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Beware! The Peckish Dead are abroad!

With his third adventure now available, here are some thoughts about unlikely hero, Hector Mortlake.
The Man
Working as a hack writer, Hector Mortlake when we first meet him is single and seeking inspiration.  He embarks on a trans-European journey and, inspired by Chaucer, decides to collect tales from his fellow travellers with a view to deciding a winner.  Hector is a bit of a prig but basically a decent cove.  And he’s gay, which, at the fag end of the 19th century is not quite the thing to be.  He meets a younger man named Cuthbert on the Orient Express and they team up to defeat a horrific Water Nymph.  Hector enjoys lording it over his new valet although it is quite clear the pair are devoted to each other, and it is Cuthbert who most often ‘wears the trousers’, so to speak.
Hector’s past is much of a mystery – he’s remaining tight-lipped about his background but I suspect details will be teased out in future novels.  We know he has aspirations to move in higher social circles and would love to earn enough from writing to be able to retire.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that he is good enough!
The other love of his life is his car, Bessie, an early Mercedes Benz.
Bessie
The Books
We first meet our arrogant narrator in KISS OF THE WATER NYMPH – an account that turns out to be his first bestseller.
Kiss+of+the+Water+NymphHis second exploit, XOLOTL STRIKES! turns out to be his first flop, despite being as outrageous and outlandish an adventure as the first.
xolotl
Now, his third and craziest tale is available to the public – will Hector achieve his goal and re-top the bestseller list?  Or will he be consigned to the bargain bucket of poorly-selling fiction?
peckish
Victorian hack Hector Mortlake and his trusty valet Cuthbert are at it again. This third outing takes them to the Scottish Highlands – but that’s just the start. A mysterious portal and a ghostly gang of ghouls threaten to separate the pair for good. With a host of new characters and their craziest story yet, Hector and Cuthbert deliver high adventure and shameless innuendo in equal measure. Fans of William Stafford’s inimitable style will not be disappointed.

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An epic begins…

Here is the opening to my epic fantasy, NAVARIN, THUNDER AND SHADE, in which I wander into Game of Thrones and Tolkien territory.  Ish.  I hope you’ll want to read the rest.

 

The wizard was dead by the time they got there. He had put up a good fight; it was the green and purple blasts from his hands that had drawn them to the scene, the deadly flashes lighting up the woods and the evening sky like one of the Duke’s beloved fireworks displays.

Broad inspected the wizard’s assailants – what was left of them – ragtag outlaws sprawled in a ring around the deceased magician. “He killed the lot,” he said, grimacing at the twisted remains. The attackers were contorted and scorched as though they had been hit by forceful fire.

“There’s not a mark on him,” said Shade. “They didn’t get near him. Didn’t get the chance.”

Broad raised a quizzical eyebrow; there was no need to give voice to the question.

“What killed him?” Shade said it for him. “Exhaustion, I’d say. Must have used all his energy fighting off these rascals. He just ran out of life.”

“Poor chap,” said Broad. “I wonder why he just didn’t turn them into frogs or something. Why did he obliterate them?”

“They don’t do that frog thing really,” said Shade. “Perhaps he was protecting something. Something these fellows were after.”

“So it wasn’t a random attack in the forest?”

“You know I don’t believe in random,” said Shade. He gestured to the nearest outlaw corpse. Beneath the grime and tatters glinted the armour and insignia of the Duke’s men. Broad gaped; Shade was always the first to pick up on these things. “Have a look in his poke.”

Broad approached the body and stooped over it, one hand on the hilt of his sword, just in case. The wizard was half-lying on the shapeless sack, his fingers clutching it, bunching the neck. Broad had quite a wrestling match on his hands before he could free the bag and peer inside.

“Nothing.” He sounded disappointed.

“Well, this is a waste of time,” said Shade. “I’d stamp my foot if I could.”

