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Friday 31 October 2014

Saturday Story - 'Criminal Damage'

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Nik Morton

A Leon Cazador short story from Spanish Eye

Guardia Civil sirens wailed, coming closer.

Alfredo Benitez was slumped in the bulldozer’s cab, leaning over the controls. His huge shoulders shook as he wept.

The machine’s engine growled as I walked gingerly across the debris. ‘You’d better get down!’ I called above the noise. ‘They’ll be here in a minute!’

Raising his head, Alfredo nodded. Streaks of moisture had washed channels of anguish down his dust-covered cheeks. Switching off the engine, he surveyed the damage.

When the new urbanization was planned, it sent shock waves through the neighbouring town of Pozo de Abajo. Alfredo’s home had been in the Benitez family for over a hundred years. But history meant nothing to the grey suited men in the town hall. Josip Paz was the mayor and just happened to be the cousin of the builder awarded the contract. It was quite plain to all that he didn’t care what new laws were passed to appease the EU busybodies. By the time anyone did something about it, I suspected that Paz would be out of office and sunning himself on a Colombian beach.

Devious Pozo de Abajo town hall officials and their local builders had already carved up the land, disregarding the plight of the current inhabitants, who were Spanish, British and Norwegian.

Raquel Benitez was one of them. She was eighty-four, Alfredo’s sister. She still ran the household like her mother before her, though these days she allowed the use of a washing machine and a television, which never seemed to get switched off. Global warming was quite alien to Raquel. She was thin and short, about five feet nothing in her thin black canvas shoes, and her features were wizened. Whenever I visited, Raquel would laugh at some joke or memory; her laughter rose up from her stomach and gushed loudly past dentures she’d inherited from her father. This time when I called by, she was not laughing. She sat in the lounge in an ancient mahogany chair, her back upright. Raquel’s whole body suffered from a marked tremor, but this was her mind quaking, not the ground she had lived on all her years.

‘Leon, old friend, it is good to see you again,’ she said, rough hands gripping my big shovels between hers. Her eyes were almost colourless, yet I felt I could still glimpse a slight sparkle of the young beauty I’d seen in her photos on the sideboard.
‘You are well, I trust?’
She shook her head and let go. ‘I cannot sleep, I worry.’ She waved a hand at a letter on the dark wood mantelpiece, resting against the heirloom clock.
‘May I?’ I asked, picking it up.
She nodded. ‘Read it.’
The paragraphs were in Castilian and repeated in Valenciano. Not as flowery as many official letters.

‘Then tell me what we must do,’ she said.
A tall order, I thought, as I waded through the jargon. Thankfully, the Benitez home would not be requisitioned for the new urbanization, but the family would be required to contribute towards the infrastructure of the new dwellings. The figure stipulated was €200,000. The old English robber barons had nothing on these people. ‘What happens if you don’t have the money to pay?’

Her lips trembled and her eyes glistened. ‘Then they will take our house as payment.’
Valencia has a proud tradition, yet its politicians seem hell-bent on pulling the autonomous region through the mire. They complained about the fall in tourism and the slump in off-plan building, yet they were blinkered to the effects of the bad publicity caused by its diabolical land grab tactics.

It’s times like this when I despair of my fellow Spaniards. We’ve always shied away from authority, whether that was under the Moors, the Hapsburg and Bourbon kings or Napoleon. After years of dictatorship, we have a healthy detestation of anything that smacks of restriction or prohibition – constraints which hark back to those immoral fascist times. In a lot of ways, we have much in common with the English, and I should know, being half English: we don’t like being told what to do. I must admit, though, that my English friends seem more compliant of late, quite happy to divest themselves of many of their rights without protest or complaint.
‘Raquel,’ I said, ‘you must take legal representation. And consult Abusos Urbanisticos No! They’re taking the fight to these uncaring people. Laws are not meant to stamp on human rights. And you have every right to live in your family’s property – or be fairly compensated.’
‘Paz and his cronies are no better than those terrorists we hear about!’ Alfredo said, stooping to enter the lounge.
We shook hands and I eyed him grimly. ‘It will be a long – and perhaps expensive – process.’

