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Tuesday 27 February 2018

Book review - Leviathan

This is not an original title for a book (see my review of 26 January). The first usage of the title was probably Thomas Hobbes’ tome of 1651, which had nothing to do with ships or sea monsters. However, as the word ‘leviathan’ is conjured up to be a sea monster and the blue whale has always been regarded as such, it must have been inevitable that John Gordon Davis would settle on this title for his novel about an attempt to stop the slaughter of these magnificent creatures before they became extinct. This Leviathan was published in 1977 and my paperback copy was issued in 1978.

For much of the 1970s, like so many, I’d been affected by the plight of the whales. I’d bought and listened to Roger Payne’s LP Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970) and I’d read Farley Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing (1972), I gave a lecture on the whales and their grisly fate at the hands of the whalers, and also wrote a lengthy magazine article ‘Whales for the Killing’. When Leviathan came out, I was intent on reading it, but alas have only now got round to doing that. I cannot account for my reluctance to read it; I’d been amassing material for a planned science fiction story featuring whales and a post-apocalyptic earth and probably felt it wasn’t time to write it. Anyway, in due course along came Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) which caused me to reconsider that notion! (I’m still doing that…). And the commercial whaling moratorium suggested that the whales would be saved, which meant there was little urgency to read the book (How wrong could I be? See the footnote below).

Leviathan is an understandably angry book. It concerns Justin Magnus, the new head of Magnus Oceanics, a successful film and communications company that concentrated on the conservation of the oceans of the world. Following his father’s death he considered himself free now to put into motion his daring plans. He was outraged about the continued slaughter of the whales – ‘butchered for lipstick and pet-food’. Propaganda and persuasion hadn’t worked, the IWC seemed toothless. Fortunately, assembled around him were believers in his cause. His crew would set out for the Antarctic and locate the Russian factory ship Slava and blow it out of the water!

He sets out on the Jubilee with a loyal crew, including his younger brother Craig and the woman who becomes the love of his life, Katie. She’s also Justin’s editor; he has written a number of best-sellers, his purpose being the readers ‘must understand! They must see and understand the terrible peril that nature is in.’ (p28)

Their plan is complicated because they have no intention of harming any of the whalers themselves. They will board the factory ship and evacuate the crew in the lifeboats; the other outlying catcher boats can retrieve them.

What could go wrong?

Relationships become strained, especially when an associate and friend Max turns up out of the blue and threatens to expose their scheme. Loyalty is tested. The details are believable; and particularly harrowing when we witness the factory ship’s processing of the dead whales.

Interspersed between the chapters are sections from the perspective of three whales, mother, young son and father, and how their fate becomes entwined with a whaling fleet. There is nothing humane about their methods of killing; a harpooned whale will take at least two hours to die, in excruciating agony, while its family swim close by, pining, soon to be next to be harpooned.

Justin lectures about the decimation of the whales, and for good reason. But his concern is not only for the whales. ‘If the oceans should die, as they will unless we stop polluting the continental shelves with sewerage and industrial waste, unless we stop oil pollution coating the sea and preventing oxygenation…’ (pp99-100) The carbon dioxide content will rise and then the polar ice caps will melt… You get the picture. And he – or his research sources – didn’t even consider the threat from plastic!

The whale sequences are glorious – and heart-breaking.

Since the book was written we know that massive public outrage and the efforts of many groups, including Greenpeace, have managed to bring these enormous graceful giants back from extinction. But now many of us have seen dead whales – and other sea creatures and birds – literally choking on the plastic detritus of our civilisations. Common sense tells us we cannot eradicate plastic, but the world’s response to coping with it requires international resolve. Before it’s too late.

According to Greenpeace, by1970, there were only about 6,000 blue whales left in the oceans, and the numbers of humpback and sperm whales had halved. The methods of killing certainly were not humane, using exploding harpoons, ultimately feeding the carcases into the efficient factory ships.

A so-called moratorium on commercial whaling was established in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. The only countries still conducting whaling are Iceland and Norway, who objected, pleading exemption from the moratorium on the flimsy grounds of national diet, while Japan was permitted to continue killing for ‘scientific purposes’. According to the WWF, since the moratorium (that admittedly saved the whales from extinction), there have been about 19,000 whales killed (objection and scientific); and not surprisingly there’s been a continuous increase in the number of scientific kills. How many corpses do you have to study, really?

