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Monday 27 November 2017

Head of British Secret Intelligence Service

Recently, there has been some controversy regarding a suggestion for a blue plaque for Admiral Sir Hugh Francis Paget Sinclair (1873-1939). However, English Heritage apparently ruled that he was not ‘historically significant’ enough to be recognised with a blue plaque at his official London residence in Queen Anne’s Gate, which was linked by a secret tunnel to MI6 HQ.  If you’ve been reading the news over the last few months, you’ll be aware that certain individuals in English Heritage have lost the plot, and this could be construed as another example of their arrant political correctness.

Sinclair certainly achieved a lot. He joined the Royal Navy aged 13 and entered the Naval Intelligence Division at the outset of the First World War. By 1919 he had become the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 1923, he took over from Sir Mansfield Cumming as the director of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6).

As early as 1919 he was concerned about the influence of Bolshevism, but in the main his concerns were ignored. By 1936 he discovered that the Gestapo had infiltrated several SIS stations; at about this time Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Edward Marjoribanks Dansey set up Z Organisation, intent on working independently from the compromised SIS.

Sinclair was asked in December 1938 to prepare a dossier on Adolf Hitler, for the attention of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. The dossier received short shrift as it was believed that it did not gel with Britain's policy of appeasement. Sinclair had described Hitler as possessing the characteristics of ‘fanaticism, mysticism, ruthlessness, cunning, vanity, moods of exaltation and depression, fits of bitter and self-righteous resentment; and what can only be termed a streak of madness; but with it all there is a great tenacity of purpose, which has often been combined with extraordinary clarity of vision’ (Foreign Office files)

In 1938, with war looming, Sinclair set up Section D, dedicated to sabotage and in the spring of 1938, using £6,000 of his own money, he bought Bletchley Park to be a wartime intelligence station. He died of cancer in 1939 so did not see the fruits of the code-breaking group at Bletchley that shortened the war.

When writing my first Tana Standish novel, Mission: Prague, one of my characters, the head of International Enterprises (‘Interprises’), an adjunct of SIS, was loosely based on both Sinclair and Dansey: Sir Gerald Hazzard, born 1909. His entry in Who’s who reads: Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford; Recreations, yacht-racing, crosswords and chess; ‘attached to Foreign Office, 1939-present’ which is polite British jargon for working in the SIS [the ‘present’ was 1975-1978]. However, his physical stature was based on my first civilian boss after leaving school…

Hazzard’s recruitment of psychic Tana Standish is related in Mission: Prague:

England, 1965
Tread carefully,was Sir Geralds high-pitched warning to her as she boarded the train at Waterloo ten years ago, destined for the Fort, one of MI6s training establishments, an old Napoleonic stone-walled edifice on the Gosport peninsula on the south coast of Hampshire.
Standing beside the middle-aged yet cadaverous man had been her grey-haired mother, bravely trying to fight back tears.
Mum, Im a big girl now, you know?Tana said.
Twenty-eight last May, dear, I know.Her mother smiled back. But Im worried about what Geralds letting you get into. Its dangerous.
Shell be all right, Vera, my dear,Sir Gerald piped. In fact, I actually pity the instructors!
The totally inappropriate falsetto voice of Sir Gerald had taken some getting used to, as had his emaciated appearance. There seemed to be little flesh on his face. Tana had seen survivors from the concentration camps and the facial features of the majority had been drawn, almost corpse-like, the skulls bone structure clearly visible. She knew for a fact that Sir Gerald dined well and often, yet his head and, judging by how his clothes hung on his gaunt frame, his body too closely resembled some unfortunate who had endured a Nazi death-camp.
Sir Gerald had been like an uncle to her since Hugh Standish died in her childhood yet, officially, he only came into her life when she was twenty-eight, ostensibly to recruit her into his fledgling organisation, Interprises.
Ten years ago. When shed qualified for the Intelligence OfficersNew Entry Course.
The day had been bleak and wind-swept as she hurried from the draughty Portsmouth Harbour railway station to the pontoon where she caught the little steam craft Ferry Prince, which seemed to be overloaded with commuters, among them Royal Navy sailors in square rig hanging onto their white hats. Halfway across the harbour, she saw one sailor lose his hat overboard and the young man swore, no doubt fearing that hed be on a charge when he turned up at his submarine base, HMS Dolphin. Away on their left, she noticed the distinctive ten-storey tall tower, rumoured to have been built by German prisoners-of-war. Below it were the motley brick buildings of Fort Blockhouse, the submarine base, with two menacing black boats moored alongside.
On the Gosport side shed been met by a Ministry of Defence driver in dark serge who had commented disparagingly on the weather then bundled her suitcase into the back of the highly-polished Rover.
The journey seemed circuitous the driver explained that there was a crossing called Pneumonia Bridge over the creek but it was only capable of taking pedestrians and cyclists, not cars. One day they might get round to building a proper road, I suppose,he moaned, but itll be after Im drawing my pension, I shouldnt wonder!
Eventually, they turned onto Anglesey Road, part of the district of Alverstoke where many retired admirals were supposed to live, and this led down to the coast road and Stokes Bay, which offered a sweeping panoramic view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
Turning left, they passed several fenced-off military establishments.
Further along still, beyond the narrow hedge-bordered coast road, she knew, were the high brick walls of the submarine base and the Royal Navys Hospital Haslar. However, after a short drive they turned off to the right onto what appeared to be an unadopted road with a sign on their left indicating,


