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Sunday 31 May 2015

Writing – market – ‘good stories, well told needed’

Gafencu Men is a fascinating English-language magazine for men based in Hong Kong. They print a short story in every issue. They’re looking for ‘strong, engaging characters, plots (especially with a twist) and interesting settings.’ Asian locations will be of interest, although they’re not obligatory. Thrillers, crime genre or literary fiction; in short, any genre as long as it’s a good story well told.

First serial rights offered, so the story shouldn’t have appeared anywhere before.

Word-count – around 1,800 to 2,000.

Payment – negotiated but around US$260 per story.

Response time – editors only respond if positive; if you haven’t heard from them in 3 months, then it’s a ‘no thanks’ which doesn’t necessarily reflect on the story but maybe its suitability at the time…

See their website – and the magazine – for clues to inspire your story – here:






Saturday 30 May 2015

Saturday Story - 'Not so bare after all'


Nik Morton
Moses stepped forward hesitantly, baseball cap in hand. His T-shirt proclaimed he was a student of Yale when he was merely a student of life, old before his time. Twelve next month, he was cunning yet with a streak of honesty running through him. Careful not to let her feelings for individuals cloud her treatment of all her people, Sister Hannah still loved him.

            In the crown of his cap were four dirty scrunched-up dollar bills.

            "Where'd you get these, Moses?"

            "Holy shi - ah, sorry, Sister - I did a good deed, downtown. This lady, her Chevy was bein' hitched to a tow-truck. Real upset she was, pregnant an' all. Well, I heard some bystanders sympathisin' with her, so I took my hat round, paid her on-the-spot fine straight off afore they could tow her auto away."

            "But if you paid off the fine - "

            "This is half of what's left over - "

            "And the other half?"

            His dark eyes crinkled. "The bystanders, they said she could keep the rest. But she insisted I took half. Nobody seemed t' object. Strange, really, ever'body seemed to feel good, giving away their dough to help th' lady. If'n I'd cut a purse or two, they'd've had th' opposite feelin' for sure, more'n like ready to lynch me outright!"

            "More'n like, Moses." She took the grubby notes. "Thank you,"

            He grinned, revealing a missing tooth.

            The mischievous grin had not always been there. When he came into the hostel he'd been morose.

            She gradually brought him round and Moses became invaluable; he was a useful go-between for the hostel and the street-smart neighbours. He did not join a gang, but was on fairly good terms with more than one.

            Months ago, as she finished praying in the chapel just off the entrance foyer, she rose to see him in the doorway.

            Rather sheepishly, he was holding a golden candle-stick.

            "Where did you get that, Moses?"

            "Does it matter, Sister?"

            "Yes," she said, pursing her lips.

            "Well, it sort of fell out the door of St Dominic's..."

            Sister Hannah groaned. "You can't just take - "

            "But the chapel's so bare, Sister! Holy shit, they're a rich church, they won't miss one lousy - "

            "Pretty adornments don't matter, Moses. It's the feelings inside that count..." Her eyes glistened; he meant well, for God's sake! "What am I going to do with you?" she asked, embracing him.

            Later, she telephoned St Dominic's. They were surprisingly understanding. The candle-stick stayed.


Sunset slanted red rays through the chapel's high narrow window above the altar, lending the crucified Christ a sanguinary appearance. Sister Hannah rose, prayers completed. She gathered her skirts just as the hostel's front doors clattered noisily open.

            Swearing and shouting echoed in the entranceway.

            Her heart sank as she opened the chapel door.

            Four youths, attired in leisure-ware patterned with violent-looking transfers, stood in the hallway. In the arms of the tallest of the gang was Moses. Blood dribbled down the boy's outflung inner arm onto the foyer tiles.

            She gulped in air, fought down the anxiety and shock. "What happened?"

            "He asked to be brung here, Sister." The tall leader held the lad out to her as if he were a bundle of clothes. He couldn't be more than fifteen; over his shoulder was slung an automatic rifle; one of the others carried an Uzzi machine pistol.