However you sugar-coat it, these whales take a long time to die in excruciating agony.

Monday 26 February 2018

'Recommended for fans of The Saint ...'

My sixth collection of short stories, Leon Cazador, P.I. has a most helpful (to potential readers) long review on Goodreads, where each of the 23 short stories is covered, and it begins like this: 

'A likable protagonist in Leon Cazador, a colorful international flavor, and some terrific writing make these stories about a PI who likes bringing the ungodly to justice a very enjoyable read. Leon has a heart, yet uses common sense in his assessment of problems in Spain and Europe, often in refreshing contrast to political correctness.

'Some stories involve criminal cases, others are more adventure oriented. Some are just stories about Spain’s people Leon has known and helped...'

There then follows a detailed review of the stories, ending:

'...I liked the old-fashioned Saint vibe blended with modern day Spain and with an interesting half-English half-Spanish protagonist in Leon Cazador. The colorful flavor of Spain and an international vibe give these stories some spice...

'Recommended for fans of The Saint and other such knights who come to the aid of those in need. I’m giving it four solid stars as it makes a nice little bedside read when you need something short.'

Thank you Bobby Underwood, avid reader and reviewer!

  Leon Cazador, P.I. - e-book and paperback from Amazon here  

Saturday 24 February 2018

Blog guest - Jane Risdon

Today, my blog guest is Jane Risdon, who has led a well-travelled and fascinating life. She has had a successful career in the International Music Industry, getting involved in Rock, Thrash (and probably all other sorts of) Metal, R&B/Pop music and even Chinese Opera!

Her first novel Only One Woman (jointly written with Christina Jones) has just been released as an e-book and Kindle paperback by Accent Press; the paperback and audio for stores and libraries etc is due out May 2018. 

Jane Risdon                           Christina Jones

Hi Nik, thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, it is a great pleasure to share my writing life with you and your readers here.

Q & A

You’re very welcome! How did you and Christina hook up for this novel?

Christina Jones is an established award-winning, best-selling romance author but when we first got to know each other, in the late 1960s, she was a rock/pop journalist writing for Pop magazines as well as writing short stories for Teen magazines. My then boyfriend’s band needed a fan-club secretary and their manager asked her to take the job after she met them at one of their gigs. I didn’t meet her in person for some years because I went to live overseas for several years, although my boyfriend remained based in the UK (when not on tour); however, but Christina and I corresponded and had an instant connection.

We always said we’d like to write together but my dreams of writing were on hold during my (by then) husband’s musical career, and later when my husband and I went into management of recording artists, song-writers, record producers and actors, there was never time. Besides, my interest in writing was in the genre of Crime/Thrillers and Espionage, and Christina was writing what she calls ‘Bucolic Frolics,’ romantic comedy. How and what on earth we’d write together was a mystery to us both.

Once life in the music business had calmed down a lot and we moved back to the UK from Los Angeles, Christina and I chatted about writing but were still unsure what we could write about. Also we no longer lived in the same county – although in the past my husband and I kept a home near her, even though we lived in America and S.E. Asia most of the time. She got on with her books and I started writing short stories, flash fiction, and had begun working on four crime novels. Worlds apart genre-wise.

Another house move (2012) and I was going through all the stuff we’d accumulated over the years and came across some old diaries from the 1960s. They were mostly the scribblings of a young teenager, but there were some gems too. I also had years and years of diaries covering life on the road in the late 1960s right up to the present day. I found old photos, touring schedules, chart positions, fan-mail, names of bands of the era, venues and TV programmes, radio shows we listened to, not to mention what we ate, wore, and how we reacted to world events – the Cold War was still raging. I began to make notes, mainly to remind me of things to show my husband later. After a while it dawned on me that there was enough material for the basis of a book (about those times) and I mulled it over for a while, thinking about murder and how to fit one in to a story set in the late 1960s.

