Monday, 2 September 2019

Gripping Crime Fiction

Locked Away

Chapter One

Ellie’s body jerked and her eyes flicked open.  Darkness.  The sound that came from her mouth was muffled.  Something approximating to mah!  For a split second, she could not think. Then the questions came thick and fast: Where was she? Why was it so cold and dark?  Why was she lying on the ground?
Her breathing quickened.  Blinking, her mind still racing, she suddenly lay still and quiet, playing dead, trying to make sense of what was happening. 
In the muddy darkness she couldn’t see anything.  No matter how widely she opened her eyes, there was no light.  All around, it was deep dark like the dark of a forest at night, or a cave she’d visited as a child in Wales, where the lights had gone out before a dazzling show, leaving her thrilled and trembling.  There would be no show here.  That much was clear.  She moved her shoulders and realised her hands were tied behind her back.  It was an unlikely fact, but she took it in and once more her breaths came short and fast.  Next, she registered pain: her arm hurt because she was lying awkwardly on it. She shifted again. Her nose flared and she smelled the dankness of stale earth beneath her, coarse against her skin, the individual pieces of grit and stone pressing into her. 
 The last thing she took in was that she really was not able to speak because there was something covering her mouth.  This was somehow much worse than the darkness or the cord around her wrists.  She tried again anyway, but a stifled note like a muted trumpet was all that came out.  Squeezing her tongue between her lips, she pushed and the tape pulled her skin but would not budge.
All these sensations became clear to her in seconds, almost but not quite simultaneously. Now she wore them like a new skin.  A skin that made her feel vulnerable.  Exposed.

Stay calm.

Not so easy, when what she felt inside was panic.  A kind of panic that she’d never imagined she could feel.  Thousands of sensors went off like fireworks in every organ of her body.  At the same time, a terrible black silence flooded her head.

Where am I?

Ellie was not the kind of girl to get hysterical. Steadying herself, she breathed in and out through her nose.  Her pulse slowed.  She lay still.  There must be something to see in the darkness. The more she stared, the more she could make out.  To her right, quite close by, there was a wall made of what looked like large stone blocks.  She strained her eyes to see higher.  Yes, there was the ceiling, not level and crossed with shadows.  Beneath her, the floor was hard, uneven and darker than the wall. She felt once more its cold, grainy surface.  Only then, did she register the fact that her bare skin was touching the earth. She was wearing a tee shirt and shorts.  No shoes.

 The strange air was cold against her body and, for a moment, Ellie was truly frightened.  She knew also that she had never been really frightened before.  Not even as a child.  Not in the Welsh cave, or when she’d heard creaking on the stairs after her mother had gone to bed. Not when she’d stayed up late to watch a horror movie on her own. No, not ever.  Here, where nothing made sense, she felt terror rising from her bowels.  Wave after wave.

Come on, Ellie!

She gritted her teeth and banished the fear. Lying on her side, she had limited mobility.  She sat up with difficulty, grazing the skin on her elbow and the side of her knee. When she was still again she listened to the sound of her own breathing, this time strategically, waiting for the quiet gaps to search the darkness for something other than the passage of air into and out of her lungs.  And what if she did hear something?
Wriggling her toes, it was strange to imagine that her trainers and sports socks had been removed.  Perhaps it was a precaution to make sure she couldn’t run away…  The outrage she felt was tempered by this petty preoccupation: Where were her shoes and socks?  Ellie almost laughed.  Then, the muscles in her abdomen tightened.  Who the hell had done this to her?  What right had anyone to do this to her!
It was time to focus, to assess the situation and do what she could.  No point in dwelling on her plight.  Action.  She needed to act!  First, she must free herself.  The thin cord around her wrists hurt, and she made it hurt more when she twisted her hands to try to loosen it. 

Think, Ellie!