            She said austerely, "If you intend staying, leave your guns in Mario's office there..." And she stepped forward, arms outstretched.

            Bracing herself for the weight, she took Moses in her arms, surprised at how light he was. She repeated, "What happened?"

            "Moses was hit in the gang crossfire. Guy in a pickup shot him - didn't hang around for autographs..."

            She carried Moses through the chapel door. He was already a deathly grey pallor.

            Sister Theresa rushed down the stairs, alarmed. "I heard the - " She paled at sight of the youths, and of Moses's blood staining Sister Hannah's clothes.

            "Don't worry, Sister Theresa, they mean no harm, they're friends of Moses. Now, go to the sickbay, call an ambulance and bring some dressings and pain-killers."

            Nodding, the nun rushed through the double doors.

            The youths stood awkwardly in the chapel's doorway; they'd relinquished their weapons. She said over her shoulder, "Come in, sit at the back, the religion won't bite you..."

            As she stopped in front of the altar with its single candle-stick, the candle poignantly guttering, fighting for air, their chairs scraped on the floor.

            She knelt with him cradled in her arms.

            Moses opened his eyes, winced as frothy blood ran out the corner of his mouth. "Holy - shi - Sister," he coughed, "I'm sorry!"

            "Sh, don't talk - "

            He painfully coughed up blood onto her clothes. "Sister, I'm sorry t' make a mess an' all..." Each spasm sent knives into her.

            "God won't really mind me cussin', will he, Sister?"

            "No, Moses. Hell, no," and she forced a smile.

            Sister Theresa rushed in, then, realising where she was, slowed her pace to a hurried decorous walk and knelt beside them. Sister Hannah shook her head to the offered bandages. Sister Theresa bit her lip, rested the medication in her lap, and couldn't stop blinking.

            Moses smiled, weakly. "I'm dyin', ain't I?"

            "Yes. The good die young." Like so many clichés, it held a grain of universal truth.

            "Exceptin' for you, Sister - 'ceptin' you..."

            Through a sudden skein of gauze across her vision she could see that for the first time he noticed where they were; "You know, Sister, it's not so bare in here, after all... I can feel - "

            She commended his soul to heaven and closed his staring, empty eyes; eyes that had been so full of mischief, so insolent yet generous, so alive...

            Sister Theresa sobbed uncontrollably; the youths mumbled something about only a bit of a lad and shuffled out.

            The paramedics arrived but she hardly noticed.


Previously published in TV Choice, 2013
Copyright Nik Morton, 2015

I’m never comfortable writing in vernacular, as I reckon it’ll never be correct.
I’ve left this as it appeared in the magazine, for what it’s worth;
perhaps the motto should be: avoid vernacular like the plague!
This is a short story from St Anselm’s Hostel for the Homeless, Charleston, South Carolina, which is run by an order of nuns, presided over by Sister Hannah. Two out-of-print novellas feature Sister Hannah – A Sign of Grace and Silenced in Darkness.

Sister Hannah was my first incarnation of the nun who used to be a cop. I transposed the stories from New York and Charleston to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and London and renamed the main character Sister Rose, and the novel was published as Pain Wears No Mask (out of print).

If you’d like to see more of my short stories, please consider the collection, 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.

Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):

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

Friday 29 May 2015

FFB - Ebola

William T Close, MD, wrote Ebola in 1995 in response to the second major outbreak of the deadly disease in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), affecting 315 and killing 254. Close’s book is a documentary novel about the outbreak in Zaire in 1976. The book concerns the Belgian nuns (the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary), priests (Fathers of Scheut) and African staff of the Yambuku mission hospital. At the time of this outbreak, Close was in his last three months in the Republic, having spent sixteen years as a physician and surgeon to the Zairians and their president. So his voice is an authoritative one as he narrates from an omniscient point of view.

