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Thursday 31 May 2018

The saga continues...

Just out this month, third in the ongoing fantasy series FLORESKAND. This one is titled MADURAVA.

Friday 25 May 2018

Writing market - Mystery Weekly Magazine

Here’s a paying market for writers of mysteries: Mystery Weekly Magazine.

The magazine is a labour of love for the husband and wife team of Publisher Charles F. Carter and Editor Kerry. The magazine website is You can download a copy to your Kindle or get the paperback version from Amazon. You can submit stories via email.

In March Mystery Weekly Magazine was spotlighted in the American periodical, The Writer

Here’s an excerpt of that article, which just happens to mention my story due to appear later this year:

‘The Carters read submissions all year long, making detailed notes for writers who request feedback. They promote their authors widely, publishing excerpts and links to Mystery Weekly’s stories via email, the journal’s website, and social media.

‘One such author is writer and illustrator Nik Morton, whose story “The Very First Detective: The Killing Stone” will be published in the magazine’s Sherlock Holmes special issue, October 2018.

‘“It’s a prehistoric Holmes and Watson pastiche featuring Olmes and Otsun (Otsun is Olmes’s sidekick as well as being the clan’s medicine man),” Kerry explains. “Aside from being well-written, it has a unique setting, which makes it especially entertaining. We don’t get many submissions that cross genres, so any mysteries with fantasy, western, or speculative treatments definitely earn extra points.”’

Go for it!

Wednesday 23 May 2018

'... feels absolutely real.'

"When I picked up this novel about psychic British spy, Tana Standish, and her adventures in 1970s Czechoslovakia, the spy template I thought it would adhere to is the James Bond one. After all, that is already an outsized world and surely a beautiful spy with precognitive abilities could be dropped in fairly seamlessly.

But Nik Morton actually foxed me, by instead opting for the John Le CarrĂ© model. This is a gritty and realistic feeling world, with dirt under its fingernails. And it’s beautifully realised. You can almost smell the Turkish coffee and cheap cigarettes in the cafes... But is there any way to make a psychic spy fit seamlessly into this world?

You have your doubts, don’t you?

And yet Morton manages it.

Such is the level of detail and ambition, that Morton soon sweeps the reader up in the narrative and creates such a convincing canvas that we can easily accept the central conceit. Bouncing between different times and locations, he has created a book which feels big in scope, an adventure story with a supernaturally gifted protagonist that still feels absolutely real.

I was expecting a light throwaway read with Mission: Prague, but was glad I got something far more ambitious."

Thank you, F.R. Jameson for commenting on Goodreads.

The full review can be read there. 

Mission: Prague

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

Tuesday 15 May 2018

An exorcism...

