New book on the loose!

Very pleased to announce the publication of my twentieth novel, the seventh case for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller, ZORILLA AT LARGE!

With an escaped animal and a serial killer on the loose, Brough, Miller and the rest of the Serious Crimes Division have never been busier. Meanwhile, foul-mouthed Chief Inspector Wheeler is swearier than ever, faced with the toughest decision of her career. The Dedley detectives are back in their seventh – and funniest – investigation.

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All Mod Cons

Having flicked through five hundred channels, Arlo tossed the remote onto the sofa. He hooked his earphones on and pressed ‘shuffle’. He wasn’t too thrilled with the player’s first random selection so he pressed ‘skip’ a few times until he found a song he could tolerate. He stood on a pad and hovered to the kitchen. The ice-maker had a cool drink waiting and the oven was flashing a question “What time’s dinner?” but he couldn’t be bothered to tell it. He might summon pizza or something from an app instead.

He checked his messages on all platforms, clicking the little heart icon underneath several photographs without looking at them properly. A couple of people were saying Hi. He said Hi back. He’d check again tomorrow to see how they responded to that one.

He floated back to the living room, hopped off the hover pad and dropped onto the sofa. A quick touch of the dial adjusted the cushions, plumping them up and cooling the temperature for optimum comfort. He switched to games mode and selected an interactive shoot-’em-up set in an abandoned city. There was only a couple of other players logged in, neither of whose handles Arlo recognised. He shot a few prostitutes and smashed a car into a shop window before disconnecting, bored to death.

He activated the pizza delivery app but couldn’t decide on toppings. “Drones are standing by” the app informed him in bright colours. Drones who would bring him mushroom, pineapple and garlic – whatever his heart desired on a pizza.

He decided he wasn’t hungry after all and undressed for a sonic shower. Invisible pulses cleaned his skin. You couldn’t feel it but somehow you felt fresher afterwards. Renewed. He lay on his bed for a vibro-massage, scrolling through his tablet for something to read, but nothing held his attention. He couldn’t remember the last time he had found a clip of a kitten falling off a skateboard even vaguely amusing.

Which reminded him. He opened the app and ‘fed’ his cyber-pet, an amorphous creature that changed colour according to mood and physical condition. The thing purred and hooted with pleasure, rubbing itself against the other side of the screen. Arlo tickled the glass absently.

He asked the wardrobe to pick out a clean outfit for the evening. The scanners assessed his temperament and put together items of black clothing. “Very funny,” Arlo scowled.

An unfamiliar chiming rang out. Arlo checked all the devices in his bedroom. He hopped onto a pad and glided from room to room but he could not locate the source of the chimes.

Eventually, it stopped. Arlo went to bed for an immersive experience with a couple of holographic women.

Walking away from the house, Arlo’s mother took one last sad look back. He never calls, her shoulders slumped, and he never seems to be at home. He must be having the time of his life; my boy, out there in the world.

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The Fox

Reynard the fox slipped across the dual carriageway. It was quiet at this time of night and the danger from the cars and lorries was vastly reduced. He trotted through the shopping centre, pausing only to sniff at the litter bins on his way to the skips behind the restaurant. You could count on plenty of food in the city at night. Humans are such careless, wasteful creatures. They don’t know how good they’ve got it.

He crunched some bones from a fried chicken shop, scaring several rats who screeched and complained that they had found it first. Get lost, Reynard told them. Vermin!

Yes, life was good since he’d become an urban fox. He’d met a vixen who had shown him around – where the best places were for litter, for hiding, for sleeping during the day. Her name was Daisy but she had been killed by a motorbike, its cyclopean headlight confusing her for a moment. Fatally, as it turned out.

Now, Reynard operated alone. He considered going back to the countryside and enticing a female to return with him. Things were crazy in the countryside. Humans chased foxes, haughty on horseback, trumpeting like elephants, and spurring horse and hound alike to move in for the kill. And they call us cruel! Reynard marvelled. All right, if I come across a chicken coop, of course I’m going to break in and kill the lot. It’s only forward planning. Give me time and I’d carry them all away and cache them somewhere safe for a rainy day, but no. There were always alarms, and gunshots, and even banging saucepans together until I run away. I rarely get the chance to eat what I kill, thanks to humans.