Sister Augustina is the Mother Superior of the mission, however the main character is Sister Veronica, or Vero as she’s called. She is full of energy, drives her Vespa scooter between villages, doing good work. Though the country is ravaged by the greed and corruption of the privileged handful around the president, a few missionary schools and hospitals like Yambuku continued to function effectively.

There’s insight into the Zairian village culture, too. ‘When the old died, they moved to the village of the ancestors and were served by the living… Infants who died before undergoing initiation ceremonies that made them full members of the clan went into limbo and were forgotten. Such losses were difficult, but other children could be created. Far more devastating was the death of a young man or a young woman in their most productive and energetic years. Those deaths were a threat to the survival of the family. Their lives had not yet been filled by experience. Those who died before they had played their part in the perpetuation of the clan could be denied a place with the ancestors.’

The medicine man or native healer was the conduit to the ancestors and sought advice from them.

The priest, Father Gérard believed there was ‘nothing as simple or as stubborn as a Flemish nun.’ Close’s book lends the lie to that statement: he truly looks into the hearts of the valiant nuns as the insular world they inhabit crumbles.

Father Dubonnet is another priest, often spouting pithy observations: ‘We are all a little different after we have lived in Africa for a while.’ Which seems true, if you listen to anyone who has lived in that diverse continent.

A late arrival is Dr Aaron Hoffman, an expert on tropical disease; He reminisced about his time in Africa, not long before he was called back to assist in the outbreak at Yambuku: ‘… slow-flowing, mud-coloured streams and naked kids jumping up and down, family groups sitting outside wattle huts, bright cotton prints drying on thatched roofs, small log spokes around a fire, sweet-smelling smoke curling up and fading into blue sky, muscular clouds flexing and writhing before the evening storm. He could smell the hot earth and hear the whine of mosquitoes, the barks of dogs, the clucking of scrawny chickens around the manioc bushed scratching for grubs, and the laughter of children – happy, round faced and round bellied…’
Hoffman, a lapsed Jew, questioned why God did not intervene when disasters claimed so many innocent lives. In response, the Mother Superior stated: ‘Dogma controls through fear; spirituality through love. God gives each of us the freedom to choose how we behave in the face of nature’s disasters or even our own defeats.’ We have freedom to choose – and missionaries and nurses like these depicted – western and African – literally risk their lives to help their fellows. Despite their religious calling, Close does not dwell on religion. It’s the people that he’s interested in – those who die, those who succumb yet survive and those who win through though at great cost. Indeed, Close has captured the humour and character of the nuns and the priests. Sister Augustina says of Veronica, ‘Although you have added to my grey hairs, your vitality has helped sustain me… In an exhausting sort of way.’

At the deathbed of a nun who has so many ‘sins’ to confess, Dubonnet says, ‘I will give you a general absolution that will cover the big sins and all the little ones.’

This is far from a western- or white-centric novel. The character of Masangaya, who ran the mission hospital, is developed like all the others, with compassion and dedication beaming through. The various villagers and the medicine man are treated with great empathy as they suffer.

Reading this, knowing that death’s pall would fall upon them, I found the book to be suspenseful, making me wonder who would survive. And of course at this time they didn’t even have a name for the disease (it was eventually named after the nearby river, Ebola). Certainly, the spectre of death, as one after another patient was claimed, caused concern and fear in the whole area, aided by superstition: ‘He is afraid because he has a wife and children,’ says Sister Théofila of a clinic doctor who refused to enter the hospital.
On several levels this is a good novel: suspenseful, heart-rending, yet clinical and terrifying in its authenticity. And the characters seem alive and you feel for them in their bewilderment. As you may have already glimpsed from the few excerpts, the writing is eloquent and often beautiful; the opposite of the disease itself.