‘I liked what you said about human rights, Leon. I think we should take our situation to the Court of Human Rights. I think that our homes are more important than some of the piffling cases they hear there!’
I nodded, tending to agree with him. Hurt pride in the office pales in comparison to loss of hearth and home.
‘Our neighbours, the Fusteras, will lose their house if the builders go ahead,’ Alfredo added, pacing the floor. ‘Can you believe it? The road-widening plan will make their house illegal because it will then be within the five-metre limit between property and a road!’
‘I’m no lawyer, but surely prior rights can’t be trodden on?’ It sickened my heart to see the stress in my friends.
Legal battles had begun, I knew, but the diggers had already started at the top of this valley. The marker posts and orange net fences were in place, delineating the area of the new buildings and roads. The intended road would pass behind the Benitez home, taking away many square metres of their property, without compensation.
‘I went to see the mayor in his nice new offices,’ Alfredo said. ‘After five minutes, I got words of regret and was dismissed. We stand in the way of progress, he says!’

Always, it seems, the main corrupting power in Spain is el ladrillo – the brick. Builders gain contracts and lucrative work thanks to the machinery of soborno – bribery. Still rife is nepotism, cronyism and of course mutual favours. Nothing new, there; while I’d been studying at Newcastle University, I heard about the T Dan Smith and Poulson cases of the 1970s. But here in Valencia it seemed more blatant.
Not all building firms, by any means. Alfredo was a builder, one of the many honest workers who had done wonders in our country. Ironically, one of his cousins was an architect and he’d been awarded a prestigious prize for designing a marvellous, functional yet attractive sports complex. The relatively few corrupt builders brought disrespect to the many, and it irked Alfredo.

All I could do was sympathise. Then I left them, knowing that the constant worry would gnaw at them, every hour of every day, every waking moment, and there would be plenty of those, for sleep would elude them until exhaustion took over. How I hated petty dictators who, without any thought or feeling about the consequences, ruined people’s lives with the stroke of a pen.

The damage resembled a war zone. Rubble and stone blocks were stacked in jagged heaps, while electric cables snaked everywhere. A water main gushed, capturing rainbows in the spray. Dust was only now settling. Alfredo stepped down from the bulldozer cab, gesturing. ‘He deserves worse than this.’

I nodded. Alfredo’s bulldozer had sliced Mayor Josip Paz’s large villa precisely in half.

At that moment the Mayor drew up in his limousine with his wife; she appeared distressed, while he was red-faced, moustache bristling. He was about to storm over to Alfredo and me when two Guardia cars and a van arrived and shut off their sirens.

As several Guardia stepped out of their vehicles, I recognised Lazaro, who worked for the fraud section. Staying by Alfredo’s side, I indicated the rubble on the left, where the study was laid bare. On the edge of the concrete floor, Lazaro examined a large safe, its door hanging off one hinge.

When Alfredo told me last night what he planned to do, I tried to dissuade him. Short of tying him up, it was impossible. He was determined to make a strong statement. So I broke into Mayor Paz’s council office, cracked his safe and identified all the shady deals he was involved in. I’d been surprised; like many of his kind, he’d become greedy. I took these documents and broke into the mayor’s villa and put them inside the safe in his study.
‘SeƱor Mayor,’ Lazaro called, ‘would you come over here, please.’ It was not a question. He knelt by the folder of papers. Incriminating papers.

Scowling, the mayor snapped at Alfredo, ‘I’ll see you in court, damn you!’ He crossed over the rubble. ‘You’ll be done for criminal damage!’
Criminal damage, I thought. Very much like that advocated by bureaucrats similar to him under the guise of official documents.

‘This is outrageous!’ Mayor Paz exclaimed as Lazaro arrested him. ‘You’ve planted these here! I left them in–’ He stopped, having already said too much.
‘See you in court!’ Alfredo called as he was escorted away to the Guardia van.


Originally published in The Levante Journal, 2008.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2013, 2014

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

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


FFB – Death is another life becomes Chill of the Shadow

I got fed up waiting for a publisher to grab this book, despite the good reviews, so have self-published it as a paperback and e-book under the title Chill of the Shadow. (amendment: 27/10/2017)

This time last year, I was trying to promote my vampire cross-genre thriller set in modern-day Malta, Death is Another Life.  It has been out-of-print since March this year, so maybe it qualifies as a Friday's forgotten book.  My hope is that, like the creatures of the night, it will rise from the grave of limbo and be born again by another publisher. I would retitle it Another Life and use Nik Morton this time around.