But his new life suited him well enough. He was even gaining weight. Must be the fried food, he reckoned. I’m a hunter no more. A scavenger taking what I can find. And I never have to look very hard.

The humans, though, were a different story. Riding roughshod across the land, baying for blood. Reynard had heard rumours that they didn’t even eat what they hunted. It was just sport to them, the instilling of terror, the ripping apart. They even painted the faces of their young in their quarry’s blood. It was sick, in his opinion. You wouldn’t catch an animal acting like that.

He climbed onto a skip and dropped inside onto a mattress of discarded food. There was enough to feed him, a mate and a family of cubs for weeks, and the humans just threw it all away.

Reynard ate his fill. There was still time for a snooze before the sun came up and the humans came to open the supermarket. His last thought of the night, before consciousness slipped away, was “If I can give up hunting and live very well, why can’t they?”

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Sneak peek: Escape From Vultures’ Moon

Here’s the opening sequence to the third book in the Vultures’ Moon series, currently out with my beta-readers.  I await their verdict.

Jed and his Horse watched the fireworks soar high above the rooftops of Tarnation. Bursts of colourful sparks painted the early evening sky with fleeting, fiery flowers. From this distance, you couldn’t hear them but the gunslinger was sure the townsfolk were all a-whooping and a-hollering at each and every whizz-bang and folderol.

Pioneers’ Day. A public holiday that was a welcome respite from the toil and hard labour of eking out a life for yourself on the frontier world of Vultures’ Moon. Jed didn’t begrudge anybody a day off but, inevitably, once night fell and the fireworks were done, the menfolk would adjourn to the saloons and instead of rockets, fists would fly and Jed would be hard pressed to keep the peace. Yup, come morning, Sheriff Dawson would have standing room only in the Tarnation jail.

“That reminds me,” said Horse, tracking the explosion of a rocket, “That shooting star we saw the other night.”

Jed scratched the stubble on his chin. “I remember,” he said, although he did not need to utter a word; Horse seemed always to know what Jed was thinking. “It was green.”

“And I said it wasn’t a shooting star,” his steed continued, “and you said it most likely was, and I pointed out it couldn’t be, and you tried to account for the green hue –”

“I remember!” Jed interrupted Horse’s monologue before it could develop into a one-act play. “I said it was on account of atmospherics or some such.”

“You’re a scientific genius,” said Horse. “I say we should go and check it out.”

Jed grunted. His old friend Doc Brandy would have known exactly what had fallen from the sky – but the doc was dead and buried and no longer in a position to divulge any information.

Horse’s eyes flashed as he conducted computations. “Judging by the parabola… I should say it landed due west of here. Twenty miles, give or take.”

“Landed?”

“Yes. It wasn’t a shooting star. I thought we had established that.”

Jed couldn’t be bothered to argue. He tugged on the reins – something he rarely ever did or had to do.

“Ow!” Horse complained – but it was a complaint born of annoyance rather than physical discomfort.

“Let’s get to town,” Jed said flatly. “See if we cain’t head off a good deal of the trouble afore it kicks off.”

Horse rose into the air and swooped down into the valley, a little too sharply for his rider’s liking. The gunslinger had to hold onto his white hat as they made the descent but his face remained impassive and his square jaw remained set. There was no way Jed was going to betray his own annoyance.

“We could go tomorrow,” Horse suggested. “Your diary is clear.”

“Go?”

“To find our shooting star.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t no –” Jed stopped himself. He didn’t want to give Horse the satisfaction of knowing he was irritated. “Maybe,” he said in such a way to indicate it was his final word on the matter.

For now, thought Horse.

He trotted toward the town, coming to a halt at the end of Tarnation’s Main (and only) Street.

“What the – ?” Jed dismounted.

The bangs and flashes were still going on but they were no longer decorating the sky.