A couple of days later I got the idea for Only One Woman. I sat and wrote Renza – a fictional young teenager who meets and falls in love with a lead guitarist, Scott. Before I knew it I’d completed (so I thought) her side of the story, but it needed balance and having never written anything remotely romantic before I knew it needed something else, perhaps another character.

Try as I might I couldn’t put a murder in the story, which was taking on a life of its own… and it wasn’t a crime story! And that is where Christina came in. I sent her what I had written and she loved it and set about writing Stella. We have shared experiences and knowledge of the music scene back in the late 1960s, so it made sense that this would be THE book we’d write together.

We sent the novel to our publisher in 2014 – I was signed with Accent Press some months earlier in 2014, for short stories and novels – so it made sense to offer them Only One Woman. They loved it and I won’t bore you, but we have had many editors come and go and several publication dates set and postponed. It came out November 2017 for e-pub and print on demand paperback editions, and the paperback proper is published in May this year for stores, libraries and in audio, worldwide.

At the time of writing it has garnered twenty-eight 5-star reviews. So we are both very happy.

By the way, the title is taken from The Marbles’ 1968 hit single of the same name and was written by the Bee Gees. I hope to be able to share some very exciting news about this connection just before May…so keep ’em peeled!

That’s fascinating, Jane. It proves that persistence pays! I’m sure many readers (and writers!) will be interested to know how you approached and shared the writing chores.

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote most of Only One Woman before sending it via email to Christina. I started it in diary format and she picked this up to write her character, Stella.
We emailed and sent text messages and used Facebook messages to ensure we both had facts correct; dates, times, places and general historical facts, even though our story is completely fictional. We fitted it into life back on the road with a band and what happened to them and the girls in their lives.

Our editors all worked with us via email so everything was done without any paper copies at all. After numerous publication dates being postponed we were set to publish in May 2017 but our editor (yet another) left, having already asked us to write several more diary entries. The book already ran to 130,000 words and we were shocked, but managed to bring it up to over 160,000 words at publication. So May came and went as we wrote and we settled on November 2017. Only One Woman is almost 500 pages long, but we are told it is a fast read and our readers tell us they find they cannot put it down. Every one of them in touch with us has asked if we’d write a sequel. Christina and I couldn’t ask for a more positive reaction.

That’s praise, indeed. You’ve sketched something about Only One Woman but can you give us any more detail?

Only One Woman could be called a love triangle set in the late 1960s UK Music Scene, but that misses the point of the book totally. It’s about life in the closing years of the grooviest decade of the 20th century. It tells the story of huge world events at the height of the Cold War, social changes, and family tensions, through the eyes of two very different young girls in love with the same lead guitarist. It’s full of music (there are YouTube playlists to go with the book), fashion, and the vibe of those heady days, which shaped all their lives. It tells the story of a young band from Jersey, in the Channel Islands, coming to England to break into the blossoming UK music scene at a time when the British Invasion of the USA (and the world) was in full swing. We follow them on tour, recording and starting to make waves in the industry.

Scott, the lead guitarist, has the love of both Renza and Stella. He meets Renza first who is still at school when his band moves to her village. She is preparing to move to Germany with her parents for three years. They fall in love and become secretly engaged. After she has gone Scott meets Stella at one of their gigs in another village. Stella is convinced she is to die on the operating table on the following Monday, and so decides to live in the moment when she sees Scott on stage for the first time. Her friend introduces them and the attraction is instant and intense. We follow Stella and Renza’s relationship with Scott through the ups and downs of their complex lives until Scott has to make a decision. There can be Only One Woman.

Fans of the music and the era of the late 1960s can relate to the book in so many ways, especially if they lived through those times, although younger readers have said that the story has made the 1960s come alive for them in ways they never imagined. Even men have loved reading it.

As you mentioned, some readers are asking about a sequel to Only One Woman. Is there one on the horizon?

We have been asked this many times and I cannot give an answer at present. Our readers will have to wait and see. The story obviously doesn’t end where the novel leaves off… So who knows what might happen? Perhaps they should write and ask our publisher for a sequel!

We’ll have to wait and see, then. Do you use the foreign places you’ve been to in your fiction?