Between 1976 and 2013 there have been 24 outbreaks involving 1,716 cases, according to the WHO. What seems appalling is that the latest outbreak in West Africa has over 27,000 cases and in excess of 11,000 deaths. Prior to this latest outbreak, no specific treatment or vaccine for the virus was available; some opinion has debated that perhaps the giant pharmaceutical firms didn’t see any money in developing one.
TV: BBC2 – Monday, 1 June – Outbreak – the truth about Ebola. This is a documentary examining the response to the epidemic, looking at why it was not stopped earlier.
William T. Close is the father of actress Glenn Close. He died in 2009, aged 84.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Critic’s Strange dislike of Magic show

I’m halfway through reading Susanna Clarke’s debut tome, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004) and I find that there are many things to enjoy in this book, so far. I’ll write a review when I’ve finished it. 

I had intended reading the book before the TV series, but have fallen behind due to other demands on my time. As it happens, due to other commitments I’d miss at least two of the seven episodes anyway, so I will settle for watching the DVD in the future.

Strange & Norrell - Bertie Carvel & Eddie Marsan
Briefly, the story begins in 1806 in an alternative universe, where Magic is real, though none has been reported in England for 300 years. There are plenty of theoretical magicians who study books and even write them, but no physical practitioners – that is, until Mr Norrell decides to step forward and use magic to help his country against Napoleon.

The Daily Mail’s TV reviewer Christopher Stevens has savaged the first two episodes of the series. In his first review, two column inches of ten bemoaned the fact that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell wasn’t Poldark – ‘no damsels with heaving bosoms.’ The title of the review gives it away, I suppose – ‘I was hoping for TV magic… but got a Harry Potter rip-off.’ I know, the columnists don’t always write the title that appears in the newspaper. But that’s what Mr Stevens says in his text. He calls Susanna Clarke’s book a ‘mishmash of folklore and historical fantasy… a J.K. Rowling rip-off.’ The second review referred to ‘turgid dialogue’ from the book.

I’ve encountered this attitude before. Critics bring their own expectations to a piece of work – whether book or film – and then rail against the piece because it didn’t meet those expectations. That’s just misguided reviewing, in my opinion. The only similarity between Poldark and Norrell is that they both take place during the Napoleonic wars – the former is historical fiction while the latter is fantasy fiction.

What is unforgiveable in these two reviews are the comments about a book Mr Stevens clearly hasn’t read. The only two similarities between Potter and Norrell are that they involve magic and are published by Bloomsbury. Clarke began work on Norrell in the early 1990s, and spent ten years working on it – and the depth of knowledge and research shows.

Sometimes I’ve read a review of a book or film and wondered if I’d read or watched the same work, since the reviewer seemed to come away with such a different conception. Not everyone will like everything; that stands to reason. We're all entitled to our opinion - though I'd like to think that meant 'informed opinion'. But if a critic is to employ reason, then they should be reasonable in their statements. Throwing around an accusation of ‘rip-off’ is far from reasonable.

Attempting to bring to the screen a 1,000-page book can’t be easy, especially when there are about 200 footnotes! Steve Kloves (and Michael Goldenberg) did remarkably well with the Harry Potter scripts, particularly the longer books; Norrell’s scriptwriter Peter Harness has managed to harness (sic) much of the original book, though inevitably Clarke’s pastiche treatment and wit are not so evident, but the episodes don’t suffer for that.

Ignore the critic and enjoy the TV series for what it is: a laudable translation to screen from a fantastic work of original fiction.
Note: Susanna Clarke is working on a new book; however, you can read a collection of her short stories set in the same alternate universe, featuring some characters from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The book has just been released: The Ladies of Grace Adieu - the title of the story that started it all, really...

Sunday 24 May 2015

Hi Atus

Sorry, there's been a little bit of a hiatus - I was not able to post Friday's forgotten book - I didn't forget, honest, and Saturday's short story was missed out, but that's another story. Sunday, today, day of rest, I should have been able to post something, but alas, time in front of the computer is at a bare minimum.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. There are some more writing market announcements to make, and writing tips, once I've been to the local tip with garden rubbish - or is that the rubbish I wrote yesterday?