“These ain’t no fireworks…” the gunslinger drew a pistol. “Scan ahead.”

Horse obliged.

“Well?” said Jed. People were running in all directions. Running and screaming.

“Let me run it again,” said Horse. “Some kind of gunfire – I’ve never encountered this type before.”

“Analysis can wait,” Jed urged as a man in a plaid shirt fell face down in front of him. “Who’s doing the shooting and how many?”

“Well, that’s just it, Jed,” said Horse. “Apart from the fleeing and the dead, I can’t detect anyone at all.”

brown-horse-head-md

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Meanwhile at the Salon…

Nick turned the sign on the door around to ‘Closed’ and pushed the bolt home. Another busy day at the salon was over and the till was brimming with banknotes. He’d transfer the takings to the safe in the office and leave the sweeping up for the apprentice to do in the morning.

He turned off the lights and was just reaching for his jacket when the telephone rang.

“We’re closed,” he told it but it kept ringing. The call went through to the answering machine.

“Nick! Pick up! I know you’re there…”

Nick’s heart sank. It was the Boss. He took the call.

“Sorry, Boss; I was just sweeping up.”

“Don’t bullshit me; we both know you’ll make poor Warren do it in the morning.”

Nick blushed.

“So, how’s business?” the Boss continued. “Plenty of punters?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said Nick, glad to have something positive to report.

“That’ll be the new haircut,” the Boss enthused. “They all want it.”

“Er…”

“Nick… You have been cutting the hair like I told you? Short around the back and sides and a big floppy quiff on the top. Like one of those little biscuits you used to see with the coloured swirl of sugar… What were they called?”

“Iced gems,” said Nick. “Listen, Boss –”

But the Boss was in no mood for listening. “No, you listen. I say that all men shall have this iced gems cut, and that is what shall happen.”

“But – sometimes they want something else. I let them choose. Hell, they can have a mullet if they want one!”

The phone in Nick’s hand glowed red hot as the Boss struggled to contain his temper.

“Let them CHOOSE? LET THEM CHOOSE?”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “You know, like ‘free will’ and all that.”

“Free will?” The Boss laughed. “Oh, that’s priceless! Free will is just an illusion. Surely, after all these millennia, you realise that? Create the illusion of free will and Man will do exactly what you want him to. Free will, my Aunt Fanny! How many have been in to ask for a mullet, or anything else? They all want the same haircut, whether it suits them or not. They’re no better than sheep, shepherding themselves.”

At least the Boss sounded as though he had cheered up a bit.

“So, what’s the point?” said Nick, leaning against the desk. “Why are you pissing about with haircuts and not smiting your enemies left, right and centre?”

“Oh, Nick. Nicky, Nick, Nick. It’s an allegory. Or a metaphor. Something of that nature.”

“Symbolic?”

“Yeah, that’ll do. It makes all the dangerous ones easier to spot. Those who don’t follow the herd shall be known by their hairstyle. And then – pow! – a-smiting I will go. Can’t have Man thinking for himself. Next thing you know, he’ll be saying we don’t exist.”

Nick suppressed a shudder.

“Oh, well, I’ll let you get on,” said the Boss. “I expect you’ve got fires to stoke, souls to torment, that kind of thing.”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “Night, Boss.”

He hung up and shrugged his jacket on. He reached his cap from the peg and set it at a jaunty angle so that it covered his horns.

Fire-stoking… Soul-tormenting… Nick turned off the lights.

Warren could do all that in the morning.

 iced-gems-2-fw

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Delivery After Dark

Just after sundown, the float left the depot and rattled through the town. Bottles shivered in crates as the driver negotiated speed bumps – how antiquated! Someone should dig these things up. Traffic calming measures were a thing of the past now that most people flew everywhere. Or ran on foot…

The driver got out and filled a wire basket with six bottles of the top quality stuff. Garden gates and hedges were no barrier. He sprang over each one, landing nimbly at the doorsteps and depositing the delivery, before trundling away to the next street to repeat the process. He liked to play a game with himself: to get away from a house before the heavy shutters over the doors and windows rolled up and the occupants stirred themselves from their coffins to face the night ahead.