It was made of something strong, like plastic. It was tight, but she had the feeling that it would stretch if she pulled at it enough.  This thought gave her hope.  This was good.  Hope was essential in situations like this.  In films, when victims were trapped, there was always a way out, no matter how dire the situation. The victims were actors, of course, and they knew that in the script there was an escape plan.  She must find her own escape plan.  If she were clever enough, there would be a way out.
As she worked on the cord she was able to pick out more detail in the darkness.  To her right and further forward, set into the wall, there was the outline of something regular in shape.  A door.  Ellie held her breath and stared.  Knowing there was a way out was a good thing, but knowing there was a way in... 

Stop!  Don’t let it get to you! 

Okay, so the door was there.  Now that she’d seen it, she couldn’t go back to the time before she’d noticed its fine, firm outline.  So she would study it.  To be ready, if it should open.  It was not like an ordinary door.  She remembered films she’d seen about prisons.  The prison doors had a small window at the top that the guards could slide open so that they could look inside and check the prisoners were all right.  This door had a window at the top with five small bars across it.  Even if the bars had not been there, the window would surely not be big enough to fit her head through.  If her head wouldn’t go through, it would be pointless trying to fit the rest of her body into it.  Pointless. 
She continued her painstaking search. The worst thing was that nothing she saw made sense. Ellie had a hundred questions going round in her head and no one to answer them. But there was one question she didn’t want to think about.  One question that, nevertheless, kept coming back: 

Is there anyone on the other side of the door?
Although this thought was ever present, it was important to continue with a logical and calm assessment of her situation.  If there was a person on the other side of the door, that meant there was someone she could reason with.  Everyone had a weak spot.  Even people who were evil. 
She knew there were evil people in the world.  Men who killed women.  Men who killed children.  Even women who killed.  There had been a man in Austria who had held a girl captive for years, until one day she had been rescued.  Peter Sutcliffe - he had hated prostitutes enough to take them somewhere quiet in his car and strangle them.  With her hands tied together, Ellie would not be able to stop a man strangling her.  Even if she got a chance to bite him, to kick him, and even if by some miracle she then got the keys, how would she put the key into the lock?   No!  She shook her head to get such negative thoughts out of her mind and worked harder on the cord around her wrists.  She grimaced against the pain, angry with herself for thinking about kidnappers and murderers and what they could do to her.  With her hands free, she would feel better. Empowered. In the meantime, she should stick to positive thoughts.
The room was wide. She could not see much to the left or in front.  Looking up again, the ceiling seemed higher and it appeared to be crossed with beams. There was a smell she recognised, too. What was it? It was damp and pungent, a bit like leaves in autumn when the rain falls on them and they turn soft on the street. But this smell was not as nice as wet leaves. Wet leaves made her think of being outside and looking up at the clouds in a big autumn sky. Here, there was no sky, there were no clouds, and the smell was old, like air that had not been changed for days or even weeks. It was not a healthy place to be and she tried not to breathe deeply, to keep the terrible air out of her lungs. 
And suddenly it came to her.  It must be a cellar.  Of course!  That meant there was a house above and someone who lived in it.  A house with carpets and soft furnishings, electric light and central heating, windows and a view onto a street.  Unless the house was in the middle of nowhere.  In a forest or on a cliff top with the wind buffeting against it and the sea crashing below. It might be stormy outside.  It might be sunny.  It might be night.  No matter what it was like, it would be better than where she was.
Just then, there was a tickle under her thigh and she was distracted by another scary thought: perhaps there were insects on the floor or on the walls. Maybe big spiders hanging from the ceiling, perhaps just above her head, waiting to fall on her. The thought made her squeak, like a frightened animal.  A small squeak, like a mouse.  The sound of her voice was strange inside the room and the silence after it stranger.  The memory of it echoed inside her head, until she thought: How can I  be afraid of spiders, when my  hands are tied and I don’t know where I am?  How can I be so stupid?
Working harder at the cord, Ellie planned ahead:  What shall I do when my hands are free?  When I get the tape off my mouth should I shout for help, or should I stay quiet? These were important, practical considerations.  It would be key to her survival that she chose the right option.

Just then, outside the door, she heard a sound. It was the sound of a muffled cough.  And she froze. It proved that someone was there listening and, what a horrible thought, watching.