Thanks to all those readers who are reading my earlier posts.

Only four and a half thousand words to go for the latest work in progress, the third in the 'Avenging Cat' series. Then I must self-edit, naturally. Still, progress is being made.


Thursday 21 May 2015

Glen Orbik - R.I.P.

Readers of Hard Case Crime will be familiar with the artist Glen Orbik. His output was outstanding, much of it harking back to the old pulp and noir covers of yesteryear. He died on 11 May, aged 52, too young to go. 

You can appreciate his work at his website here

My thanks to Paul Bishop for drawing my attention to this ‘In Memoriam’ article which features twenty covers by Orbik plus links to his artwork:

Here are some of his book covers I’ve scanned from my library:


Wednesday 20 May 2015

Displaced Nation

Wikipedia commons - full sunburst over the earth

No, I’m not writing an apocalyptic sci-fi story about a country cast adrift amidst the Islets of Langerhans… This post is about an interesting blog relating to expats with a creative bent.

I’ve been an expat writer for 11 years, ever since my wife and I left England for the Costa Blanca. The beauty of being a freelance writer is that the work can be done almost anywhere and at any time. Naturally, there may be commitments, deadlines occasionally – but they’re self-imposed. Nobody tells me to write. I do it because I am driven to write.

The popular image of expat writers is probably an author sitting on a balcony with the sun blazing, the sky a brilliant azure, the garden a riot of colour, the typewriter clacking away next to the tray of drinks… The truth is more prosaic: working at a computer keyboard indoors, perhaps with an infrequent stroll in the garden to avoid DVT; and of course alcohol and creativity don’t mix too well, either.

Expat writers the world over can and do gain insight into their adopted countries, using the once-removed perspective of an outsider looking in. And their writing can be most enlightening.

Which brings me to a fascinating blog entitled The Displaced Nation. Its sub-title is ‘A home for International Creatives’. In its first four years of existence it has built up an impressive array of features, interviews, and columns.  One of these is the location-locution column:

Browse through the earlier interviews and you’ll be transported to far-flung places – China, Germany, and Switzerland for example. They’re the expat writers, scribes with wanderlust, but you can also read about artists and photographers in another column. In fact, there’s plenty here to grab your attention for quite a while; take a look.



Monday 18 May 2015

Walking the streets in dread

Last August, a woman attacked a man she didn’t know with a broken glass in a pub. Tiny shards were removed from the left eye of her victim, who feared he would lose his sight. All praise to the medical staff who avoided that. The culprit was sentenced – 80 hours’ community service. Oh, and this was the culprit’s eighteenth conviction for crimes of assault and battery, described by the judge as ‘a breath-taking record of violence.’ Yet she still didn’t receive a custodial sentence. The culprit was ordered to pay the victim £1,000 compensation.

Walking the streets in dread are countless victims who have suffered trauma at the hands of unrepentant thugs who seem to be indulged at extraordinary lengths by the justice system.

It is no wonder that stories about vigilantes strike a chord with readers. 

Here’s an excerpt from Sudden Vengeance, pp95/96:

The Vigilante – Right Or Wrong?

The vigilante is not new in this country. They were around long before Robin Hood. We know why people turn to vigilantism: they see their world falling prey to anarchy; they feel the establishment cannot hold back the tide of evil. The forces of law and order will say that people cannot take the law into their own hands, for that way truly lies anarchy. Yet those who espouse the vigilante’s cause might argue that since the law enforcers are incapable of applying the law sensibly, then someone else must do it.

 But what drives this latest manifestation? What motivates The Black Knight? Has he suffered the tragic death of his parents at the hands of some criminal, some drunken driver? Perhaps he is consciously using a similar trademark name to those gaudy characters featured in violent American comics. Yet the pleasant south-coast town of Alverbank is no Gotham, surely?

Whatever his reasons for taking on this guise, he is intriguing. We are going to hear a great deal more from him.