There! In a bush, eyes flashed as the float’s headlights hit. A human, a feral human scavenging for scraps.

Run, the driver urged silently! Get out of here before they sense you. I’d chase you myself but I’ve got a job to do. I can’t afford to have the boss on my back again. He’ll bite my head off.

The human – a male, pale and starving – stalked away, disappearing into shadows. There were fewer of them around these days. Having been dispossessed of their towns and cities, they had fled to the heart of the countryside. Hunting expeditions had routed huge numbers of them, for sport and for cultivation. And now, the last remaining few were returning to the civilisation they had once controlled, haunting the streets and alleyways under the cover of daylight, desperate for food.

The driver completed the rest of his round wondering about the stray. If he was lucky, he’d be captured and delivered to the dairy where he would at least survive for a couple of years. If he was unlucky, he’d be chased down and savaged, drained of every drop where he fell. This kind of thing was frowned upon – the blood should be screened, the Vampire Authorities advised. It should be cleansed.

But sometimes there was nothing better than a good old-fashioned hunt.

The driver parked the float in a layby. He treated himself to a bottle of his own goods, peeling off the foil cap and savouring the coppery aroma of the rich red liquid. His tongue traced the tip of his fangs in eager anticipation of the delicious drink to come.

Go on, run, he lifted the bottle in toast to the feral human. If I see you tomorrow night, I just might come after you myself.

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Serial Offender

Writing a series is different from writing a stand-alone story. Well, duh. I currently have three series on the go, and I flit from one to another, fitting in one-offs in-between.

Blood & Breakfast was initially intended as a one-off, a kind of spoof on Norwegian Noir but set in my home town. I chucked in what little I knew then of Norwegian culture and away I went. I even started learning the language. A second draft brought the police detectives assigned to the case to the fore, and the story came to be seen largely through the eyes of newcomer Detective Inspector Brough.

I enjoyed writing these coppers so much I decided to give them more cases to investigate. And so the Brough & Miller series came to be. Their seventh story, Zorilla At Large! is due out any day now,

I like to write in different genres and challenged myself to write a Western, following the conventions as best as I could. It soon became clear – during the writing of the first page, in fact! – that my Western was going to be different. It occurred to me that my hero Jed’s horse was a Horse – a highly enhanced life-form with amazing capabilities. A bit like an iPhone with four legs, or Siri with a saddle. As I explored Jed’s world, a new planet was born. I’m currently working on the third Vultures’ Moon novel. It feels like the last in a trilogy (being the third – duh, again!) but whether there’ll be any more after this one remains to be seen.

Kiss of the Water Nymph is the only book I have written with a series in mind from the get-go. Hector Mortlake is a late-Victorian novelist, travelling the world with his man Cuthbert and getting embroiled in all kinds of Hammer Horror/Jules Verne adventures in the pursuit of inspiration for his fiction. His second exploit, Xolotl Strikes! is also imminent on the e-book shelves.

Writing later instalments means you have already created the main characters and the set-up, so you have to bring something new to the party. I dip into the lives of Brough and Miller and their co-workers at six-monthly intervals and catch up with what’s happened to them. The world of Vultures’ Moon becomes richer with each visit. The trick is not to keep writing the same story but to take what I’ve already created and develop it, revealing new aspects and ideas while retaining enough familiar elements to make it recognisably part of an extended narrative. That’s what I mean by writing a series is different. Why I didn’t just say that at the outset, I don’t know. I could have saved us both a lot of time.   Soz.

So, while most people binge-watch series on Netflix and by other means, I binge-write them. I hope you’ll find one to suit your tastes and interests. Repeat customers are the best customers.

Thanks for reading. Keep doing it.

owl-with-tablet-md

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Supervillain World

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty,” said the tour guide with a sad smile. “I guess it’s the superpower we all possess. But back then, somebody must have thought it was a good idea – and by good, I mean profitable, of course. We’re moving through to the highest security sector where the worst ones were incarcerated. No photography, please, and I would request that we observe a moment of silence for those who perished when it all went pear-shaped.”