Wikipedia commons

If you’re interested, here are some excerpts:

I have also written the screenplay of the book, and though biased I feel it works very well; here is the opening sequence:

This piece was prompted by events in the news at the time, and is linked to another excerpt.  -  57 pageviews; lists a selection of favourable reviews too.

Happy Hallowe’en, 2014.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Blog Guest - Robin Moreton - historian and author of erotic thrillers

Today, my blog guest is Robin Moreton, the penname of the author of Assignment Kilimanjaro, an erotic thriller set in the First World War. A while ago it struck me that it might be a novel idea to interview other writing Mortons from time to time. My first interview was with Alison Morton in May this year and can be found here and I've downloaded her books Inceptio, Perfiditas, and Successio. Also, I’ve recently downloaded four books – Mrs Jones, Molly Brown, Wildewood Revenge, and Bedlam by B.A. Morton, who has a strong following. As far as I know, she is not a relative, either.

Q & A

Interesting to meet you, namesake!

Thanks for inviting me, Nik.

I’ve got several books by other Mortons; coincidentally one of them, Babs Morton comes from the north-east, my neck of the woods! Where do you hail from, Robin?

It’s a small world. Hampshire, England. I think my forebears come from the north of England, but it’s a long time ago since they moved south – I think it was just after the Jarrow marches…

Erotic fiction is almost respectable these days. As this is your first foray into fiction, having previously settled on writing history books, why were you drawn to erotic fiction?

Well, it’s partial fiction, in my view, since I’m rather the official narrator for Tilda Cuve-Banks. Tilda’s record of her exploits – or that may even be sexploits! – were acquired by my agent. She’s mysterious regarding the provenance of ‘the packages’, as she calls them. Anyway, my agent knew of my interest in the period, which is also the time that Tilda operated, and felt I could perhaps put a modern spin on the yarns. Tilda was certainly ahead of her time in many respects. It’s a myth that the Victorians and Edwardians were afraid of sex. In fact, many revelled in it, and particularly enjoyed writing and reading about it.

Tilda was a spy for the British. How many missions did she go on?

The current batch of papers give details of three – East Africa, the Balkans, and Turkey. My agent is being close-lipped regarding the possibility of any more ‘packages’…

So Kilimanjaro might not be a one-off?

That depends on the readers. If enough clamoured for more, I’d be happy to sift through those papers again and write a sequel. I have plenty of non-fiction projects to occupy me until that time arrives.

The story seems to show a strong affinity for Africa. Is this something you picked up from Tilda?
Partly. She has a wonderful turn of phrase, but some of her pages are merely notes and observations. I was already in love with Africa, actually. I was fortunate enough to visit the continent on several occasions. This fulfilled a long held ambition of mine, as I’d been brought up on a diet of the books by H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Me, too! Sorry, go on…
Well, I visited Mombasa, where some of Assignment Kilimanjaro is set, as well as Bahrain and South Africa. The continent does tend to get in your blood, in your heart. History fascinates me, naturally, and that’s why writing about it is my first love.
Even so, I’d always wanted to write a sexy adventure about a strong woman. You know, there were many brave and intrepid women explorers who defied convention in the 1800s and travelled the ‘dark continent’. These Tilda papers seemed like a dream come true. I was doubly pleased to be able to go back to the time of the First World War in east Africa, a neglected period.

Assignment Kilimanjaro is a heady mix of fact and fiction, it seems to me. How much is fact?

Often, I found that I had to extrapolate from Tilda’s notes at certain points. Yes, she definitely did meet the real historical characters that keep cropping up. Winston Churchill, the heroic Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, and spymaster Mansfield Smith-Cumming, for example. In that respect it’s a variation on the Flashman books, though Tilda is no coward – quite the opposite.

I like the realism you’ve injected. I must admit I tend to think of Tilda as reminiscent of Modesty Blaise.

Yes, only with much more sex. In some ways she resembles the wartime comic strip Jane, who always seemed to lose her clothes yet raise the morale of the troops…

Yes, I recall that some commentators said that the more clothes Jane lost, the more morale rose in the troops! What else have you written?

I’ve also written a non-Tilda erotic short story set in the American Civil War – ‘The Corporal’s Punishment’, published by Xcite Books. It's a play on words and is featured in a collection of erotic stories here by four other Xcite authors. My other works are academic, non-fiction, and written under a different penname.