A police spokesperson, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that the criminal fraternity is anxious about this vigilante. They want him caught, “before he kills somebody.” Me, I hope he stays loose, to instil fear in those black uncaring hearts!

The Alverbank Chronicle Comment


Sudden Vengeance is available in paperback and e-book format. Published by Crooked Cat.

When justice fails, a vigilante steps forward.

In the broken Britain of today, faith in the police is faltering. Justice and fairness are flouted. Victims are not seen as hurt people but simply as statistics.

Paul’s family is but one example of those victims of unpunished criminals. In the English south Hampshire coastal town of Alverbank, many others are damaged and grieving. It cannot go on. There has to be a response, some way of fighting back.

A vigilante soon emerges and delivers rough justice, breaking the bones and cracking the heads of those guilty individuals who cause pain without remorse. Who is the vigilante?  He – or she – is called the Black Knight. The police warn against taking ‘the law into your own hands’. But the press laud the vigilante’s efforts and respond: ‘What law?’

Will the Black Knight eventually cross the line and kill?

Paul and his family seem involved and they are going to suffer

Amazon COM –

Amazon UK –


Sunday 17 May 2015

Jihadis bound for Britain

In the news recently there have been voices of concern raised about Islamic State terrorists sneaking into Europe amidst the thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

In 2006 I wrote the short story ‘Adopted Country’ and it was published in an English magazine in Spain, and this tale posited this very real threat from Islamic terrorists. Here are some excerpts:

On a clear day like today, I felt I could almost reach out and touch Africa. I stood alongside my brother, Juan, on the seashore of Tarifa, Spain’s southernmost tip. Juan was the Guardia Civil officer supervising the capture of yet another boatload of illegal immigrants.
       Earlier, squinting out to sea as the Guardia Civil launch intercepted the over-laden longboat, Juan had said, “It isn’t surprising, Leon, is it? North Africa is only fourteen kilometres away from where we stand. They want an easier and better life here in Europe so they’ll risk everything in the attempt.”

A week earlier, I helped break up an al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Torrevieja. It wasn’t the first of its kind, nor would it be the last, though perhaps these deranged murderers would think twice about setting up shop in this area. There were forty officers involved and five suspects were arrested—three Algerians and two Moroccans. Three houses and two commercial units were searched, netting twenty kilos of cocaine, a variety of weapons, false documents and €15,000 in cash.

These people are not pleasant. The majority are cowards. They’re quite content to brainwash their form of cannon fodder while skulking in shadows, killing innocents by remote, all in the name of a truly warped view of a great religion.

Nowadays, illegal immigrants slipped into Spain through the airports on short term work or holiday visas, and of course never left. But al-Qaeda knew that the airports were watched. So, for over a year they’d been sending their best fanatics over among the boatpeople.


'Adopted Country' is one of 22 cases concerning half-English half-Spanish private eye Leon Cazador, ‘in his own words’ featured in Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Amazon UK paperback currently at a giveaway price (£1.10)! -

Amazon Com e-book(currently $3.34, a bargain!):

Amazon UK e-book:

Amazon COM paperback:

Saturday 16 May 2015

Saturday Story - 'The Tree'

Sycamore tree - Wikipedia commons
Nik Morton

‘Tom, I’ve just read some frightful news!’ Jill Hadley lowered the bulging Saturday shopping bag to the carpet and slithered wearily out of her black midi-coat. Her husband rose from his comfortable armchair and switched off the television. He turned enquiring grey eyes to her.

            It’s our tree.’

            ‘The sycamore?’

            She nodded. ‘They’re going to kill it…’ She shrugged her slight shoulders helplessly. ‘I know it’s only a tree, Tom – but it’s meant so much to us, hasn’t it?’

            ‘Yes, it has. Lots.’

            Jill handed him the local newspaper’s early edition and pointed to the headlines – COUNCIL PLANS DUAL CARRIAGEWAY. She sat down miserably. ‘And it’ll run right through that plot of disused land…’

            It was true, she would miss that tree. Really, they both would. It held a special place in their hearts.

