Sunday, 16 August 2020

TELLING A TALE - Story settings



I think it's really important to describe the settings in the stories I write. I like to paint a word picture so the reader can fully imagine the location where the action is taking place. In Blood on the Tide, a WWII bomb is retrieved from the mud at Compass Point (Rye Harbour). I tried hard to describe the concern of the soldiers as they sweated to get it out, while watching the tide gradually roll in.

In Blood on the Shrine, DI Sonny Russell is sent to a Buddhist retreat, almost as a joke by superintendent Vic Stout. But Russell is much more spiritual than his boss realises and delights in being there. I drew on my own, not insignificant experiences, of Buddhism to describe the peace and serenity encountered at a retreat.

The story in Blood on the Strand revolves around gold and silver valuables that were stolen towards the end of WWII. The net shops in Hastings play a large part in the story. I wanted to recreated the sight and smells of these iconic buildings and the surrounding fishermen's beach.

In the fourth DI Sonny Russell mystery the occult and fortune tellers come to the fore. During my research I was delighted to discover that the occultist Aleister Crowley, once named 'the wickedest man in the world', ended his days in a nursing home in Hastings. I described a visit made made by Septimus Pike, a sinister antique dealer, to the infamous character and the sad situation he finished up in.

My current work in progress, book five in the series, begins with an investigation into the disappearance of two characters. Quite a lot of the action takes place at a grand manor house, named Sowsden Manor in my story. But, it's actually based on a place I know well - but I'm not telling!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK - the first teenagers.

the first teenagers

                         Elvis Presley                                                       John Lennon 1958

As my crime novels are set in the 1950s I try to include as much detail as possible, to authenticate the period. I'm currently writing book 5, Blood in the Garden. There are two types of writers, plotters and pantsters. The former are meticulous in planning the characters and settings and know exactly where the book is going and how it is going to end. The latter start with a germ of an idea and write like a reader, constantly finding out where the plot is going and discovering new characters along the way. I'm a pantster. But I'm in good company. Ann Cleeves, who writes the hugely successful books that the TV series of Vera and Shetland are based on is one too.

My current story involves the discovery of a body in the back of a Morris Traveller. The pathologist in my books, John Crooks, tells DI Sonny Russell that he thinks it's the work of Teddy Boys.

My novels are set in a sleepy corner of East Sussex where Teds are unlikely to be seen, in any number anyway, so Sonny Russell goes up to London to see an old army pal who is now a DCI in the Met. 

Now, although I was around in the 50's, and have a vague memory of Teddy Boys, I don't remember much except the way they dressed. So, it's been quite an education to find out about them. You'll have to wait until the book is published to see if I've got it right!

Thursday, 9 July 2020

STRANGE TIMES but Life must go on

but Life must go on.

I'm sitting in my writing studio, listening to the wind howling outside. The branches of the oak tree are rattling on the roof - must cut them back - and the sea looks angry, with white horses piling up. Plus life is extra stressful in my day job as a garden designer, with materials becoming difficult to source. Not surprising in the current circumstances, but still frustrating. However, I'm safe and warm so I shouldn't really complain.

Despite the difficulties in making progress on my current book, BLOOD ON THE GARDEN and, of course, Aggie is in it, assisting her 'master' DI Sonny Russell with his cases.

In this book I've decided to incorporate the plant knowledge I've accumulated in my working life. As an aside, I only started gardening seriously less than 20 years ago, when my work as a freelance modelmaker began drying up. I used to carry a library of 'how to garden' books and plant encyclopedias around in my car when I started. Learning the necessary skills was a steep learning curve, culminating in three medal winning gardens at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and a career in garden design. So I think I'm reasonably qualified now.

I've used my skills in designing and building a courtyard garden in my little holiday let cottage in Northiam....

 ...And I am gradually transforming the garden at home.

I do like a wild, jungle feel, as you can see, and have all too easily achieved this on the 39 Steps up to my studio. The plants are: Tetrapanax papyrifer - Rice paper plant, Lysimachia clethroides - Gooseneck loosestrife, Alchemilla mollis - Lady's mantle and Leycesteria formosa - Himalayan honeysuckle.
As mentioned above, I'm going to incorporate my plant knowledge in the new book - which will go well with the title. So be prepared for some colourful passages!