Why use a penname?

While I’m not fazed by the nature of this type of book, it’s quite possible that in the academic field my reputation, such as it is, could unwittingly be affected. That’s why I haven’t provided you with an author photograph!
I would certainly caution any potential reader, that if you’re offended by graphic sex descriptions, then sorry, but this book isn’t for you. Not the best of sales pitches, I know, but I want to be up-front about that. Bad choice of words there, perhaps?
Not at all…
My publisher, Accent Press – under the imprint Xcite Books – is offering Assignment Kilimanjaro in a free iTunes offer for October, ending on the 31st . Amazon may also Price Match this offer. If you could promote this offer that would be great! All this week it has been in the top 20 on Amazon. Here is the iTunes link:

Thank you, Robin!




Chapter 1: A memorable flight

Lake Amboseli, British East Africa – February, 1915

‘You seem pleased to see me,’ she said. Good heavens, she thought, he certainly fills his khaki shorts! So the gentleman dresses on the right. ‘My name’s Tilda Cuve-Banks. What is yours?’

            ‘Hal Denby,’ he replied, the slight warm breeze ruffling his dark-brown hair and the short sleeves of his sweat-patched shirt. A careworn brown leather belt supported a sheathed knife, a belt of .45 ACP cartridges and a holstered pistol – it looked like a Colt M1911. His shorts came to a couple of inches above his knees. Nice, sturdy knees, too; his legs were deeply tanned and very muscular and covered in quite a few old scars. Socks round his ankles and tough worn boots ensured he could travel in any terrain.

Denby’s dark left eyebrow arched and his steel-grey eyes roved over her. ‘Is that Mrs Cuve-Banks, then?’ His quick darting eyes had noted her wedding ring.

She nodded her head. ‘Yes,’ she said but had no intention of explaining that Lord Quentin Banks, her young husband of four weeks, had died in the trenches. Even in these war-torn times, it usually felt safer if travelling as a married woman.

He smiled, the mouth thin and a little on the cruel side, she thought. Judging by the tumescence in the right leg of his shorts, he seemed to like what he saw.

            Tilda was as tall as he was, though high-heeled lace-up white kid boots aided her in this. She wore a long-sleeved white chiffon dress with a high collar, the bodice decorated with white beads. As she stood there, her bulging leather briefcase in one hand, her other hand clamping the white pith hat on her head, he could just distinguish the tanned flesh contours of her legs and arms as the light wind blew off the lake against her. Tilda’s dark auburn hair was tied in a chignon but already wisps had broken free and fluttered around her elegant neck and high cheekbones.

            He took her hand and shook it. His grip was firm, as was hers. He let go and turned to look at the biplane that bounced on the water of the rippling lake; its fuselage was tethered alongside a long thin jetty made up of wooden planks on sturdy thick piles of tree trunks. A man – probably the pilot – was tinkering in the front cockpit.

Denby frowned dubiously at the patched canvas and repaired struts and dangling rigging wires and gestured at the seaplane. ‘We seem to be fellow passengers,’ he said in an ominous tone.

            Ignoring his statement of the obvious, Tilda checked out her immediate surroundings.

Tied to the other side of the jetty was a small fishing boat. Four Africans were unloading wooden boxes of fish; she could smell them from here – men and fish. Behind her was a mud-spattered Ford box-truck, already half full with fish and other produce. Four mules were tethered beside the vehicle; the rich smell of manure and the perpetual buzz of flies also carried to her on the breeze.

The fishermen and farmers would get a fair price for the food, she knew. All to help the war effort against the Prussian Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.

As she hadn’t responded to Denby, he tried again: ‘Are you going all the way?’

‘I always do,’ she replied, her light blue eyes flashing suggestively as he jerked round and studied her.

Assignment Kilimanjaro (Xcite Books, an imprint of Accent Press)
from Amazon UK here 

from Amazon COM here
Note: Apparently, Robin started a blog for Tilda but hasn't had time to add to it; for what it's worth, it is here 


Monday 27 October 2014

Work in progress moves on apace


Amazing the number of word-repetitions - and I've been at this writing lark long enough to try to avoid them, but no, they still sneak in under the wire.  Thank heavens for Word's 'find'...!

I'm getting to the stage now where I need to print it off, have a final read. Because we all know that some errors don't present themselves until the pages have been printed.