Yes I do try and set stories I write in different locations and countries. Only One Woman is set all over the UK, in Jersey, Germany, France and on a Mediterranean cruise with many ports of call visited in the story. Many of my stories are set in Hollywood or where I’ve worked in the music business. I also worked – when much younger – in various government departments and sometimes my crime stories reflect this in their settings.

I have been included in thirteen anthologies to date; not all my stories are crime related. I’ve been challenged by being asked to write ghost stories. I have written a time-shifting pirate/smuggling story too. And sometimes my stories in these collections are both crime and with a supernatural bent.

The Ghostly Writes Anthology 2017 is set in Jersey, Channel Islands. In an ancient farm house in St. Lawrence, close to where the carnation nurseries used to be. Entitled ‘As Cold as Ice’ it’s the tale of a newly widowed young mother and her experiences with her late husband’s family in their Jersey farmhouse. The house exists and is not a ‘comfortable’ place to spend time.

In A Word: Murder is set in both the London and Hollywood. I have two stories included in this fab anthology set in the world of book and music publishing. My first story is called ‘Dreamer’ and is set in London, and is about a rock band in the late 1980s on the brink of a huge recording and publishing contract and a contract with a super-star manager from America. Only problem is, the manager does not want the lead guitarist who happens to be the songwriter. The rest of the band will stop at nothing to ensure they get a crack at the big-time; huge advances and earning potential can be an enormous motivation for murder….

My second story in this collection is ‘Hollywood Cover Up’ and is set in Hollywood in Beverley Hills with the movers and shakers of the publishing industry and a presidential candidate doing anything to stop a ‘tell-all’ book being published. Drastic measures are called for and soon the writer is on the run in fear of her life and not just from the Secret Service. 

The Cons, Dames and G-Men anthology is set in the Golden Age of Detection. Perhaps most crime writers have written tales in the style of the gritty PIs of the 1930s. My story ‘Cue Murder’ is set in the Hollywood movie studio system of late 1939 and concerns the apparent suicide of a young star being investigated by her leading man who is convinced she was murdered. My husband’s great aunt was a Hollywood movie star and I got my inspiration from her co-stars. It was fun writing in the style of the 1930s detective novels!

As with most of my writing it is influenced by my career in music and by my life when working whilst my husband’s band were building their career. Someone had to earn the money and I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and many other government agencies. It was while working in this environment I discovered my love of all things espionage. Mix music with espionage and the organised crime potential in Hollywood – power and money corrupt – you can see where I get my ideas! You only need to read the news to see what happens in Hollywood when there is power to wield.

As you’ve just said, you have had a good number of short stories published in anthologies, mostly in the crime genre. (Alongside Caroline Dunford, I see; I edited and published her non-crime humorous fantasy novella Brimstone and Treason way back in 2003!) Can we expect a new crime novel from you sometime soon?

Yes I touched on some of my crime writing above. I began a series of novels around the time I began Only One Woman – I often have several projects on the go at once and this is just one of several other books I’m working on. It’s called Ms Birdsong Investigates – and I had hoped to have had this published by now. Book one is with my publisher but they are not publishing new titles for some time to come so it sits and waits.

Lavinia Birdsong is a forty-something former MI5 Officer, ‘voluntarily’ retired when a joint operation with MI6 goes wrong. In book one (Murder in Ampney Parva), she moves to The Vale of The White Horse in Oxfordshire and tries to come to terms with living an ordinary life in a rural community, whilst harbouring hopes that one day she will be allowed back into the fold of the Secret Intelligence Service.

She finds herself being asked to look for a missing woman and during the course of her investigations she discovers Russian Mafia people traffickers, Ukrainian gun-runners and drug dealers operating locally. She also bumps into her former lover and MI6 partner who is working with various other crime agencies to track down and bring these criminals to justice.

Lavinia Birdsong is not Miss Marple: she is a martial arts expert and a highly trained operative in surveillance, investigation and interrogation. She is not a private eye but she is inquisitive and highly suspicious by nature, and she cannot just rot in a small village waiting for MI5 to beg for her return, and old habits die hard. She may be beautiful to look at but don’t be fooled…

Book two is almost ready (Ms Birdsong Investigates: Murder at the Observatory).
Book three is also nearly completed: Ms Birdsong Investigates: The Safe House.