To view book on your preferred platform, follow the links below:

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Hi everyone.

Just to let you know that both my DCI Alice Candy books are priced at 99p/99c for the next six days.

Also, they are available on a variety of platforms including Amazon, Nook and Kobo, all accessible via this universal link:

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Summer Reads! Available in paperback or as an ebook.

All three of my humorous memoirs (Bev and Carol adventures) are available in paperback format - perfect for a fun gift.

Click the links below to view on Amazon:

Happy Days!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The writing of 'One Summer in France'

When it all started:
1979 (a very good year).

Where it all started:
Keele University: northern England, non-prestigious, apart from renowned Astronomy department –run by Sir Patrick Moore's best mate – name on tip of tongue/impressive English department - gargoyled hall, windows bit too high to gaze out of.

Reason for trip:
To learn French and to contextualise studies.

1. Train to South of France.
2. Put up tent.
3. Go to beach.

Reading/lounging about/flirting/moped mastery/selective sightseeing (pinnacle – Dali’s museum – bonkers).

Places visited:
Lots and lots.

Friendships formed, (in order of importance/in no particular order – bit of a mix, really):
Carol: best friend/totally brilliant/mad/blond/netball fiend, wing-attack/can be trifle politically incorrect/bit sweary/good punch.
Alison: uptight/control freak/all-round freak/not really friend but essential enemy/obsessive milk hoarder – (all property is theft, Alison).
James: hopelessly besotted with Bev – (brash totty)/betrothed to Jocasta – (posh totty)/doomed/dishy/dope/eventual accountant, argh!.
Andy: undergraduate in French/lord-of-manor type if not actual lord of manor/Shrewsbury estate/heart of gold/spotty/def. not shaggable.
Luc: entrepreneurial market trader/south of France poseur/admirer of Bev’s dream-goddess bikini (and contents)/eventual carnal interest of Carol.
Lawrence: (cor!)/French/married – (bummer!) – ambiguity not intended).
Charles: French/pancake chef/bit stinky/animal/non-runner – pity.
Antoine and Cedric:French/caravan-dwellers/benevolent/gallant/(lecherous old buggers).
Others too numerous to mention.

Best bits:
Beaches (normal x 2, naturist x 1)/port – gallon thereof/Jean-Paul Sartre – ‘Huis Clos’ – intellectual stimulant – Carol not enamoured/Spike Milligan – genius - worm verse – best poem ever written - Carol's opinion, not mine/being freeeeee!

Worst bits:
Mohammed’s couscous poison/paranoid, raw-meat-eating Anna (don’t ask).

Summing up:
Totally amazing time.  Love Carol forever.  Best friend in world.  Thanks to Ms. Adams (finance), my father (extra finance), and to Dave (emergency finance).  Have grown as person.  Have brilliant photos.  French improved (beaucoup). Tan – golden. Hair – ruined (in a good way).  Power over opposite sex – incalculable. N.B. government grant/tax payers' money - repaid a thousand times over since adventure, so don't even think about getting on your high horses!  

Wrote book: ‘One Summer in France’, humorous memoir of three-month study break in France (obligatory)

Additional information:
It might be cheaper for a couple of days sometime in July... Can’t wait?  Get it now and blow the expense!  (Best consumed with big smile and bigger glass of port).

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Download Hanson's Hunch - Free for a limited period. Click on the link at the end of the post.

Author's note:  So sorry, everyone.  The free promotion got interrupted somehow, but will be live again tomorrow and the following day (22nd/23rd May).

I love to write in all kinds of genre, but I must admit that detective fiction is one of the most interesting and challenging.  It may begin with a simple idea, a general plot line, a couple of well formed characters, but it soon leads me down paths that demand I follow, whilst keeping an eye on what has gone before and what will happen next.

I must create intrigue, I must bring my reader along with me, shining a light on certain details, hinting at a resolution, leaving them to fill in the gaps and carry a set of possible outcomes in their own imaginations.  Who could the killer be?  We rule characters in then rule them out.  It's a delicate balancing act, and one that kept me awake at night when I was writing the Alice Candy series, particularly Hit and Run, which took so many turns that it required five drafts and two professional edits before it could be published.