Thursday, 25 June 2020

CHANNELING ROWLAND EMETT - a change of direction

a change of direction

Lockdown makes you do strange things. The inspiration for my DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels initially came from a narrow gauge railway layout I built called Compass Point. This was  loosely based on Rye Harbour, the major setting for the first book and subsequently playing a part in the others. I was astonished to find that the layout was started in 2014 and I began writing Blood on the Tide in 2016. How time flies when you're having fun. 

Three books later, I'm struggling with book five, provisionally titled Blood in the Garden. so, by way of a diversion, I've been modelling a new railway, inspired by the drawings and works of Rowland Emett. He produced the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway that was featured in the 1951 Festival of Britain where it carried over 2 million passengers. My interpretation is not a slavish copy as you can see if you look at It's more an homage or tribute to the man.

I know it looks a bit mad but it's been great fun, working to my normal modelling standards, but producing something whimsical. You never know, it might inspire me to start writing - but what?!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

LOCKDOWN! - a force for good?

LOCKDOWN! – a force for good?

How is everyone in these strange times? For my 100th post I thought I write something a little different and reflect what is happening currently. 

When I was younger – it seems so long ago now – my reading of choice was mainly science fiction. I devoured books by Arthur C Clarke: The City and the Stars, A Fall of Moondust, Rendezvous with Rama and of course, the magnificent, 2001 A Space Odyssey. But I particularly enjoyed J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, The Drought and the Wind from Nowhere. At the time I just thought they were thoroughly good reads but now realise they were way ahead of their time. What I find extraordinary is how, in this age of uncertainly, how prescient many of them were.

Who would have predicted, even a few months ago, the state the whole world is in? We are faced with a faceless ‘enemy’. Not some alien from outer space but a fast-moving malevolent force that strikes indiscriminately. No one knows how, or even when, this pandemic is going to end. Up until recently the news has concentrated on numbers – of those infected and deaths – but is now starting to focus more on individuals and the human tragedy. For me, this is really bringing the gravity of the situation home. So far, none of my relatives or close friends have succumbed to the disease but I wonder if it is just a matter of time.

On the positive side, many aspects of life have changed for the better. The skies are clearer, there is less pollution and, thankfully, nature seems to be carrying on in its usual rhythm. Many of us are forced to spend time at home, with our families, which may well cause stress and strife but, hopefully, will bring us closer together with a greater understanding of each other. More people seem to be taking the trouble to exercise, which can only be for the good. I just hope that, when all this is over and we return to some semblance of normality, we have learned from it and make the world a better, more considerate, place to live in.

Sunday, 29 March 2020



Fishermen's rail track and hut - Dungeness

You'd think that in these straightened times I'd be cracking on with writing the next instalment of the adventures of DI Sonny Russell and his loyal terrier, Aggie. Well I should be. But... some sort of ennui has set in and, in the evening, when I'd normally lounge on the sofa with the laptop, I seem to be gorging on crime dramas on Netflix or BBC iPlayer. I doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about writing - I am - it's just that I'm not actually doing it although I have started.

Old bridge over the Royal Military Canal at Appledore

But that's part of the problem. I've started not one, but two books. One, provisionally titled BLOOD IN THE GARDEN, is planned to be the fifth in the DI Russell series set in the 1950s. The other, THE WRONG CAR, is my attempt at writing a contemporary story, more in keeping with the current trend for grittier, up to the minute writing. My dilemma, as well as a general laziness, is choosing which one to continue with. 

Netherwood House, Hastings
Last home of Aleister Crowley

I seem to be developing a following for my 1950s series and have sold 1/4 of the first print run of my new novel, BLOOD ON THE CARDS, plus the kindle sales have been encouraging. So perhaps I should stick to this and trust that the momentum continues. However, like most writers, I would like to sell more books and wonder if I should be writing in a style that's currently in vogue.