Other novels I am writing are in various stages of completion. I never work on one thing at a time.

That’s an impressive workload, Jane. How long have you been writing?

I started writing at school, English Literature being my favourite lesson next to History and all three Sciences. I won prizes for my writing and I’ve always wanted to be an author. When I was managing bands and singers etc I would help write their biographies and press releases (with their record company marketing departments) and have often written articles on what obtaining a record and/or publishing deal would entail and how to go about it, articles about song-writing… things like that. I’ve been called upon by other authors to give advice and the benefit of my experience to them with their novels as well.

I seriously began writing with a view to being published about six years ago. It feels longer.

I know what you mean. My ‘overnight success took 42 years! Switching from articles and factual pieces to fiction is not a simple transition. What influenced you to start writing fiction?

As I said, I have always wanted to write fiction. I have a vivid imagination and as a child I lived in my head. I didn’t have friends and as we as a family travelled all the time, I never got to settle long enough to get to know people and places, so my life was inside my head. Putting it on to paper in story-form was my way of coping.

As an only child, I can empathise there. How do your family/friends feel about your writing?

I really don’t know. They have never expressed the slightest interest. I mentioned – to my mother – some years ago that I wondered what it would feel like to walk into a book store or library and see my books on the shelves. She said she’d be long dead before I was ever published! – she is 88 this year and this was about seven years ago. I think she knows I realised my dream, but she has never mentioned it and neither do I.

That’s a pity. From what you’ve said, it’s obvious you’re very excited about your ex-MI5 character, Ms Birdsong, a private investigator. Can you give us a taste of the first novel in her series?

Yes, indeed, but she is not a private investigator in the accepted sense, she is a retired MI5 Officer who keeps her new community under surveillance out of habit. She notices things and can read people. Something is ‘off’ in Ampney Parva and she cannot help herself, she has to find out.

Here Ms Birdsong has managed to gain entry to the estate of solicitor Linden Payne in her pursuit of the missing woman Ali Yelling. She is headed for the main house where she also suspects trafficked girls are being held prior to ransom on the Internet.

She was about to come out from the shadows when she caught a glimpse of something out the corner of her eye. Holding her breath she slowly turned her head towards what she thought she’d seen. Yes, there it was above a horseshoe set into the stable wall – the red blink of an operational CCTV camera almost totally hidden by ivy except for lens - recording everything. Bugger, she thought, crouching down making herself as small as possible, another trip for a deep cleanse facial would need to be scheduled. Carefully and silently she opened her back-pack, rummaging until she found a small tin. Removing a glove she took the top off the tin and dipped her fingers into the khaki substance. She smeared her face and neck, totally covering any white skin, before wiping her fingers on a tissue and putting it in her backpack with the almost empty tin. She put a pair of black gloves on. Her body tingled with excitement and adrenaline. She felt pumped, just like the old days; vital, alive. This is what she’d missed and longed for so badly since moving to Ampney Parva. The old Lavinia was back and ready to rock.

Thank you. That sets an intriguing scene. I like the humour, too. You mentioned you’ve written ghost tales, too. Do you find it easy switching from one genre to another?

Believe it or not I have never read a ghost story. In fact I have never read a romance either. When I was asked to contribute towards two Halloween anthologies for my publisher I nearly fainted. I almost said no. But I am not a quitter. I imagined it couldn’t be any different to writing a crime story – well, convinced myself actually. I set about writing a modern smuggling story, worrying myself to death how to introduce a ghost or something ghostly to it as it unfolded, and then suddenly it all came to me.

I set one story ‘The Haunting of Anne Chambers’ (Shiver) - in Paul, Cornwall, and it straddles modern day and the 17th century, flitting back and forth between the two eras. Modern day drug smugglers and 17th century privateers smuggling anything they can take from ships off the coast of Ireland, Spain and anywhere they can sail.

I was chuffed to bits to receive a review from an Irish author of some repute who compared my writing to that of the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and the great Gothic novels! Needless to say I have read neither.