Thanks for being there today, page-viewers. I do hope to restore normal service soon, but the deadline (among other commitments) is demanding my time.

Today, even while self-editing and checking word-repetition (lost a few words in this process), I still clocked up 237 additional words!

Sunday 26 October 2014

Work in progress progresses!

In the last three days I've written 4,116 words and have essentially completed the book, Catacomb. Now, it's time for the self-edit, catching the word repetitions - words such as 'smiled', 'nodded', 'laughed', 'grinned', for example.

I've done a spell-check.

But of course it will need a final read-through during which I may continue to tweak, and again spell-check, because beware of changes injecting erroneous words or typos.

Then my wife Jennifer will read and criticise it. Hopefully, she won't find too much wrong with it!

And then it has to succeed over the next hurdle, my publisher!

So, you'll appreciate why my blogging here has been slightly skewed.

Smile, nod, laugh...

Saturday 25 October 2014

Saturday Story - 'Final demand'

Wikipedia commons

Nik Morton

Nervously lowering himself from the stucco wall of his rich aunt's Georgian house, Jeff Grayson was suddenly startled by a familiar voice from the darkness.  "Visiting your relatives, Jeff?" Eric Hinton asked in an ironic tone as he stepped out from the shadows of a kerbside sycamore.
"She - she wasn't in..." Jeff stammered, trying to hide a small sports bag behind his anorak.

"What's that?"  Hinton snatched the bag.

Jeff's heart sank.

Hinton whistled, brown eyes bulging.  "Must be two hundred quid at least!  Her mattress must've been hellish lumpy!  Doesn't the Gas Company pay you enough?"

"Please," Jeff whispered, knees shaking.  "I'll repay her; I'm only borrowing it... I've got a dead-cert at Chepstow..."

"Still playing the gee-gees, eh?"  Surprisingly, Hinton handed back the money.  "Okay... But be careful, since it's not yours!"  He lifted a crush-proof pack to his mouth and his thin lips curled round a cigarette.  Lighting it, he strode off, chuckling.

The dead-cert should have been declared dead or as good as: it came in so late it almost won the next race.  Jeff still owed too much money to unsavoury people.  At least he was glad when the uproar of his aunt's burglary died down.  Until he had a visitor. 

Mrs Wycherly, his landlady, let Hinton in and showed him upstairs to Jeff's bedroom.

Surprised to see Hinton, Jeff stood at the door and gaped.
Hinton leaned against the door post and lit a cigarette.  "Pity about your aunt's holiday savings, eh?  You'd think people'd trust banks more, wouldn't you?"
Stomach churning, Jeff glanced guiltily at the head of stairs: "You - you won't turn me in - will you?"

"Don't worry!"  Hinton gently shoved Jeff inside and shut the door behind them.  "Let's keep this little conversation private, eh?  He twitched ash onto the carpet.  "Now I think we can be of mutual assistance."
Despite his shock at seeing Hinton here, Jeff was wary of his old associate's silvery tone; still, he was curious.  "How?"
"I've heard about your gambling debts, Jeff, my boy.  My little scheme could help you get out from under, know what I mean?"
"How?" Jeff croaked.
"Don't you print the bills for the company's customers?"
"Yes - but - "
"Is it easy to increase the demands?"
Jeff paled, realising what Hinton was suggesting.  "I - I've never thought about it..."

Hinton supplied the names and addresses of fifty customers - local pensioners, aged spinsters, widows, widowers and the infirm. 
Jeff was a frustrated computer programmer in the company's operations room.  He was able to circumvent various checks and controls to adjust the print alignment routine. 
This routine usually printed lots of x's on pre-printed and numbered computer stationery - the bills and statements - to permit the computer operators to line up the paper in the printer before the genuine details were printed; these alignment prints were destroyed by the operators and the inclusive pre-printed numbers declared void in the accounts schedule. 
Now the adjusted routine pulled in fifty client names who paid by cash, not through a budget scheme.  It produced 100%-increased bills among the alignment bills while the printing of the fifty statements were skipped.
The processing on the individuals' accounts was unaffected.  
Jeff enveloped and posted these bills himself.  Trying to adjust the accounts system package, to pay the extra direct into a bogus bank account was, he considered, too risky.
If anyone came into the office to complain or pay up then it would be attributed to a computer fault and profuse apologies made.
But the majority of recipients wouldn't be able to leave their homes or would await the red reminder before venturing to settle.
As a representative of GAS Co (General Altruistic Services Company), Hinton was already calling at these addresses, demanding half-payment per month. 
The actual bills were paid by cheques drawn on General Altruistic accompanied by a letter of explanation stating further correspondence was to be addressed to the Company PO Box.