They passed this and the 15 mph sign and headed towards an unprepossessing collection of brick buildings partially concealed by an overgrowth of brambles and weeds, all behind barbed wire.
Their car crossed over a drawbridge and it seemed they were expected as Fort Moncktons ponderous studded steel doors swung wide on well-oiled rails and hinges.
I lived in Alverstoke for many years and often passed the secret Fort Monckton...

Then, in the sequel, Mission: Tehran, we learn more about Hazzard’s acquisition of the British SIS psychic HQ, Fenner House, motivated in part by the logic of Dansey:

The Georgian mansion was built in 1810 and had a chequered existence before being bought by Sir Gerald Hazzard in 1958 to establish the Psychic Institute. As a top intelligence officer in the MI6 hierarchy, he was following in the footsteps of two chiefs of the secret service – Mansfield Cumming, who often supplemented the fledgling secret service from his own pocket, and Admiral Sinclair, who bought Bletchley Park himself because he couldn’t get any funding.
Unofficially Sir Gerald had been interested in psychic research since encountering Tana as a child. However, abiding by Vera Standish’s wishes, he didn’t officially announce his friendship and interest until 1965.
Two years earlier ‘C’ had been Dick White and with his connivance, Sir Gerald had created his own particular offshoot of MI6, International Enterprises, in February, shortly after Philby flew out of Beirut for exile in Moscow. In July 1963 Sir Gerald actually set Fenner House aside for the sole use of Interprises, retaining the Psychic Institute as a convenient cover. His brief was to recruit agents who didn’t belong to any ‘old school’ – and he scoured the armed forces to that end. Inevitably, there were exceptions and he head-hunted Tana in 1965.
Changes to the interior structure of Fenner House were kept secret: the large bedroom at the west rear end was converted into a conference room and encased in a Faraday cage to prevent electronic eavesdropping. The upstairs closets and changing rooms on the north side had been converted into two separate rooms – the psychic training laboratory and the Communications Centre and a door from the latter opened into Sir Gerald’s bed-sitting room at the northeast corner which he occupied whenever he was visiting.
The servants’ quarters on the ground floor at the north side were knocked into two rooms – becoming the Gym – with its first-aid annex – and the Armoury.
Sitting cross-legged in the centre of the Gymnasium’s dojo, Tana maintained the yogic Sukhasana position, her arms limp and the backs of her hands resting on her bare feet. She wore a black leotard and her hair swept back in a tight bun.
This easy pose for meditation was suitable for her purposes. (Mission: Tehran, pp 178-179)
Mission: Prague
Available on Amazon as a paperback and e-book here

Mission: Tehran
Available on Amazon as a paperback and e-book here

Mission: Khyber
Available on Amazon as a paperback and e-book here

Friday 24 November 2017

Book review - 52 Weeks


What a treasure trove Scott Harris and Paul Bishop have produced!

If you’re a fan of westerns – movies, TV or in print (paper and electronic) – then you’ll absolutely love this book. If you’re curious about what all the fuss is about regarding westerns, this will explain it. If you’ve never read a western, then this book will show you what you’re missing.

The driving concept is original – offering recommended western titles, one per week for a year’s worth of reading. There are quite a few ‘best of’ book recommendation books around; one of my favourites being Anthony Burgess’ Ninety-Nine Novels – the Best in English Since 1939 (1984). Naturally, some of the titles were contentious; it was his personal choice, however.  With 52 Weeks the compilers haven’t fallen into the ‘best’ trap, and they’re aided by quite an illustrious bunch of other authors and readers who have added their own favourites to the selection.