My second ghost story, ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ (Wishing on a Star), was set in a recording studio in 1989 and is based on actual events with a lot of poetic licence. Believe it or not recording studios often pick up ghostly goings-on when recording.

I’ve written several ghost stories since then. I admit I do have to think longer and harder when writing a ghost story. Whereas crime stories write themselves. I just hit the keys.

A tall order, I know, but what is your favourite book? And why?

I’ve thought hard about this question and I’m at a loss. I’m a voracious reader. I could read before I started school. I love Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, John Le Carre and Kathy Reichs, Peter James and similar authors. But I cannot pick one book or author. Recently two authors have really captivated me and both have been guests on my blog: David Videcette and Roger A. Price – both former police detectives. I love their books and am hooked.

I sympathise there, too. I couldn’t settle on even ten ‘favourites’! When not writing, how do you spend your time?

I am a curious and interested person addicted to politics and so watch and listen to anything political. I don’t belong to a party and if I had my way…

History and Science are major interests, and when I am not watching programmes about anything to do with these subjects, I’m visiting churches, cathedrals, stately homes, gardens, and the gorgeous villages and countryside we have in this country. I’ve lived overseas for a long time so it is great to reconnect with Great Britain. Being a keen photographer I love to take photos of all the places I visit and I usually blog about my ‘jollies’ with photos. I enjoy walking and always have a camera or my phone with me, just in case.


If you’re interested in my ‘jollies’ out and about, then pop over to my blog where there are photos and details of my visits as well as author interviews and more.

Hardwick Hall:

Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

Still upright and breathing I hope. I take every day as it comes, nothing is guaranteed and I’ve had my fill of working like a crazy woman. I am in control of my own time and that is wonderful!

Where can readers find you?

I contribute to numerous online magazines and newsletters regularly and I’m often guest author on blogs as well as hosting gusts on my blog.

You can visit my Amazon author page:

In addition to my blog on

You can find me at

Only One Woman – blurb
Two women, one love story.
Stella thinks it's her last night alive, while Scott believes she's having a sex-change operation on Monday. Renza is moving overseas and worries Top of the Pops won't be on TV there. She is heart-broken at leaving Scott; he is confused - he loves them both - but is excited to be in the UK with Narnia's Children, touring and recording with top record producers and living the life of a 1960s rock god. Russia invades Czechoslovakia, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated and there are student riots in Paris...Only One Woman is set in 1968/69 in the UK Music Scene and is an authentic trip into nostalgia from the POV of two girls whose lives are shaped by massive world changing events in the grooviest decade of the 20th century. Written by friends who were 'with the band,' back then, it is published by Accent Press in Paperback and e-book and has its own playlists on YouTube.

It’s being read by guys and gals.
Only One Woman Accent Press on Amazon UK, USA, Australia in e-pub and Kindle Paperback.

Only One Woman for stores, libraries, and audio worldwide is published May 2018.

Only One Woman Facebook

Renza and Stella have their own YouTube Playlists:


Anthologies where Jane’s stories appear:

Shiver (Accent Press)
A selection of spooky, scintillating, and scary stories from some of Accent Press’s best-loved authors. Featuring gruesome crime from Bill Kitson and Andrea Frazer, a frighteningly modern fairy tale from Helena Fairfax, ghostly goings-on from Christina Jones, David Rogers and Jane Risdon, Marie Laval and Tricia Maw, a twisted take on a national pastime from Car Cooper, and the supernatural side of reality TV from Caroline Dunford.

Telling Tales anthology 2012
I am Woman anthology, 2013
In a Word: Murder anthology, 2014
Wishing on a Star anthology, 2014 (Accent Press)
Ghostly Writes anthology 2016
Madame Morvara’s Tales of Terror anthology 2016
Ghostly Writes Valentine’s anthology 2017
Midsummer anthology 2017
Cons Dames and G-Men anthology (Stab in the Dark Writers Circle) 2017
Christmas Capers anthology (Stab in the Dark Crime Writers Circle), 2017
Ghostly Writes anthology, 2017
Ghostly Writes Valentine’s anthology 2018 (to be published Feb 2018)
Many thanks for being my guest, Jane. I wish you every success with your future projects, and particularly with Ms Birdsong!