In the second month of the new quarter they'd amassed a nice little profit.  But Jeff wasn't very comfortable with it; trouble was, now he'd dug himself in deeper.
Then the publicity broke concerning another Gas Company area, just a coincidence.

A 65-year-old widow had received a bill for £159 and was now under sedation.

A middle-aged cripple's inflated bill prompted him to write to the national papers deploring the inefficiency of computers.

Yet another case concerned a spinster who was now afraid to use her gas appliances.

All incidents were explained as being computer-errors or accounts department mistakes.

Jeff saw it as the end of the line.

Once customers lost faith in the Gas Company's computerised accounts, Hinton's demands would fall on deaf ears.  He chuckled at the irony: the fake bills wouldn't be believed!

"Let's pack it in while we're ahead," Jeff suggested.

Hinton's stubby nicotine-stained finger prodded Jeff's chest. "Listen, I told you before," he said adenoidally, "I've enough on you to put you inside..."

"But - "

"No buts."  Hinton shook his head.  "You don't know anything about me now... A phone-number's all you've got."  He sniffled, red nose submerged in a huge flannel handkerchief.  "Damned flu..."

From his glowing stub he lit another cigarette. "Just carry on printing those bills, and I'll carry on dragging round from door to door collecting extra cash!"  He sneezed and said in a martyred tone, "That's how I caught this flu!"

Returning to his digs, Jeff recalled with a smile that he'd sent his landlady, Mrs Wycherly, an extortionate bill, to clear suspicion from him.
Then, entering the parquet hall, he smelled gas.
Mrs Wycherly was sprawled in the kitchen, her head resting on a cushion inside the cooker: a human sacrifice to the bill in her limp bloodless hand.
Kneeling down, Jeff felt her neck like he'd seen in the movies and detected a faint pulse.

Hands trembling with guilt - this was his doing, his bill had scared her into suicide - he heaved her out the kitchen and upstairs - if she wakes up on the bed she mightn't remember her attempted suicide, he thought. 
Even though she was small and quite light he had to rest half-way up.
Flopping her onto the bed in the back bedroom, he forced open the sash windows and breathed in fresh air.  His legs wobbled weakly after the unaccustomed exertion.
Shivering in the night breeze, he grabbed Mrs Wycherly's arms and began artificial respiration.

Mrs Wycherly's desperate act convinced him: their greed was irresponsible and dangerous. How many old folk would be callously scared out of their wits by Hinton?

At last, satisfied she'd live, he phoned Hinton. "I'm quitting," he declared, and thought sod the consequences.
A sharp angry intake of breath at the other end. Then, finally: "Wait there!" Hinton demanded.

From his own upstairs front bay-window he watched Hinton dashing along the deserted street.  The roadside lamp provided a perfect view of the ajar door.
Panting on the threshold, Hinton pushed the door.
"No!"  Jeff's eyes widened in alarm. "No!" But Hinton couldn't hear him.  Jeff stared, transfixed by fear.  In his moment of shock he'd forgotten to turn off the gas - while he saved Mrs Wycherly's life his nostrils had become used to the faint smell up here.  But Hinton wouldn't notice the fumes because of his cold, and was striking a match to a dangling cigarette -
Jeff grabbed the window-frame as the floorboards shuddered under him. 
The explosion shook the whole building.  Lights went out. He caught a hazy impression of door, glass and Hinton bundling across the starkly illuminated street.
All three emergency services arrived in record time.
The blast demolished the hallway, kitchen and the front box bedroom adjacent to his own.
Surprisingly, at the rear of the house, Mrs Wycherly slept through the pandemonium.

"You might as well talk," Detective Inspector Stokes said, steely eyes glaring at Jeff in his multiple bandages.  At the private ward's door was an anxious nurse and a policeman in uniform.  "We've been checking on a number of pensioners' complaints over inflated gas-bills," Stokes continued, fanning himself with a tattered notebook.  "This was on Hinton's body and it clearly fingers you as the scheme's mastermind..."