Broad glanced at his strange companion. It was true: Shade was fading fast, was hardly corporeal at all. He was like smoke in the shape of a man, and the smoke was thinning, becoming transparent. Broad could make out the stripes of the tree trunks behind him. “And there’s nothing for you…”

Shade managed to shake his head. “We were too late. He was long gone.”

Too late to save the wizard. Too late for Shade to feed.

Broad sprang up and did a quick tour of the outlaws. He found one slumped against the trunk of an oak, with breath still rasping through a hole where his throat used to be. “Here’s one!” he cried. “He might be enough for a snack.”

Shade floated over as though wafted by a breeze. Broad turned his back and walked off; it made him uncomfortable whenever his companion fed. But we all have to eat.

“Just don’t make that sucking noise,” he pleaded without turning around.

“I don’t suck,” Shade was indignant. He swooped over the dying man.

“Matter of opinion,” Broad muttered. He tried to think of something else while Shade replenished himself. He was being ungenerous; he knew that. If it was not for Shade, Broad would have died many years ago, but would death have been worse than being joined to the weird creature for the rest of his days? Sometimes, Broad thought it might not.

“Hurrah!” cried Shade, turning cartwheels across the clearing. He bounced around, full of vim and vigour until a baleful look from his human companion prompted him to contain himself. He was always the same after a feed, so full of life. “His name was Jolf,” he reported. “He was in the Duke’s guard and was going to ask somebody called Rosahild to marry him. Well, I guess that’s never going to happen.”

“What else? Was he in the know, this Jolf? Why was a pack of guards disguised as outlaws and attacking a wizard?”

Shade shrugged. “Jolf was along to make up the numbers, to add a bit of muscle. He wasn’t party to the finer details.”

Broad surveyed the scene again. Finer details. Absolute bloody shambles, more like, with emphasis on the bloody. The Duke was renowned for, among other things, his hatred of wizardry. Was that behind this attack gone wrong?   Or was that the intended result, the death of the magician? Or was there something else?

“You’re thinking again,” Shade teased. “I can tell. You get that crease in your brow.”

Broad swatted at him and the backs of his fingers came into contact with something like lumpy fog. Shade was always more solid after a feed. He struck a pose.

“Yes, yes, muscles, you said,” said Broad. “Very nice.”

Shade stuck out his tongue. “They won’t last, I know. Not like yours, Mister Carcass of Beef.”

But Broad did not want to be drawn into one of Shade’s bickering matches. He walked away so he could look back at the scene from a distance and try to take it all in as a whole, to picture the way it might have played out. The wizard had been surprised. Surrounded. These two blocked the path in front, those two must have crept up behind. These four must have dropped out of the trees…

“We should get moving,” Shade advised. “While it’s still dark and I’ve got my strength – well, technically speaking, good buddy Jolf’s strength.”

“Shouldn’t we bury them first?” asked Broad. “The wizard at least.”

Shade pulled a face. His features were temporarily those of the late guard Jolf. “Waste of time. Let the wolves have them for supper.”

“Doesn’t seem right,” said Broad. “Doesn’t seem respectful.”

Shade let out a long-suffering sigh. Humans and their ways. “You’re too squeamish about your dead,” he scolded. “They are gone, all gone. What’s left is just meat. Honestly. Let the wolves benefit not the worms.”

“But someone should say something, at least.”

“What? Like don’t come back and haunt us? Don’t get up again? It’s hollow superstition; I keep telling you. Dead is dead is dead.”

A howl, not as far off as Broad would have liked, settled the matter. They would get moving to avoid being an entrée for the banquet that lay waiting for the wolves. Instead, thought Broad, we shall be more of a running buffet.

He paused to retrieve the wizard’s poke and, murmuring apologies, hurried after Shade who, with Jolf’s long strides, was already some distance ahead.

Navarin,+Thunder+and+Shade

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New book out now!

My 24th novel has been published this week.  It’s my most complex – it’s certainly the lengthiest! – a fantasy adventure, complete with my sense of humour, of course.

