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

Saturday, 16 April 2022



    I've just returned from a Maker's Market in the nearby village. It was mainly crafts and brocante so my books stood out as being quite different. It was an early - 8.45am - start and very little happened for the first couple of hours. In fact there were far more stallholders that visitors and I started to think it was going to be a bit of a damp squib. Fortunately, more people arrived, it picked up and by the finish, at 2pm, I was pleased with the number of books I'd sold.

But... and there had to be a but, didn't there? While enjoying myself, chatting to my potential readers, I couldn't help thinking about what I should have been doing. 

I'm really keen to get on with Blood on the Dunes, book six in the series, as it's taken a lot longer than the others. This is only partly due to the pandemic, more to do with the book itself. Like the writer Ann Cleeves - Vera and Shetland - I write as a reader, i.e. I start off with the germ of an idea but I've no real clue as to where the story is going and keep writing to find out how it's going to end. This time, I knew the ending before I'd even reached halfway. So It was either going to be a very short book or I'd have to start again. However, after several long walks on the beach with Aggie I started formulating an idea on how to extend it. 

I'd introduced a15 year old boy who'd disappeared from a children's home. Initially, he was written as a minor character, then as I became more interested in him, his character started to develop. Now much of the story revolves around what happens to him. I really didn't see that coming!

As I mentioned earlier, I realised I should be getting on with something else. Sadly, that's not writing but garden design. I'm up against deadlines on two large projects, so I'd better conclude this blog and get on with them!

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

I'M STUCK! Time to bump someone else off.


Time to bump someone else off.

I'm just over a third of the way through writing BLOOD ON THE DUNES, and I'm struggling. Normally, at this stage in a book I have several story threads going in different directions, not actually knowing when and where they will come together. But whether it's because of the pandemic or something else I seem to have reached a point where I know where the disparate stories are going to resolve, and I'm not even halfway through!

Without giving too much away, a skeleton has been revealed in the sand (hence the book title) and a man has been found dead after a big storm. Also, a boy is missing from a children's home. Unfortunately, I know just how these are connected, but it's far to early to reveal the connection. I've given this a huge amount of thought, on my walks on the beach with Aggie, without coming up with any sensible ideas. Then, yesterday, I had a brainwave. I'm going to have to produce another body!

This might sound drastic, and, on the face of it, not very realistic, but I think I can blend another death into the story, convincingly. I just hope it will provide enough fodder to help carry the story on for another 50,000 words. Fingers crossed.