Previously published in Costa TV Times, 2009.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

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

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


Thursday 23 October 2014

November release - The Prague Papers

Due out in November from Crooked Cat Publishing, the first psychic spy Tana Standish thriller, set in the Cold War, which Mr Putin seems intend on bringing back...

Czechoslovakia, 1975. Tana is a spy - and she’s psychic. Orphaned in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, she was adopted by a British naval officer and his wife. Now she works for the British Secret Intelligence Service. Czechoslovakia’s people are still kicking against the Soviet invasion. Tana was called in to restore morale and repair the underground network. But there’s a traitor at work.

And she learns about a secret Soviet complex, concealed in a colliery in the Sumava Mountains. Unknown to her there’s a top secret psychic establishment in Kazakhstan, where Yakunin, one of their gifted psychics, has detected her presence in Czechoslovakia. As he gets to know her, his loyalties are strained.

With her old flame Laco, Tana infiltrates the Sumava complex. When she’s captured, a desperate mission is mounted to either get her out or to silence her - before she breaks under interrogation.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Writing - Work in progress - Catacomb

Catacomb is the sequel to Catalyst which is due for publication from Crooked Cat in time for Christmas purchase.

Catalyst introduces Cat Vibrissae, who is out to get revenge on Loup Malefice, the Head of Cerberus Worldwide, the man responsible for the takeover of her father’s company. She is a trained chemist but has forsaken that career and become a successful model. During her first brush with Cerberus she crosses the path of Rick Barnes, an adviser in the Cerberus organization...


I've written 800 words today, which isn't bad, but not great. Approaching the action-packed denouement and setting up the storyline for the sequel. 

Then comes the self-edit stage, which entails, among other things:

Checking all those echo words, repeats.

Checking consistency.

Ensuring that the story and characters behave logically.

Making sure I can visualise each scene, because if I can't through my words, the reader certainly can't.

Is each scene written from a single character POV?

Decide where the chapter breaks will occur - ideally at high-tension or dramatic moments, and allocate appropriate chapter titles.

Write the first page or so of the sequel...

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Writing - competition - Words with Jam short story competition

Words with Jam is the ezine for writers and publishers and it's jam-packed with information, articles, interviews, humour and links.
You still have 10 days to send off your competition short story!
Categories comprise a 2500 word Short Story Category on any theme, a Shorter Story Category for stories up to 1000 words and a Shortest Story Category for stories up to 250 words.
Overall Prize Pot £1500
1st prize in each category - £300
2nd prize in each category - £100
3rd prize in each category - £50
5 runners up in each category will be published in our Short Story Anthology (of which they will receive a copy), and awarded £10. All winners and runners up will receive a printed copy of our Short Story Anthology (inclusion optional*).
Short Story Category - for stories up to 2500 words
Shorter Story Category - for stories up to 1000 words
Shortest Story Category - for stories up to 250 words
Closing Date 
31st October 2014
Entry fee
1 story - £6, 2 stories - £10, 3 stories - £14, each additional story - £4
Submission & rules
Go to:
All 1st, 2nd and 3rd place stories will be published in February 2015. 
Winners will each receive a printed copy.
Short Story Judge (up to 2500 words): Emma Darwin
Emma Darwin is a novelist and short story writer. She was born in London and brought up there, with interludes in Manhattan and Brussels. After an education which involved a lot of history, a lot of reading and a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts, she worked in academic publishing for a while. Despite being diverted into a photographic darkroom for a few years she wrote her way towards becoming a full-time writer. Her first novel The Mathematics of Love was published in 2006. It was short-and long-listed for various prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers' Best First Book, and translated into many languages. Her second novel, A Secret Alchemy, was published in November 2008 and reached the bestseller lists. Along the way she acquired first an MPhil and now a PhD in Creative Writing, enough novels in manuscript to prop up several table legs, and a Bridport and other prizes for her short stories. Emma is also an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing for the Open University, and a senior editor with Writer's Workshop, and has appeared at numerous literary festivals.
Shorter Story Judge (up to 1000 words): Sam Jordison
Sam Jordison is a hugely talented, bright, young writer. He was co-editor of the bestselling Crap Towns and the follow-up book - Crap Towns 2 - as well as writing four solo titles. He writes a regular books column for The Guardian, and is the founder of Galley Beggar Press.
Here's what Sam looks for in a short story:
What makes a short story stand out from all the others?
I wish I could answer this more sensibly, but the truth is that there is no formula. What makes a story stand out? Good writing. What is good writing? I wish I could tell you. I think there has to be a lot of craft. You have to know that each word is where it should be, and each sentence has been carefully thought out. But beyond that… The mysteries of art…
Two of your favourite short stories (famous or otherwise)?
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. Big Two Hearted River by Ernest Hemingway. They’re probably the best short stories I’ve read. Everyone who wants to write short stories should look at them, try to understand what he’s doing, and just as importantly, what he doesn’t do. Learn from them. But don’t imitate them. That wouldn’t work…
What are the two most common mistakes you see?
I don’t know if I can answer that. Everyone makes their own mistakes. Dialogue is possibly the hardest thing to get right. I also quite often advise people not to explain too much. They shouldn’t have to spell out the lesson in the story. The story should do that for itself, if it’s working… Generally. But, I’m always wary about laying down rules. Lots of the stories I like break them, after all…
Shortest Story Judge (max 250 words): Debbie Young
The English author, journalist and blogger Debbie Young has a special interest in short stories and flash fiction. Her short fiction has been published most recently in the National Flash Fiction Day's 2014 anthology Eating My Words and in its online journal FlashFlood, and in her own collection Quick Change (2014). She is also a reviewer for Vine Leaves Literary Journal which focuses on the vignette. Debbie is Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors' Self-publishing Advice Blog and co-author of its campaigning guidebook, Opening Up To Indie Authors and the author of the popular marketing handbook for indie authors, Sell Your Books! Debbie has an honours degree in English and Related Literature from the University of York, where she specialised in 19th and 20th century fiction. She now writes full-time. 

