Thursday 7 September 2023



I haven't written a blog post for a long time - not sure why. In fact I don't seem to be writing anything as intensely as I have in the past. Book seven, provisionally titled BLOOD ON THE NILE, is making much slower progress than the previous six. I guess I've just been concentrating on other projects. But, as my blog seems to be getting quite a number of views lately I thought I'd better write something.

The provisional title of the book may be a little misleading. The reason is that my detective, DI Sonny Russell is tasked with tracking down the origin of some Egyptian artifacts that are thought to have been obtained illegally. His boss, Superintendent Stout, thinks he's the right man as he was out in the East during the war, despite Sonny's protestations that Egypt is a long way from where he was stationed. Now, if I was a full-time writer, with a decent income from writing, I could justify a trip to Egypt for research, but as I'm only a poor part-timer it's unlikely to happen. So It will be the usual Google and Wikipedia searches for information.

As with my other books I try to weave several story threads together and the title of this post is a reference to another of those. Briefly, a man is found dead beneath the cliffs at Pett Level (I'm not giving anything away as this happens early in the book) and a nearby 'sanatorium' comes under suspicion. Strangely though, when the police return, the building is empty and the neighbours can't help. I've just posted on social media, asking where to find information about the ownership of the house and almost immediately a number of people have come back. The Land Registry seems the best port of call. I won't need to actually follow it through - this is fiction, after all - but I now know where the police need to go.

Friday 21 April 2023



Do you ever go through a seemingly endless period where a lot seems to be happening but you don't feel as if you're achieving much? Those times when however much you try to tick items off the to-do list, it never seems to get any shorter? And your diary seems to be piling up with so many engagements you wonder if you'll ever be able to do any of them, let alone all of them? Well that's how I feel at the moment.

But, I keep telling myself, it's not as bad as it seems. My sixth book in the DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels has recently been launched and is selling well*. Plus, the others in the series are still going out, particularly the first one, Blood on the Tide. This is gratifying as hopefully, if new readers like it, they continue with others in the series.

*I stepped into the breach and gave a last minute talk recently as the scheduled speaker had tested positive for covid. The talk was to quite a small group in Benenden in Kent but as much of the action in Blood on the Dunes takes place nearby, I sold quite a number of copies, which was most gratifying. 

Although I've started on book six, provisionally titled Blood on the Nile**, I haven't made much progress, due to the reasons outlined above. But, I have been asked several times, by readers who have already finished 'Dunes', when the next book will be ready! As it usually takes a year to write a book, there will be a bit of a delay.

** Does this mean that DI Sonny Russell will be venturing further abroad, I hear you ask. Well, possibly. For relaxation, I model narrow gauge railways and several of my books have been inspired by the layouts I've built. In fact, the whole series started with a model I made based on the quayside at Rye Harbour in Sussex. For a while now I have been building an Egyptian themed layout called Caravanserai, so this has provided some of the inspiration for the next book. But, book and model alike are a long way from being finished, so meanwhile, I'll continue trading water.

Monday 14 November 2022




Now that BLOOD ON THE DUNES is - almost - done and dusted, I've started thinking about the next book. Blood on the Tide was inspired by my narrow gauge railway layout, Compass Point, Blood on the Strand by Castle Quay, my Rock-a-Nore based layout in a winebox. So as I'm currently building Caravanserai, an Egyptian themed layout, my thoughts turned towards North Africa.


I've mentioned in the previous books that DI Russell spent time in the East when he was in the army during WW2 although I didn't specify where precisely. However, I did say that was where he found an interest in Eastern philosophy and vegetarianism, so I doubt it was Egypt. But, I'm wondering if he might have had a colleague who stayed on and joined the Egyptian police. My thoughts are turning to the possibility that ancient relics are being looted and smuggled into the UK. This would allow the narrative to swing between England and the East.

Obviously he'll need to be able to get there easily so another part of my research involves looking at means of travel and, it seems, British European Airways may well have flown there in the 1950s. The other thing which has piqued my interest is the Suez crisis, which could provide a rich seam of information. Although that was over by 1957, I'm sure I could include some of it on the book.

Anyway, it's early days yet so there's lots of fun ahead.

Monday 24 October 2022

WORMHOLES - getting lost on the net


getting lost on the net

Eric Ravilious - Drought

Wormholes. Do you ever disappear down them? I do, and I just have. As Blood on the Dunes is finished I'm having a break from writing and have been able to indulge in something else. I've long been a fan of the artist, Eric Ravilious, and came across one of his paintings I'd not seen before called Drought. It features an out-of-use steam roller with a living van, tar wagon and water bowser. I'd been planning a model railway layout based on another of his paintings, The Cement Works and thought the roller ensemble would make a nice little cameo on the layout.

Eric Ravilious - The Cement Pit 1

I already had a roller, I'd made from a kit, and a scratchbuilt living van, then I found an exquisite ready-made model of a tar cart on a model website. Now all need was a water bowser. The only ones available - in kit form or ready made were of a different pattern, and as I wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the picture, I would have to make my own.

I found a suitable photo and assembled the necessary components - a pair of wheels and little plastic vial. By combining these with some shaped styrene sheet and stiff wire I've fashioned a semblance of the water cart in the picture. Then, I disappeared down an internet wormhole.