Ranging alphabetically from .44 by H.A. De Rosso to The Wolfer by Loren Estleman, there’s something for everyone, both male and female reader, here. 

Naturally, there is a good number of ‘classics’ – The Mark of Zorro (1919), Hondo (1953), The Day the Cowboys Quit (1971), The Big Country (1957), Old Yeller (1956), Riders of the Purple Sage (1912, The Searchers (1954), Shane (1949), The Shootist (1975),  True Grit (1968), Valdez is Coming (1970) and The Virginian (1902) to more modern offerings dating as recently as 2015. While I’ve read most of the above, the beauty of this book is that it introduces new authors and books to consider for that always growing 'to be read’ list.

A double-page spread is devoted to each book , comprising Book Facts (a teasing narrative without spoilers), Author Facts, and interesting pieces in Beyond the Facts and Fun Facts, the latter two sections sometimes providing anecdotal information, or details about the movies spawned by the book. In addition, there’s a favourite quote; a good idea, though sometimes I felt that the quotation wasn’t too meaningful! Many of the featured authors have produced hundreds of books (in several genres); prolific journeymen to be admired for their output.

Each double page is lavishly coloured with two or three covers/movie posters.

I was surprised that Max Brand didn’t appear; his The Trail to San Triste is one of my favourites. Three books highlighted, while interesting in their own right, are not novels but non-fiction works. I’d have liked to have seen a Contents page, a copyright page and dates of authors’ births and (where appropriate) deaths; yes, I could obtain that latter information by Googling, but so could the compilers. But these are minor quibbles.

This book is definitely a labour of love by all concerned, including the editor Nerissa Stacey and the designer Kari Kurti: a triumph.  

Buy it, savour it, treasure it.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

'... leaves you wanting more.'

A few reviews are starting to come in on Amazon - thank you, readers!

The latest is for Floreskand: King, the second in the Morton Faulkner fantasy series.

"Long anticipated follow up to Floreskand: Wings (Wings of the Overlord) and not a disappointment. The story took a while to get into full flow as there was a lot of scene setting and getting to know characters but it all made sense when everything came together. Nice twist at the end linking in with Wings which was set at the same time in Floreskandian history, but I won't spoil it for you. This story widens the scope of history and certainly leaves you wanting more."

And more is on its way soon... the work-in-progress, Floreskand: Madurava. 

Available from Amazon as a paperback and an e-book here

Monday 20 November 2017

Book review - Mariette in Ecstasy

Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy (1991) is an unusual book in both format and content, which may explain why it took four years or so before it was published in UK (my paperback, 1995).

I bought the book as I thought it might help in my research endeavours for The Bread of Tears (see below), but as it happens I’d amassed enough material to progress my Sister Rose novel so this book stayed on my shelf unread for many years. Finally, I got round to reading it.

Hansen writes in the present tense, and the point of view is omniscient, which seems apt considering the subject matter is the religious life in a convent. It begins as though it was a poem:

Upstate New York.
August 1906.
Half-moon and a wrack of grey clouds…
Wallowing beetles in green pond water.
Cattails sway and unsway.
Grape leaves rattle and settle again…
Wooden reaper. Walking plough. Hayrick.
Mother Celine gracefully walking, head down.
Mooncreep and spire.
Ears are flattened to the head of a stone panther water-spout…
… and so on…

Each separated by a scene-change space. Fortunately, these spaces do not contain the usual three asterisks; if they did, the pages would be peppered with them to distraction. Some scene shifts are only three lines of text, others one line. The shifts may be necessary as the point of view moves from one character to another: there are thirty-five nuns listed, their ages from 17 (Mariette) to 75.

Mariette is a postulant nun, the younger sister of the Reverend Mother CĂ©line, 37; their father is the local doctor. Mariette’s beautiful and seems perfect in every way, a good hard-working pupil. And then she begins to bleed from hands, feet and side: genuine stigmata or a hoax? The various inhabitants of the convent are divided, some believing devoutly, others distrustful.

Hansen’s prose is in many ways like a screenplay, especially in the chosen tense, the visual descriptions and the scene shifts. A few critics point to the writing being ‘precious’; though I didn’t find it so: poetic in places, certainly. He masterfully captures the period, the daily life of a convent and its claustrophobic atmosphere. His powers of description put the reader there. Take, for example, two glimpses:

She sees cracked, parched lips and a trace of sour yellow; a forehead as hot, perhaps , as candle wax; frail eyelids that are redly lettered with tiny capillaries; green veins that tree and knot under the skin of her hands. (p91)

Mariette is giving her father the attention she would give a magician. She has imagined him through childhood as the king of a foreign country, but he has changed into a too-heavy man with a glossy moustache and unhealthy white nails and grey cinders of skin blemishes on his winter-reddened face…. (p96)

While not an easy read, with an inconclusive ending, it is a compulsive story. Across the Pond the book has garnered much praise and many favourable reviews over the years.