Monday 20 October 2014

Writing – Market – Sixpenny magazine

This new magazine is due to launch soon (Winter).

It’s looking for short stories and illustrations. As the editors say, “Long, long ago, there were magazines filled with illustrated stories. They created a market for writers and illustrators to hone their craft and make a living, and they gave readers a steady supply of stories they could truly enjoy. When these magazines began, some were called sixpenny magazines, because they cost a sixpence - affordable enough for just about everyone. But over time, all of these 'everyman' fiction magazines died. Luckily, while out in the woods one day, we found a single cell of a sixpenny magazine hidden away in a nugget of amber. Soon after, we discovered the emerging technology of the internet. Thanks to that little pocket computer called a mobile phone, people are reading again. We have decided that now is the time to bring back the SIXPENNY. 

“SIXPENNY is a digital magazine of illustrated short stories. Our stories will be classified as literary fiction, but they'll also be entertaining as a rule.  Each issue has six stories that take six minutes to read: three are by widely published authors, and three are by unpublished authors. We pay our writers and our illustrators. SIXPENNY exists to bring substance and real feeling to the in-between parts of your day.”

For Writers:
Pocket-sized stories. Literary fiction that keeps a reader engaged and excited from the first word to the last. Each story should be a six-minute read – 1,000 words, give or take (just a little). The six stories selected for each issue will be illustrated before publication in SIXPENNY.

How to Submit
The current reading period ends on October 31st.

Six stories will be selected for publication for the Winter launch. Stories can be submitted by clicking the ‘submit’ button on the website, which will take you to their submission engine Submittable. They will attempt to reply with feedback within two weeks after the end of the reading period. They will consider simultaneous submissions but would appreciate it if you would notify them promptly if your manuscript is chosen for publication elsewhere. Multiple submissions to SIXPENNY will be considered.

Payment and Copyright
You must own the rights if your story has been previously published. SIXPENNY acquires First Serial Rights for published stories. Copyright for any works published in SIXPENNY will revert to the author upon publication. “We will request, as part of our publication contract, your permission to feature in published works or excerpts on SIXPENNY’s website and in its advertising. We will also request permission to publish the stories accepted throughout the year in a yearly anthology.”

Writers will be paid $100 for each story published in SIXPENNY.

For Illustrators:
Please submit a portfolio by clicking the ‘submit’ button and follow the guidelines. If your portfolio is chosen, you will be included in their Illustrator Database, and they will contact you when they find a story for you. You will be paid $100 per illustrated story that is published in SIXPENNY. Each story typically needs 3 small illustrations.