The group of tourists nodded solemnly. A teenager at the back wondered why they were all so po-faced all of a sudden, but it didn’t occur to him to switch off his mp3 player long enough to find out. He traipsed behind the group, wanting it all to be over. Stupid educational trip! What the hell kind of theme park was this anyway? Whose bright idea had it been to lock up all the world’s supervillains on a single island? That was just asking for trouble. And whose brighter idea had it been to turn the prison into a tourist attraction? Come and gawk at the baddest of the bad guys! Like it’s some kind of zoo.

The group passed under an archway. Steel doors, three feet thick, clanged shut behind them. The metal was scarred with burns and pockmarks from the uprising, which, looking back, must have been inevitable.

Brainio, the super-genius, was thought to have been the instigator, communicating with the others with his telepathic abilities. His super-sized cranium had made his head an easy target for the treacherous Blast-o-path, who shot him down with a plasma dart as soon as they tasted fresh air.

“Had they formed a united front, they would have gotten off the island,” the tour guide droned on, her voice a bored sing-song, “And they would all be at large right now. But, being selfish megalomaniacs to a man, they each wanted to be the only one to escape, the only one to survive. I guess you can’t get along with your plans for world domination if you have serious competition all after the same planet.”

The guide pointed out each cell as they passed. Here was Ice-Monster’s, where the temperature had been lowered until the walls shattered like glass. Here was The Atomiser’s – he had snuck out, oozing between the molecules of the building. And so on, and so on.

They arrived at an obelisk on which had been carved the names of the dead – the unfortunate tourists who happened to be gawking at the inmates at the time of the outbreak.

The teenager at the back saw everyone’s head bow in respect. He unhooked his earbuds and did likewise. The guide surveyed the group with satisfaction. This bit always got to them, without fail.

While everyone was distracted, contemplating the horror and the loss that took place on that very spot, the tour guide rose in the air until she was high above the group. She emitted a head-splitting, skull-shattering scream until they all crumpled to the floor, unconscious.

Then she swooped down and helped herself to their wallets and pocket books. Oh, look, an mp3 player. Neat!

She tugged the device from the young man’s grasp and slipped it into her pocket.

World domination was never the aim for Ban-Shee. Having survived the super-carnage by deflecting everything that was thrown at her with sonic waves, she was happy to lead a double life, supplementing her meagre wages as a tour guide with the pickings from the ghoulish assholes who visited the island in their droves.

Serves them right, she shrugged. People died here. This is not a place of entertainment.

She set to cleaning up. The group would come to, in their boat in the middle of the bay, and not remember a thing about where they had been or what the hell they were doing.

After that, there’d be just enough time to retouch her make-up; there was another party booked in for two o’clock.

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Letting You Go

“What do you mean, you’re letting me go?” Rory strained to see in the darkened cellar. The man in the hood had his back to the single, low-hanging light bulb. “Have they sent the money?”

The silhouetted man shook his head: no.

“Then you’ve come to some other kind of arrangement? You’re going to pick up the money when you drop me off. I’ve seen how they do it in the films.”

A gloved hand rose to the hooded head. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Ror’ but well, see for yourself.”

He held a piece of paper for Rory to read.

“You’re standing in the light.”

The man stepped aside. Rory skimmed the words.

“Is this a joke? Is this some kind of tactic to break my spirit?”

The man pocketed the letter. “It’s authentic. Truth is, Rory old son, nobody wants to pay the ransom. Not your family, not your employer, nobody.”

Rory mulled this over. “Oh.”

“So, we’re letting you go.”

“Is that a euphemism? Does it mean you’re going to kill me? Make me sleep with the fishes?”

“It means what it says. We’re letting you go. You’ll be driven out into the countryside – blindfolded, of course – and then we’ll drop you off. We’ll even give you money for a taxi.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The thing is, Ror’, we’ve had enough. We’ve treated you humanely, kept you fed and watered. We’ve even let you win at cards.”

“But – but – what did I do wrong?”