Ron Hansen is also the author of The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (1985), the film being released in 2007. Mariette in Ecstasy was filmed (1996) but was not given a wide release.


The Bread of Tears

When she was a cop, she made their life hell.
Now she’s a nun, God help them!

Before taking her vows, Sister Rose was Maggie Weaver, a Newcastle policewoman. While uncovering a serial killer, she suffered severe trauma, and after being nursed back to health she becomes a nun. In her new calling she is sent to London to run a hostel for the homeless. Here, she does good works, and also combats prejudice and crime.

As she attempts to save a homeless woman from a local gang boss, events crystallise, taking her back to Newcastle, the scene of her nightmares, to play out the final confrontation against drug traffickers, murderers and old enemies in the police.

She finds her spiritual self and a new identity. She is healed through faith and forgiveness. It’s also about her surviving trauma and grief – a triumph of the human spirit, of good over evil.

This is a gritty and at times downright gruesome thriller. Written in the first person, Morton has achieved a true sense of feminine appeal in Maggie, the narrator, and despite her religious calling, she comes over as quite a sexy woman… I found myself totally empathising with this full-blooded, gutsy woman... All the characters and horrific events in this crime thriller are extremely visual and well-drawn, making this a riveting read. It would make a brilliant TV series! – Jan Warburton, author of The Secret, A Face to Die For

The Bread of Tears is available as a paperback and an e-book here.

'A fully realized literary universe'

My sixth collected short stories volume is Leon Cazador, P.I. (previously published as Spanish Eye but now with a bonus extra story).

It has just received a favourable review on Amazon, a snippet of which is here:

'... The Leon Cazador, P.I. stories are several cuts above the usual genre pulp adventure and invite readers into a fully realized literary universe where the stakes are often high, the characters complex, and the resolutions satisfying.'

The full review can be seen here:short

Leon Cazador, P.I. is available as a paperback and an e-book here

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Zimbabwe coup 'predicted' ten years ago. Time with a Gift of Tears

Latest news about the 'coup' in Zimbabwe has echoes from my unpublished but previously printed science fiction novel's predictions... I even got the year right! (And of course thankfully got some events and dates wrong!)

Ten years ago, I took advantage of an offer to get one of my unsold manuscripts (Time With a Gift of Tears) printed in paperback form – for the princely sum of £60 for ten copies.  I’d tried the science fiction time travel novel MS with a number of publishers and agents, without success. I’d just had my first book published, a western, but that publisher didn’t publish SF or fantasy. As the story was time-linked and it featured a unique time-travel gimmick, I wanted to get it ‘out there’ to establish some kind of provenance.

The story took place in the UK in 2020, at the beginning of a race revolt; the time traveller goes there from 2033.

All these years later, it needs rewriting, not least because 2020 is too close now; also, since I hadn’t predicted the massive surge in smart phone usage, the ubiquitous and pernicious social media, and the switch from laptop to tablets, and of course Brexit.  Some predictions in the book for pre-2007 were: an Iraqi exodus, a Sellafield Accident, Zimbabwe escapees, legalising of cannabis in UK, Britain expelled from the Commonwealth (never saw Brexit coming!), and a terrorist attack on Sellafield… Here’s the timeline for subsequent years:

2014                                African exodus; Racial uprisings in UK; all British police armed

2015                                Solent Islamic Fundamentalist nuclear blast; legalising heroin; Lawless August

2016                                Limited War

2017                Politically Correct legislation; Typhoid epidemic; 13th Terror Scare; 
PC Legislation revoked; Zimbabwe settlement

2019                    Puritan ethics begin to sweep through UK; Asian Flu computer virus; Sexual Rebound to Puritan ethics

2020                                Race Revolt

2022                Race Revolt ended

2023                Common Sense return to norm after Sexual Rebound

2025                Compromise Peace; Race Revolt ended

It's been a long time coming, but it looks like Mugabe is going to be ousted; too late to save the country he has destroyed.

Needless to say, it’s fiction and not likely to happen – any of it. Still, a nice little coincidence!