I was struggling with resolving the shafts which must be used to pull the cart. In the painting they appear to be two parallel bars, suitable for a horse. This seemed strange as I assumed it would have been pulled by the roller. The other conundrum was the actual purpose of the wagon. Further digging revealed that there are two distinct types. One, is used for the sole purpose of transporting water, like this WW1 example.

The other, is for sprinkling water onto freshly laid tarmacadam, and this is the type in the painting. Luckily, as I travelled down the wormhole, I was able to find evidence of this in an article about the restoration of one at the Beamish Museum.

This clearly shows a box attached to the back, with holes drilled to distribute the water so this is what I will model. As to the shafts, do I leave them as is, or convert them so they can be towed by the roller?

Thursday 22 September 2022



Posing at the George in Rye

Moving out of my comfort zone, as part of the Rye Arts Festival I gave a talk on The Potteries of Rye - in Rye. I'm used to talking to groups as I've been doing it for over ten years now, but doing it in my hometown, to an audience of locals, about a subject they probably knew a bit about was rather daunting. However, The 60+ who where there were responsive, attentive and even laughed at my jokes, so after all it went really well.

Potteries talk in the George

But, I can't rest on my laurels as I have a more daunting task this evening when I'll be interviewing the Reverend Richard Coles in Rye Church. He's written a novel called 'Murder before Evensong' and as a fellow crime writer I've been asked to talk to him about his book, and crime-writing. (I might even touch on his time in The Communards!) Wish me luck!

Reverend Richard Coles.


Saturday 27 August 2022



When I started writing BLOOD ON THE DUNES I began, as always, with a germ of an idea but no definite plan of where the story was going or, indeed, how it was going to end. This is quite normal for me, as I write like a reader - to find out what is going to happen next. The trouble was, by the time I was approaching 20,000 words (about a quarter of the way through), I knew, not only the path the story was going to take but, more alarmingly, how it was going to end. This was definitely not good as either it was going to be a very short book or, more worryingly, I would have to start again from scratch.

By way of a diversion I had introduced a side story concerning the disappearance of a boy from a children's home. (This device is known as a MacGuffin*). DI Sonny Russell is sent to investigate. He is reluctant as he'd rather be involved in more serious crimes, but his boss, Superintendent Stout, insists it's important. Russell thinks that's because the man in charge of the children's home is one of his golfing buddies. 

Then it dawned on me. This diversion was actually a rich seam that I could mine. Suddenly the boy became pivotal to the whole plot and now, as I approach the conclusion to the book, he's taken on a life of his own, which was most unexpected.

In my first DI Russell novel, BLOOD ON THE TIDE, one of the main characters was a German, called Wolfgang. He wasn't a vey nice man but he was disabled and his childhood was rather unhappy. Talking to readers I've since learned that they felt sorry for him. It made me realise that I'd accidentally created a rather complex person that people related to quite differently from how I'd anticipated they would. With this in mind, I've now deliberately written a character, who is far from nice, but who has arrived at where he is because of past circumstances. Hopefully, I've pulled it off.

If you would like to know more about Wolfgang and haven't already discovered my series of books, set mainly around Rye and Romney Marsh in the 1950s, they are available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in paperback direct from the author

*In fiction, a MacGuffin is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself. The term was originated by Angus MacPhail for film, adopted by Alfred Hitchcock, and later extended to a similar device in other fiction. 

Sunday 15 May 2022



Burning charcoal

Why the strange dual title you may ask? Let me explain. In my current work in progress, BLOOD ON THE DUNES, the main character, a runaway from a children's home, is hiding in the woods. He has a copy of Baden Powell's Scouting for Boys which he's read from cover to cover and is skilled in woodmanship and all manner of outdoor skills. So he plans to build a shelter, a bivouac, so he can stay concealed. He pushes deeper into the woods and is delighted to discover a readymade shelter. He doesn't realise that's it's an abandoned Charcoal burner's hut.

Construction of a charcoal burner's hut

Charcoal burning is an ancient tradition going back over 3,000 years. It was discovered that charcoal provided sufficient heat for iron-smelting, glass-making and working with precious metals. It was the discovery that charcoal could be used to smelt tin and copper together, hence the Bronze Age, which lasted from c3,500-800 BC. It continued to be used into the Iron Age although as this required much higher temperatures, coal and coke rapidly replaced it from about 1700 onwards. The production of charcoal then went into decline and almost died out until a revival during WW1 when it was used extensively as a filter in gas masks. Again, the craft faded away until a brief revival for the same purpose in WW2. Nowadays production is limited to the use on barbecues and in some incenses.

A charcoal burner's hut

So much for the history lesson, now to plagiarism. I wrote about a couple of  felons who took shelter in a charcoal burner's hut after a train robbery in BLOOD ON THE SHRINE, but didn't go into much detail. But, I went back to that book and 'borrowed' some of what I'd written for inclusion in the new book. I must stress that I haven't copied it verbatim, just used some of the ideas I'd written down. It also sent me down a research rabbit hole looking into the ancient craft. Here's a link if you'd like to know more. 
New Forest Charcoal Burners - Real New Forest Guide