There follows a small scene from CHILL OF THE SHADOW. An exorcism.
The church clock chimed eleven, each tolling of the hour resonating in the room.
            “Oh, God, it’s time?” Father Joseph said.
            “Yes, Father. Your hour is here.”
            Father Joseph nodded, his holy stole draped round his neck. The Bible in one hand, he recited the Credo aloud three times. He carried around the room a censer containing a small amount of the burning Frankincense.
            Maria’s eyes suddenly opened wide, staring, alarmed. But Michael didn’t recognize Maria in them.
            The priest whispered, “Poor soul–”
            “Now, Father, the water,” Michael said, his tone firm and commanding.
            Putting down the censer, the priest picked up a large glass jug of holy water which he had consecrated in his church next door. He dipped a hyssop in the purifying liquid and sprinkled it over Maria, intoning, “I exorcise thee, O unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
            The response was immediate and startling. Maria’s body arched up from the bedsprings, and her flesh started to bead with a sickly green sweat.
            “Stand firm, Father,” Michael commanded as an eldritch shriek erupted from Maria’s mouth. Then she slumped down, the bedsprings rattling, and was still again.
            Father Joseph was trembling. “Dear God, will she survive this ordeal?”
            Michael whispered, “The strain has been known to be so great that limbs have been dislocated. But I believe she isn’t fully possessed yet. The demons are not comfortable in her shell.” He waved a hand. “Again, Father.”
            Father Joseph nodded and swallowed. Steeling himself, he stepped forward again. This time he was too quick, accidentally splashing Michael’s outstretched hand in the process. Three globules of water settled for a moment on the back of his hand, and then sizzled. Unconcerned, Michael shook the liquid off his hand; blisters, as if from an acid burn, appeared.
            “My God, what manner of man are you?” Father Joseph said, almost dropping the jug of holy water.
            “Just one of the good guys, Father.” He took a pair of black leather gloves from his jacket on the back of a chair and put them on. “Please continue. Maria’s life and soul are at stake.”
            Father Joseph made the sign of the cross, and then sprinkled more holy water on Maria. “I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ. Tremble, O Satan, enemy of the faith, thou foe of mankind who hast brought death to the world, and hast rebelled against justice, thou seducer of mankind, thou root of evil, source of avarice, discord and envy.”
            “Stand back, it’s my turn,” Michael ordered, lighting the Paschal candle.
            Very carefully, he lowered the flame to Maria’s naked flesh that still glistened with an unwholesome green sheen. “Get ready!”
            There was a disconcerting flash of yellow and suddenly Maria was surrounded by a blazing transparent flame. It lasted for mere seconds and her body levitated this time, prevented from rising more than twelve inches by the ropes.
            “May God break your teeth, vile spirit, and cut the veins of your neck and the sinews thereof. I bind you in the name of Gabriel and Michael, I bind you by these Angels!” wailed the priest. “May you vanish as smoke from before the wind for ever and ever, Amen!”
            Maria shrieked horribly, and out of her mouth leapt a gout of thick bile, speckled with green and yellow and red. In its gross suddenness it resembled projectile vomit, but it was unlike it in colour, consistency and smell.
            As the vile streamer left Maria’s mouth, Father Joseph leapt forward and thrust the crucifix he was holding over her mouth and held it there, while his eyes followed the terrifying manifestation across the room.
            Defying gravity, the sliver of bile appeared sentient, moving toward the balcony door; it baulked inches from the array of crosses; it tried the window and door, and retreated. Wherever it travelled, it left a putrefying stench in its wake.
            “Unbind the curse!” Father Joseph cried out and prayed again, louder, bellowing, commanding the evil spirit to leave in the name of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Trinity.
            The horrible thing made a beeline for Michael, as if divining that he carried no protective cross. In one swift motion Zondadari’s fingers hooked up the censer and swung it, catching the thing as if he were playing pelota. As the evil spirit sizzled and emitted a stomach-churning smell, Father Joseph left Maria’s side and poured the remainder of the holy water onto the mixture of cooking bile and Frankincense. The steam quickly dissipated, to leave a burned, brittle husk.
            “And what the hell do you think you’re doing?” shrieked Maria from the bed, trying to tug her arms and legs free.
            Michael crossed the room, picked up the sheet and draped it over her. He gazed into her eyes and after a long moment of study he smiled thinly, satisfied. “As it happens,” he said, “Hell has a lot to do with it.” He pulled out the Knife of Astarte and cut the rope securing her right wrist. “You’ve had quite an ordeal, Maria – but now you’re free.”
Available as an e-book and paperback here

Friday 11 May 2018

A Dance to the Music of Time (4 of 12)

Anthony Powell’s fourth book in his series, At Lady Molly’s (1957) is set in the early 1930s. As before, the narrator, Nick Jenkins seems cold and detached. ‘I always enjoy hearing the details of other people’s lives, whether imaginary or not…’ (p211)
Nick has achieved some modest success with his writing: ‘Written a couple of novels, and moved from a firm that published art books to a company that produced second-feature films.’ (p16) Clearly heavily influenced by Powell’s own work at Duckworths, the publishers and his later stint as a scriptwriter for Warner Brothers in England. ‘I on what is called the “scenario side”. I help to write that part of the programme known as the “second feature”. For every foot of American film shown in this country, a proportionate length of British film must appear. The Quota, in fact.’ (p55)

When we last shared Nick’s life, he was romantically involved with Jean Duport. Now, that was over and he was ‘fancy-free’, aged twenty-eight or so, and open to his confederate Chips Lovell’s suggestion to visit his aunt –Molly Jeavons. Previously married to Lord John Sleaford, Molly lived in the mansion Dogdene; Sleaford died of Spanish Flu in 1919; she was now married to Captain Teddy Jeavons. ‘Molly remained a big, charming, noisy young woman, who had never entirely ceased to be a schoolgirl. When the Dogdene frame was removed, like the loosening of a corset of steel, the unconventional, the eccentric, even the sluttish side of her nature became suddenly revealed to the world.’ (p159)

Molly is quite a character. ‘… exceptionally kind-hearted. The house is always full of people she is doing good turns to. Children stay here while their parents are fixing up a divorce.. Penniless young men get asked to meals. Former servants are always being given help of one sort or another…’ (p164)