NAVARIN, THUNDER AND SHADE

A young man and his strange companion, a weary warrior out for vengeance, a young girl on the run with a child, and a trio of wizards bent on ruling the world are just some of the characters in this epic fantasy adventure from prolific author William Stafford. Fans can expect his trademark humour as well as plenty of action and originality in this all-new addition to the fantasy genre.

navarin

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Fantasy novel coming soon!

My 24th novel is due to be published soon.  It’s an epic fantasy, a bit of swords-and-sorcery with, I hope, an original slant.  It’s called NAVARIN, THUNDER AND SHADE and it opens as follows:

The wizard was dead by the time they got there. He had put up a good fight; it was the green and purple blasts from his hands that had drawn them to the scene, the deadly flashes lighting up the woods and the evening sky like one of the Duke’s beloved fireworks displays.

Broad inspected the wizard’s assailants – what was left of them – ragtag outlaws sprawled in a ring around the deceased magician. “He killed the lot,” he said, grimacing at the twisted remains. The attackers were contorted and scorched as though they had been hit by forceful fire.

“There’s not a mark on him,” said Shade. “They didn’t get near him. Didn’t get the chance.”

Broad raised a quizzical eyebrow; there was no need to give voice to the question.

“What killed him?” Shade said it for him. “Exhaustion, I’d say. Must have used all his energy fighting off these rascals. He just ran out of life.”

“Poor chap,” said Broad. “I wonder why he just didn’t turn them into frogs or something. Why did he obliterate them?”

“They don’t do that frog thing really,” said Shade. “Perhaps he was protecting something. Something these fellows were after.”

“So it wasn’t a random attack in the forest?”

“You know I don’t believe in random,” said Shade. He gestured to the nearest outlaw corpse. Beneath the grime and tatters glinted the armour and insignia of the Duke’s men. Broad gaped; Shade was always the first to pick up on these things. “Have a look in his poke.”

Broad approached the body and stooped over it, one hand on the hilt of his sword, just in case. The wizard was half-lying on the shapeless sack, his fingers clutching it, bunching the neck. Broad had quite a wrestling match on his hands before he could free the bag and peer inside.

“Nothing.” He sounded disappointed.

“Well, this is a waste of time,” said Shade. “I’d stamp my foot if I could.”

Broad glanced at his strange companion. It was true: Shade was fading fast, was hardly corporeal at all. He was like smoke in the shape of a man, and the smoke was thinning, becoming transparent. Broad could make out the stripes of the tree trunks behind him. “And there’s nothing for you…”

Shade managed to shake his head. “We were too late. He was long gone.”

Too late to save the wizard. Too late for Shade to feed.

Broad sprang up and did a quick tour of the outlaws. He found one slumped against the trunk of an oak, with breath still rasping through a hole where his throat used to be. “Here’s one!” he cried. “He might be enough for a snack.”

Shade floated over as though wafted by a breeze. Broad turned his back and walked off; it made him uncomfortable whenever his companion fed. But we all have to eat.

“Just don’t make that sucking noise,” he pleaded without turning around.

“I don’t suck,” Shade was indignant. He swooped over the dying man.

“Matter of opinion,” Broad muttered. He tried to think of something else while Shade replenished himself. He was being ungenerous; he knew that. If it was not for Shade, Broad would have died many years ago, but would death have been worse than being joined to the weird creature for the rest of his days? Sometimes, Broad thought it might not.

“Hurrah!” cried Shade, turning cartwheels across the clearing. He bounced around, full of vim and vigour until a baleful look from his human companion prompted him to contain himself. He was always the same after a feed, so full of life. “His name was Jolf,” he reported. “He was in the Duke’s guard and was going to ask somebody called Rosahild to marry him. Well, I guess that’s never going to happen.”

“What else? Was he in the know, this Jolf? Why was a pack of guards disguised as outlaws and attacking a wizard?”

Shade shrugged. “Jolf was along to make up the numbers, to add a bit of muscle. He wasn’t party to the finer details.”