            Almost seventeen years ago now – with Tom’s attentive help – she had planted the sycamore sprig in the patch of waste land. She had been about seven then. And, as they had grown, so had their tree. In those days, they had visited the sapling most weekends, eager to nurture its growth.

            Tom grimaced. ‘I suppose we must forget sentiment where progress is concerned, Jill.’ He didn’t sound particularly convincing.

            That sycamore had shared much of their lives. She recalled one day well. Cloudy, a slight chill in the air. Tom had tentatively embraced her for the first time. That moment had been the beginning when she realised Tom meant more to her than all her other boy friends at school.

            And as they had kissed beneath the young tree’s sun-seeking boughs, Jill had felt the protective presence of their tree.

            Before they parted that day, Tom had taken a pocket-knife from his corduroy jacket and delicately carved a small heart and their initials on the strong bark…

            ‘There’s nothing we can do about it, Jill,’ Tom said resignedly, disturbing her reverie.

            ‘Couldn’t you apply for permission to uproot the tree? We could plant it in the yard. Surely the landlord wouldn’t mind?’

            Tom grinned. ‘I’ll give it a try, at least, love.’

            It was amazing how quickly the tree had grown and spread forth until its leaves were almost as huge as dinner-plates; every vein and artery a fascination. Many a showery evening they had found adequate shelter under its ponderous arms.

            Her heart tripped as she thought again of that night of electric storm. Tom had been hurrying her across the waste ground – a short cut – when the storm broke. It was a rather nasty ending to an otherwise marvellous day of carefree shopping. They had been laden with parcels, Tom wielding a new fishing-rod clumsily as he ran.

            She remembered pausing under the tree to glance at the rain dribbling down the grooves of their heart carved in the trunk. Then a sudden stark flash above and she was sure her heart must have stopped beating as the lightning-struck branch fell at their feet.

            There was no reason to say a word. She knew they were both fully aware that the branch had obstructed the lightning and prevented Tom and his metal rod being hit.

            Ever since that stormy evening, the tree had continued to flourish unperturbed save for its one severed and burnt limb – as through the charred stump were raised aloft as a sign of some sort.


Tom was at work when the landlord came up to see her about their request to transplant the tree.

            Over a cup of tea, the slightly-bald man remarked, ‘I’ve been liaising with the Council on the matter, Mrs Hadley.’

            His watery blue eyes evaded hers. The melancholy droop of his greying moustache made her apprehensive.

            He cleared his throat. ‘It’s generally considered that the tree’s already too large for transplanting. And its possible inclusion in the yard has met with unfavourable response, I’m afraid.’ He drained his cup and nervously wiped his thin pale lips with the back of his bony hand. ‘I’m sorry.’

            Well, it had been quite a wild idea. Even so, she was tempted to uproot it herself!

            During dinner, Jill told Tom what the landlord had said. ‘I know it’s rather silly, Tom, but…’ She hesitated.

            ‘You want to say goodbye, is that it?’

            Suddenly flushed, she gazed down at her fumbling fingers. ‘Yes.’

            ‘Look, I can get an extra half-hour off for lunch tomorrow. I’ll meet you at the tree and we’ll eat sandwiches there, just like it used to be.’


As her fingers lovingly traced the old grooves of their initialled heart, Jill noticed a smartly-dressed little old lady scrutinising them. ‘Who’s that?’ she whispered over her shoulder at Tom, who was busy unwrapping their sandwiches.

            Before he could reply, the woman walked up to them.

            The strain of trying to recognise them was evident in her flickering alert brown eyes. Then she gasped, pleased with herself. ‘I know you two youngsters,’ she declared, smiling gently.

            ‘Oh’ Jill said.

