cancer treatment, rather than chemotherapy. It’s not a fix-all for every cancer, it seems; not the prayed-for magic bullet, and hopes should not be raised prematurely, but this research suggests that the fight against cancer will mean that thousands of sufferers will live longer and enjoy a high quality of life.

And maybe, ultimately, it’s all to do with our own bodies turning a switch. That’s a lengthy lead in to today’s short story, which was published in 2010 in the Costa TV Times 
PET scanner - Wikipedia commons(Jens Maus)



Nik Morton


Alex Santini wished he wasn’t claustrophobic. It’s not as if he hadn’t been here before, either. Very much like a tunnel, he supposed. Maybe there’s hope now, light at the end of the tunnel.

            I’m hungry, he thought, which isn’t surprising since I haven’t eaten in over six hours. Nerves, too, are having their effect. Mind over matter is the answer. Think thin. That’s one way to diet, though it probably doesn’t have a great deal of success.

            It was only forty-five minutes ago - seems like ages - when Nurse Baker led him into the special preparation room. A radioactive substance created in a cyclotron was tagged to some glucose and injected into his bloodstream. She reassured him: ‘The intravenous injection’s just a slight pin-prick, Mr Santini, nothing to worry about.’

            ‘Fine. I’m not worried,’ he replied. In truth, worrying never cured anyone. Surgeons did, sometimes. Self-belief might. Faith often did.

            Odd, knowing it’s coursing through your body, yet not feeling the radioactive substance. Will I glow in the dark? The radioactivity is supposed to be short-lived, so maybe not. Afterwards, he was supposed to drink lots of fluid to flush out the radioactivity. He speculated about his radioactive liquid waste - would it mutate the rats in the sewer system?

            The injection was the easy bit, even though he didn’t like needles.

It’s the claustrophobia that he was really worried about.

            The PET scanner looked like something out of a science fiction film, similar to a large doughnut. Doctor Richards told him all about it in an effort at calming his anxieties.

            The Positron Emission Tomography scanner was made up of multiple rings of detectors that record the emission of energy from the radioactive substance in his body.

            The cushioned examination table was comfortable enough, just like last time. Then he started to sweat as it slid into the hole in the doughnut. Although he couldn’t see them, he knew that images were being displayed on the computer monitor as he lay there. Pictures of my brain, he thought.

            But was the tumour still there?

            This was the final test.

Three months ago, they’d run a PET scan and found the small abnormal shape, about the size of the hole in a doughnut. The cause of his headaches.

            ‘Sorry, Mr Santini,’ the Doctor Richards had said, ‘but due to the site of the tumour, it’s inoperable.’

            The fact of a tumour was bad enough, but to be told it couldn’t be removed was devastating. Alex’s head really ached then. They wouldn’t say how long he’d got. He could understand that. They could raise false hope or create premature despair if they were mistaken. When he got home, he radically changed his diet and drank lots of carrot juice. Over a few weeks, he purged all the toxins he’d fed into his body from coffee, tea and alcohol. Thoughts about closing stable doors crossed his mind but he dismissed them. He didn’t keep horses, anyway.

            Then for six weeks Alex meditated, picturing the unwanted cells that had gone astray, visualising the tumour shrinking, not growing and not spreading. Eating itself.

            The body is a remarkable creation, Alex thought, which is taken for granted until it malfunctions. It deserves to be taken care of, looked after. A balance, between the psychic and the physical aspects. A bit late in the day, he realised, but he devoutly believed that.

Now, as he waited for Doctor Richards to come out of his office with his diagnosis, Alex sat calmly sipping water from a bone china cup.

            The door opened and the doctor came through, a frown on his face.

Think positive, Alex told himself. ‘Well, doctor, is the tumour worse or not?’

            ‘What tumour, Mr Santini?’

            ‘Pardon?’ Alex said.

Doctor Richards shook his head. ‘Our PET and CT scans have diagnosed thousands of patients and we’ve helped almost all of them, saving their lives. You’re the first I’ve known where the tumour has simply gone away.’

            A massive wave of relief surged through Alex. ‘But you did save my life, doctor. If your PET machine hadn’t detected the tumour, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.’

            ‘Deal with it?’ Doctor Richards held his head to one side. ‘I don’t understand.’

            ‘I believe in mind over matter, doctor. Let’s be honest, we know that we only use a fraction of our brainpower. Just think, if we could utilise the unused portion, who knows what we’d be capable of accomplishing?’


Alex held up a hand to stall the doctor’s objections. ‘I know it isn’t taken seriously by scientists, but you have to agree that I’m living proof now that it can work.’ He smiled. ‘In fact, you could say that it’s become my pet project.’


Note: Since then it has been revealed that the urban myth that we only use 10% of our brains is a falsehood. That figure was probably plucked out of the air by early psychologists and subsequently made famous by Dale Carnegie’s 1936 self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It has been perpetuated by the self-improvement industry, since we all like to think we can better ourselves by expanding our minds. – Sources: Daily Mail/Barbara Sahaklan, Professor of clinical neuropsychology, University of Cambridge, and Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton University. Even so, individuals have been spontaneously cured of cancer and other ailments; maybe that’s positive thinking or mind over matter…


Tagged (above), copyright 2014, Nik Morton

My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.


Friday 25 July 2014

FFB - The Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 24 July 2014

Writing tip - hidden gender/identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Writing market - Tingle those spines!

Burne-Jones - le vampire - Wikipedia commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday 22 July 2014

Words writers invented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 20 July 2014

‘Physically and emotionally travelled with the characters…’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos for a job well done!


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

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