“Nothing! Don’t think that – well, actually, you are a bit boring.”

“Boring!”

“All those pointless anecdotes, none of them amusing in the slightest.”

“Well, that’s your fault!” Rory protested. “You should have gagged me.”

“You say that now. Look, it’s for the best. This is where we part company.”

“But it’s been three months!”

“Three long months…”

“Oh, please! Untie me so I can beg properly. Don’t send me away! You can see in that letter that nobody wants me around. Nobody misses me. Let me stay here with you. I could join the gang – it is a gang, isn’t it? I could help you with the next kidnapping.”

The hooded man shook his head. “That’s not possible. I’m sorry.”

“But – but – but why?” Rory’s lip trembled and tears spilled from his eyes.

“We’ve just got our eyes on someone better.”

“Oh, I see,” Rory nodded. “Not good enough for you, am I?”

“Don’t be like this, Rory. It’s not personal.”

“Well, it feels personal to me!”

“Oh, Christ. You’re too sensitive, that’s your trouble.”

The man pulled Rory to his feet and bundled him up the stairs. Another man in a balaclava was waiting with car keys at the ready.

“All right, Rory!” he said.

“No!” Rory pouted. “I am not all right! I thought you guys were my friends.”

The hooded man made a helpless gesture. The man in the balaclava took Rory’s arm. “Come on, mate; let’s be off. We don’t want any fuss. I’ve cleaned out the boot; you’ll be quite cosy in there.”

“You’re too kind!”

“Do you know, if you weren’t so bloody sarcastic, people might like you better.”

They took Rory out to the car and folded him into the boot.

“Is he going to be all right, do you think?” Balaclava asked Hood.

“I’m past caring,” sighed the hooded man. “Give me the keys. And next time, I’m picking the victim.”

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In Stables & Instability

Mama is keen to see me married. I am the last of her brood to remain at home. Her other sons have all taken brides and are scattered around the country. Reginald is stationed somewhere in the North, a place whose name I cannot recall but I suspect is altogether ghastly. Frederic is in London where his wife has family and he tutors in Music and French. Roderick is abroad. His wife is quite sickly and they are touring in the Swiss Alps where it is hoped the fresh air will prove restorative to her poor lungs.

And so I alone am left. Papa has quite washed his hands of me and we no longer speak. He takes his meals alone in his study while Mama and I dine at the long table where once so many places used to be set.

Occasionally, Mama will put forward some errand to get me out of the house. I am loath to go. I do not wish to deliver her letters or place orders on her behalf at the haberdashery, yet once I am in the saddle and the air brings colour to my cheeks, I enjoy the ride out at least. Satan, our black stallion, has the power of ten of his kind. His hooves dance across the sward and we fly over stiles and hedgerows; and I arrive home again in a state of breathless exhilaration.

Mama has letters for me to deliver. It seems she is organising a ball to which half the county is invited. This is a foolish move on her part for I am able to vet the guest list by failing to deliver certain envelopes. The Warrenders’, for example. Their invitation shall end up at the bottom of a well. They have a truly horrendous daughter, somewhat akin to a gargoyle in a crinoline. Mama is keen to make a match between us for the family is superbly connected. I had rather boil my head in aspic than kiss her pig’s trotter of a hand.

I am being ungallant. I tell Mama I shall perform my task to the utmost of my ability but fall short of clicking my heels together in a salute. She tells me to be off, calling after me to pop into Farthingale’s haberdashery for some more of that pink ribbon she likes. She says I know the one she means.

I stride across the courtyard to the stable where Francis has Satan saddled in readiness. He asks the nature of my errand today and when I tell him, he is quite downcast and petulant. Come, come, I coax the stable hand into a stall he has lined with fresh hay. He need not worry, I tell him; as long as I am charged with delivery of the invitations, my courtship and subsequent wedding shall never take place.

Some hours later I return to the drawing room, my cheeks still flushed in breathless exhilaration. Mama castigates me for forgetting her ribbon. I apologise and set out again, calling to Francis to make preparations for another ride.

black-md

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