            Nodding her small head repeatedly now, the old lady pursed her thin unpainted lips. ‘Indeed. This is your tree,’ she said emphatically. ‘You used to come at weekends to prune and water it.’ Her eyes took on a glazed hue at the memory. ‘Yes.’

            She glanced about her, at the rusty cans and bicycle wheels, the charred remains of November bonfires, the barren mounds of parched earth all around. Her gaze returned to the wounded but proud sycamore, sturdy and unbowed in the midst of so much chaos.

            ‘There’s many a day I’ve just watched you both. Cutting back the weeds, keeping the rubbish away.’

            A hope of some kind sprang into Jill’s breast as the woman said: ‘I’ve watched you both tender your tree over the years, ever since you planted the stray sapling as your own…’

            Tom’s arm proudly encircled Jill’s shoulders.

            ‘It’s a great pity the road has to be here to spoil all your love and care.’ Faintly, the old lady’s slight chest sighed, her fox-fur ruffling. ‘But the road must go through. I do believe it must…’

            Tom nodded. ‘That’s life, I suppose.’ He shrugged, squeezing Jill in sympathy.

            But Jill wasn’t resigned to the tree’s fate yet. ‘No!’ she suddenly exclaimed. ‘Why must roads always destroy? Shouldn’t a tree, a field of buttercups, a dell of bluebells, shouldn’t they be more important than Tarmac and concrete?’

            She felt Tom’s restraining hand clasp her shoulder urgently. ‘Jill, we’re only two people – the road’s needed by thousands.’

            She eyed the old woman. ‘Why must the good things be lost for progress, economy and efficiency?’ Jill wanted to know. ‘Is it wrong to love nature, to have a favourite tree, a special brook, to adore the flowers and birds’ Tears welled. She blinked them away. ‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured, ‘I am getting over-sentimental.’

            ‘That’s all right, dear. I quite agree with you – but, unfortunately the way things stand, roads like the one planned here are inevitable.’

            The letter arrived next morning, just as Tom was leaving for the office. Because it looked official, with the Borough seal, he lingered as Jill read it.

            Her eyes widened, glistening. ‘Oh, Tom!’

            ‘What is it, love?’ He took the letter.

            ‘The little old lady – she’s the Mayoress! She’s managed to persuade the authorities to transplant the tree to St Mark’s Children’s Home.’

            He hugged her. ‘That’s fairly near us.’


Jill held Tom’s hand tightly as they neared the end of their visit to St Mark’s. They had purposefully saved one item on the itinerary until last.

            Across the green sward, she spotted two ten-year-olds carving their heart alongside Tom’s and hers.

            Strangely, she found she didn’t resent sharing their tree of love. Now it would be able to watch over another generation of young lovers.

            ‘Live to a ripe old age, tree,’ she whispered.



Previously published in Competitors’ Journal, 1972.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2015.

‘The Tree’ was a runner up in a regular competition, and was my fourth paid published short story. The strapline for the story read: ‘It was a special part of their lives – and now condemned to die.’ When advised that I was a winner, I was asked to provide a photograph – which I didn’t possess – so I rushed out at lunch time, changed into civilian clothes and obtained a photograph at a photo-booth. At this time, as I was serving in the RN, I used a penname, Platen Syder. However, the write-up blew my cover with ease – and interestingly a couple of staff at HMS Centurion, where I was working, recognised me and commented favourably about the story.


Of course times have changed and it is doubtless frowned upon to deface a living tree. And I note that Tom stayed at home for some reason while he let his wife struggle with the shopping; how ungallant of him! The identity of the old lady is a contrivance, necessary for the length of story, I suppose. It is unashamedly sentimental; still, there’s nothing wrong with that – there’s plenty of cynicism in the world to compensate. I’m still fond of the story, anyway, even after all these years.

If you’d like to see how my writing has developed in the intervening years, please consider my short story collection, 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.


Or you could try my co-authored fantasy novel Wings of the Overlord (by Morton Faulkner) currently available in hardback (5 good glowing reviews):

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