Broad surveyed the scene again. Finer details. Absolute bloody shambles, more like, with emphasis on the bloody. The Duke was renowned for, among other things, his hatred of wizardry. Was that behind this attack gone wrong?   Or was that the intended result, the death of the magician? Or was there something else?

“You’re thinking again,” Shade teased. “I can tell. You get that crease in your brow.”

Broad swatted at him and the backs of his fingers came into contact with something like lumpy fog. Shade was always more solid after a feed. He struck a pose.

“Yes, yes, muscles, you said,” said Broad. “Very nice.”

Shade stuck out his tongue. “They won’t last, I know. Not like yours, Mister Carcass of Beef.”

But Broad did not want to be drawn into one of Shade’s bickering matches. He walked away so he could look back at the scene from a distance and try to take it all in as a whole, to picture the way it might have played out. The wizard had been surprised. Surrounded. These two blocked the path in front, those two must have crept up behind. These four must have dropped out of the trees…

“We should get moving,” Shade advised. “While it’s still dark and I’ve got my strength – well, technically speaking, good buddy Jolf’s strength.”

“Shouldn’t we bury them first?” asked Broad. “The wizard at least.”

Shade pulled a face. His features were temporarily those of the late guard Jolf. “Waste of time. Let the wolves have them for supper.”

“Doesn’t seem right,” said Broad. “Doesn’t seem respectful.”

Shade let out a long-suffering sigh. Humans and their ways. “You’re too squeamish about your dead,” he scolded. “They are gone, all gone. What’s left is just meat. Honestly. Let the wolves benefit not the worms.”

“But someone should say something, at least.”

“What? Like don’t come back and haunt us? Don’t get up again? It’s hollow superstition; I keep telling you. Dead is dead is dead.”

A howl, not as far off as Broad would have liked, settled the matter. They would get moving to avoid being an entrée for the banquet that lay waiting for the wolves. Instead, thought Broad, we shall be more of a running buffet.

He paused to retrieve the wizard’s poke and, murmuring apologies, hurried after Shade who, with Jolf’s long strides, was already some distance ahead.

hat

 

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Sneak peek: Trapping Fog

My current work-in-progress (my 25th novel, no less) is a murder mystery set in Victorian London.  A Jack-the-Ripper type is at large, carving up prostitutes, but is there more to the killer than meets the eye?  And what of the enigmatic Doctor Hoo and his arcane experiments?

The book has elements of horror and the macabre, and more than a hint of steampunk but, as with all my other books, it’s the humour that rules the roost.

Here’s a snippet from the opening chapter in which our narrator, Damien Deacus, finds himself in a tight spot…

***

I pounded my fists on the underside of the coffin lid. It did not budge. Neither did it make a hollow sound.

Crap, I thought. I’m buried alive.

Again!

I lay still and wondered how long I would have to wait this time, casting my mind back to the last thing I could remember before my death – before my ‘supposed’ death.

A hospital. Well, more of a dumping ground, really, for the sick and infirm of old London Town. The place had been packed, crammed to the rafters, with people in need – and the din! It was like Bedlam – which was across the road. The doctors couldn’t cope. It was all they could do to provide enough space for the poor bastards to get horizontal. And they was all poor – of course they was. No one with any money would be seen dead in a place like that.

I reckoned it had been about mid-afternoon when I was pronounced (presumed!) dead. That meant another few hours until dusk and then a few more until midnight. Doctor Hoo would probably wait until then before he came to retrieve his employee.

Mind you, I don’t know how long I’ve been out, I reflected. I’d taken the powder like he told me – I could still take its vile bitterness – and let it work its magic. I can only assume Doctor Hoo had strode in, cloak swirling, and imperiously demanded the urgent removal of the corpse. Contamination, he would have said, along with a few other big words. The fellow must be interred with the utmost urgency.

And they, the overworked doctors and nurses, would have been impressed by his haughty manner, his implacable features, his hundred-yard stare. More than anything they would be glad of one less poor bugger to think of, one less drop to worry about in this ocean of human misery.