While at Lady Molly’s, Nick comes across Widmerpool who is in the company of an older woman, Mildred. Powell’s strengths are his character descriptions, such as this sighting of Widmerpool: ‘He was wearing a new dark suit. Like a huge fish swimming into a hitherto unexplored and unexpectedly exciting aquarium, he sailed resolutely forward.’ (p46)

In this fourth outing it is obvious that certain characters will continue to surface in Nick’s life. ‘Widmerpool was a recurring milestone on the road; perhaps it would be more apt to say that his course, as one jogged round the track, was run from time to time, however different the pace, in common with my own.’ (p47)

Nick is surprised to learn he is getting married to Mildred, which is quite shocking news…

Other news concerns the rumbling in Europe caused by the ascension of Herr Hitler. Widmerpool has a leaning towards the ‘socialist’ political spectrum. ‘People talk of rearming. I am glad to say the Labour Party is against it to a man – and the more enlightened Tories, too.’ (p66) This is another one of those lengthy speeches Powell’s characters indulge in. ‘What is much more likely to be productive is to settle things round a table…’ (p67) So, while the bohemians and businessmen enjoy their chatter over cocktails, all of Europe sleepwalks towards a world war.

Later, mention is made of the embargo on arms to Bolivia and Paraguay, the ‘Smash Fascism’ group, the worries about Mosley, and the independence of Catalonia, and free meals for schoolchildren. (p120) And, briefly touched on, the conflict between Japan and China (p203).

Again, Nick meets Quiggin and the Tolland family, notably Erridge. The arrival one evening of Susan and Isobel Tolland is quite seismic for Nick: ‘The atmosphere changed suddenly, violently. One became all at once aware of the delicious, sparkling proximity of young feminine beings. The room was transformed.’ (p136) Powell doesn’t go in for emotion. The books are observational, dealing with manners, pomposity, venality, and the narrator is virtually invisible. ‘Would it be too explicit, too exaggerated, to say that when I set eyes on Isobel Tolland, I knew at once that I should marry her?’ (p137) There’s much about marriage – and divorce, too. Nick’s friend Peter Templer said, ‘Women may show some discrimination about whom they sleep with, but they’ll marry anybody.’ (p187) And Nick himself contemplated that blessed union, too: ‘I, too, should be married soon, a change that presented itself in terms of action rather than reflection, the mood in which even the most prudent often marry: a crisis of delight and anxiety, excitement and oppression.’ (p201)

While there are no great laughs, despite this being described as a humorous novel, there are moments that raise a smile. One of these is Erridge’s butler, Smith. An alcoholic who imbibed from the cellar, he was shaken when asked if there were any champagne in the cellar.

‘Champagne, m’lord?’
‘Have we got any? One bottle would do. Even a half-bottle.’
Smith’s face puckered, as if manfully attempting to force his mind to grapple with a mathematical or philosophical problem of extraordinary complexity. His hearing suggested that he had certainly before heard the word “champagne” used, if only in some distant, outlandish context; that devotion to his master alone gave him some apprehension of what this question – these ravings, almost – might mean… After a long pause, he at last shook his head.
‘I doubt if there is any champagne left, m’lord.’ (p143)

Nick’s friend Stringham seems dominated in some manner by Miss Weedon, Tuffy, who may have designs on curing Stringham of his affection for alcohol. Nick ‘found her a trifle alarming. She gave an impression of complete singleness of purpose: the impression of a person who could make herself very disagreeable if thwarted.’ (p163) We shall see more of her in volume 5.

Molly’s sister Lady Warminster is a widow and a hypochondriac, and ‘awe-inspiring. Something of the witch haunted her delicate, aquiline features and transparent ivory skin: a calm, autumnal beauty that did not at all mask the amused, malicious, almost insane light that glinted all the time in her infinitely pale eyes. When young, she must have been very good-looking indeed.’ (p205)

The book begins with recollections of Nick’s family’s distant relation, General Conyers and almost ends with him in the flesh, paraphrasing Foch: ‘War not an exact science, but a terrible and passionate drama? Something like that. Fact is, marriage is rather like that too.’

If I’d been reading these books when they were first published, I may well have lost the thread and interest, waiting a year or more between each ‘episode’. Being able to read them in close proximity (even if interspersed with other books), the characters do tend to live – even if essentially uneventful lives.

The cover depicts Kenneth Widmerpool by Mark Butcher; a fleeting resemblance to Reginald Maudling (1917-1979), British politician.

Next: 5 - Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant.

Editorial comment:

Still huge unbroken paragraphs, also in speech, which is totally unrealistic.

Again, there’s not a great deal of description of the scenes that contain the characters, the reader can’t actually ‘be there’.

As observed above, Powell’s character descriptions are a delight.