Suggestions would be gratefully received. The photos I've used above are from scenes in BLOOD ON THE CARDS which is available from me or on Amazon.


Sunday, 15 March 2020



Aleister Crowley 1912

In BLOOD ON THE CARDS*, the fourth in my DI Sonny Russell crime novel series, one of the characters recalls meeting Aleister Crowley.

 Russell opened the book again. On the frontispiece he read, “Illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris”. ‘Golly’ was that her? A real lady.’
‘She certainly was. We got chatting and she confided in me. She’d been friends with Crowley for years, apparently. As far as I could make out she was some sort of disciple and had followed his teachings on something called, I think, Thelema. Some mumbo jumbo, anyway. He had come to live in Hastings - she’d heard he was ill and had travelled down from London to check on him. Apparently he was dirty and neglected so she arranged for a nurse to look after him. Anyway, she asked if I was interested in old books. I wasn’t going to turn down a chance to meet him so I said yes. He was in lodgings at Netherwood House on The Ridge in Hastings and I visited him there.’
‘What was he like?’
‘He was an old man by then. Early seventies, I think. He wasn’t well, coughed a lot and looked pale and drawn. I understood he was addicted to heroin. But there was something in his eyes. I don’t know, a darkness or something. His room was number 13…’
‘Of course.’
Pike nodded. ‘Despite being near the end he still had a huge presence.’
‘What did you talk about?’
‘Nothing of consequence, as I recall. Chess – he was member of the local club; hadn’t ever been beaten, apparently. The weather – he found the climate in the South good for his bronchitis. Lady Frieda showed me some books that he wanted to sell. They were old but there was nothing particularly special so I offered a few shillings, which she seemed happy to accept.’
‘Is that how you came by this?’ Russell tapped the book.
‘Oh no.’ Pike leaned forward, his eyes sparkling. ‘He gave it to me.’
‘How come?’
‘Before I left, I went over to say goodbye – he was sitting in a large wing chair. He grabbed hold of my hand – almost pulled me on top of him. I was amazed at his strength – he looked so feeble. He stared into my eyes. I can’t tell you how it felt. Creepy I suppose. Strangely compelling. Then he relaxed his grip and said: “You must have this,” and gave me the book. I heard that he died not long after.’
‘Is he buried somewhere nearby?’
‘No, no. The people of Hastings thought he was evil so he was cremated in Brighton.’

I became interested in him and his influence and did quite a bit of research about him - what I believe they call in university, reading around the subject. Although he died in 1947, he fascinated many who followed including Jimmy Page of the band Led Zeppelin.

Jimmy Page with twin-necked Gibson

In 1969 he became intrigued by Crowley and his cult Thelema. So much so that it is rumoured that two of the occultist's sayings, Do As Thou Wilt and So Mote It Be are carved into the outro tracks on the vinyl recording of Led Zeppelin III. He became even more involved as evinced in the next album, Led Zeppelin IV, where the band members are represented by magic symbols in the inner cover.

Led Zeppelin IV

Page collaborated with a filmmaker, Kenneth Anger, who practiced 'Magick' as set out by Crowley. Later the two fell out and Anger was said to have put a curse on the band. Not long after singer, Robert Plant and his family were nearly killed when their car went over a cliff in Greece, causing them to cancel the rest of the band's tour they were on. In 1977 Plant's son died. Page didn't attend the funeral which almost caused the break-up of the band. 

The Beatles - Abbey Road

I watched an interview with Jimmy Page. Hesaid Zep weren't the only band to be affected with conspiracies. On November 9th 1966 a rumour spread that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by someone who had won a lookalike competition, know as Billy Shears. (Billy Shears is also mentioned in the opening to 'A Little Help from My Friends' on the Sergeant Pepper album.) Absolute rubbish, of course, but the rumour spread and stayed for a long time. It gained more traction when the wonderful abbey Road Album came out and featured the Beatles crossing the road outside the recording studio and Paul is pictured barefoot. Even before that on the track, Glass Onion on the White Album John Lennon sings, ‘here’s another clue for you all, The Walrus is Paul’.

BLOOD ON THE CARDS is currently with the printer and will we available soon.