The rozzers might even have heard about my demise by now… I couldn’t help smiling, even in my coffin – There’s not many people what can say that, is there? They can cross me off their list of wanted men. I am free!

Well, apart from the whole being-shut-up-in-a-coffin thing, but that was only a temporary inconvenience.

No, Damien, I warned myself. You take it easy. Doctor Hoo has come through for you yet again and all you have to do now is lie back, get some kip maybe, and try not to think of how full your bloody bladder is right now…

It was easy to doze off. The powder was still in my system. I could only hope I wouldn’t piss myself while I slept.

Hurry up, Doctor Hoo! Get me out of here!

coffin-md

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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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Next: a book with bite!

I’m currently preparing the manuscript of my next novel for submission to my publisher. Feedback from my readers is good – the book is a little different from the others.

It’s set at the end of the 19th century. Hack writer Hector Mortlake is travelling across Europe in the hope of finding inspiration for a new story. He enlists the people he meets to take part in a story-telling competition (much like The Canterbury Tales) and so the narrative is broken up with the short stories as the characters tell them. I tried to make sure each story is in keeping with the style, period and theme of the main plot. Variations on a theme, you might say.

I’d wanted to write a vampire story – but these have been done to death lately. As a compromise a couple of the short stories have vampire themes: my homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which came out around the time my book is set.

As a child I loved to stay up late to watch late-night horror films on BBC2. Hammer Horrors like The Reptile reptile_poster_01

and The Blood Beast Terror

BloodBeastTerrorUKquad

have influenced this book, and then recently I watched Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm (I’d found the book hard-going) and loved it (Check it out: not only is a floppy-haired Hugh Grant in it, but there’s also an early appearance from the Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi).lair_of_white_worm_poster_02 Russell’s film tickled me with its saucy humour. This is right up my alley, I thought. Readers of my books will know I can’t resist innuendo – this book is perhaps the most riddled with them.

It’s called KISS OF THE WATER NYMPH and I’m very pleased with it.

Watch this space for more news.

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Work is progressing on my work in progress

Having recently submitted the sequel to VULTURES’ MOON, my current project is the sixth book in the Brough & Miller series of crime spoofs. Today, after a valiant effort, I reached the end of the first draft.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy writing Brough & Miller because they’re a fun bunch of characters; foul-mouthed and bungling, the Serious Crimes division somehow get the job done.

Like all the others, this one takes place about six months after their previous outing in COFFIN DODGERS. The cliff-hanger at the end of that book led to setting the current one in a hospital but with half a year past, the characters’ lives have moved on somewhat. Some circumstances have changed, others are still ongoing. But with a new case to occupy their time and one of their key members on extended leave, the Serious team have their work cut out for them.

COFFIN DODGERS and the four previous books are available now.

The sixth in the series, HOSPITAL CORNERS, will be coming soon.

cofifn dodgers

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Back in the Saddle

Last year when I wrote VULTURES’ MOON, I didn’t anticipate it turning into a series. (But then, I said that about what turned out to be the first Brough and Miller investigation, BLOOD & BREAKFAST – and I’m currently writing the sixth one of them).

I’d wanted to write a Western and, having done my research on the ‘rules’ of the genre, I began. However, my imagination had other ideas. As soon as I wrote the first line, I knew this was going to be something different. I went with it, and my sci-fi western was born. Now, returning to the setting twelve months later, I found it easier to write – the world had already been created; it was just a matter (‘just’!!) of coming up with a new adventure for my main characters Jed and his marvellous Horse.

The new storyline allowed me to reinforce what I’d established in the first book and to introduce new ideas and new characters, but I was determined to keep it very much the same flavour as the first. And so, Jed is present in every scene. There is no bad language. No one has sex – Westerns are very moralistic. But there are also science fiction and fantasy elements blended in.

I decided that both books should end with the same words – much like Christopher Reeve always used to sign off his Superman films by orbiting the Earth and grinning at the camera, my heroes fly away “like a shooting star”.

As far as titles go, it amused me to follow the original Planet of the Apes series of films. And so, in homage to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the new book is called Under the Vultures’ Moon. If there is a third – and there most probably will be – it will be Escape from Vultures’ Moon… After that, well, we’ll see.

UNDER THE VULTURES’ MOON is available now!

under the v m

VULTURES’ MOON is  also available

 

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JUNGLE OUT THERE is OUT THERE!

My latest book has been twenty years in the making and was born of my lifelong obsession with Tarzan and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

erb

I first became aware of Tarzan in the TV series starring Ron Ely

 ron ely

and the old black and white movies of Johnny Weissmuller

 johnny w

– for many, the quintessential ape man.

There was a series on the Disney Channel in the early 1990s in which Tarzan (Wolf Larsonwolf larsonwas depicted as an articulate and, of course, buff champion of the environment. This series first gave me the idea for a TV sitcom in which Tarzan, Jane et al decamp from Africa and move into a suburban semi-detached in my home town of Dudley. I wrote six episodes and submitted them to the BBC. I was invited to a meeting at Broadcasting House where I was told they loved my ‘ear’ for dialogue but weren’t sold on the concept.  There was no mileage in it, I was told

Since then, Disney released a full-length animated feature Tarzan, disney tarzanwhich did rather well, and the character continues to enjoy popularity.  This year there was a truly dreadful animated update from Germany that is best ignored, and there is a new live-action film Tarzan the Untamed being made for release in 2016.

2012 saw Tarzan’s centenary and so I was prompted to dig out my old scripts and do something with them. I wanted them out in the world in some form but I wanted any novelisation to add something to the quick-fire dialogue and slapstick situations I had come up with twenty years ago.

I decided to write the novel from the point of view of one of the main characters. I chose not to do it through Man’s eyes (he’s called Man, not Tarzan, for copyright issues) because he is a man of few words, although far from unintelligent. I opted for his mate, here called Lady Jane – in my version, she is the one of aristocratic background – this meant she could articulate her thoughts and experiences. I imagine her as something like Maureen O’Sullivan  maureen o from the Weissmuller films. Coming from a privileged background before she wound up in the jungle, Lady Jane knows little of the ways of the world anyway, having been sheltered from harsh realities and domestic chores by wealth and status.

It’s a fish-out-of-water story, in much the same vein as the alien family unit in 3rd Rock From The Sun or, of course, good old George of the Jungle george – I didn’t want my Man to be as goofy and dim as the lovable George, but wise and quick-witted. My king of the jungle is quick to adapt; he chooses not to waste words and always gets his point across.

Man and Lady have a son, a child they found after a plane crashed into the jungle. Lady Jane insists on calling him Baby even though he is now 13, while Man opts for Son or Sonny instead. Completing the family group is Uncle Mjomba (Swahili for ‘uncle’) a mysterious chimpanzee-like figure, who may or may not be human, who could in fact be the missing link…

Together and separately the family have mishaps and adventures as they try to come to terms with so-called civilised life. Going to the supermarket poses challenges and excitement, for example; and being a Burroughs fan, I tried to include as much sensational action as I could. Some scenes from the original scripts had to go completely – others had to be reimagined, and I invented a story arc to break up the episodic nature of the series.

The setting is now ‘Dedley’ the fictionalised version of my home town that features in my Brough & Miller detective series and also my ghost story Poor Jacky. Dedley is a place where anything can happen and usually does. Places based on real-life locations feature in the story: Dedley has its own zoo, for example – I couldn’t do a Tarzan-like story without wild animals.

This satirical look at modern life throws up some questions about the way we live. I don’t agree with all of the opinions expressed by the characters but there is a lot of me in this book, speaking through one mouthpiece or another.

Jungle Out There is published by Andrews UK and will be available to download in all formats.

jane tarzan cheeta

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