If I read a book, any kind of book, I notice inconsistencies.  These inconsistencies are even more pronounced in detective fiction.

Hanson's Hunch is a short story, so the pitfalls may not be as great, but the challenge is the same.  I strive to draw believable characters, some of whom we can empathise with, some suspect, some dislike, all brought together in a story that, hopefully, has integrity, and the all important quality of creating interest in the reader, sustaining their curiosity, and providing an ending that satisfies.

Classed by Amazon as a '45 minute short', I invite you to investigate, along with Inspector Hanson, the death of a local young woman - I wonder whether you will solve the crime before he does...

This is how the tale begins:

      “She looks almost peaceful,” said the officer.  “No blood.  No sign of a struggle.”
“That may be so, lad,” replied Inspector Hanson.  “That may be so.”
There was a moment of expectation in his young colleague’s face, a subtle straining to glean what wisdom, what hidden meaning lay beneath his superior’s words.  But the moment passed and both men resumed their contemplation of the young woman lying on her front, but with her head turned towards them, eyes open and lips slightly apart, as though she were about to speak. Her legs were bent at the knee in a position reminiscent of sideways running.  Almost comical, apart from the fact that she was as far removed as it was possible to be from such whimsical cartoon imagery, being made of flesh and blood, recently gone cold.
Hanson grunted and looked up at the spreading dawn sky with its split clouds lit by weak sunshine.  It would be a lovely June day, later. 

Download the rest of the story (free) here

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Boxer and the Hoopoe

More adventures of Carol and Bev

The house is cool, and the light curtains move pleasingly in the breeze.

'Look at that!' says Bev, dreamily, from her comfortable bed.

'What's the matter!' Carol pulls the duvet quickly over her head.

'Blue sky!'

'Eh?' Carol relaxes for a moment and then adds, 'What about the incessant barking of the neighbours' brainless bloody boxer?'

A volley of barks sounds nearby.

'All morning, mark you! "Woof, woof, woof...and...woof".'

The dog confirms the pattern of Carol's complaint.

'I suppose-' Bev begins, still contemplating the view.

'Don't say anything nice! I know what you're going to say. "It's not his fault. He's just lonely. He's seen a cat! He just wants a walk."  I'm going round there to sort it out, and you can come, or not!  What's French for "dog" and "kill"?'

'Shall I make some coffee and get some croissants?  There's a boulangerie on the corner.'

Carol grunts heavily.

Outside, some children start a ball game against the wall of the house.

'What? Jesus! What's that?' Carol sits up in bed. She has mascara on her cheek and her hair is flat against her head on one side. She goes to the window.

'Oi! Clear off! Go away! Get lost!'

They stare up at her and smile.  One of them says: 'Bonjour Madame!'

'Bonjour les enfants!' Bev leans out of the window and Carol goes off to the bathroom in disgust.

Bev hears the front door open as she finishes the coffee and puts the croissants on a plate.

Outside, Carol chases away the children, who squeal in delight. Then she advances on the boxer.  There is a woman of indeterminate age and developing corpulence holding onto a child which has inherited its mother's pug nose and sullen expression.

'Good morning! Are you the owner of this dog?' Carol says, in an unmistakably belligerent tone.

The woman does not understand and scowls at the English girl with the flat hair and blackened face.

'Ah, bonjour Madame!' Bev arrives. 'Nous sommes en vacances juste à côté.'

The woman does not reply.

'Tell her I'm going to poison her dog if-'

'Je m'appelle Bev et mon amie s'appelle Carol.  Enchantée!' Bev puts her hand out.

The woman turns and goes back into the house. A moment later, a man comes out. He smokes a cigarette in an aggressive manner and stands in the doorway to the house, his chin jerking up, once.

The dog barks.

The child wails.

'It's like The Good, The Bad and The Bloody Hideous,' whispers Carol.

Bev is undaunted.  'Bonjour Monsieur!'

The man steps forward and puts a hand on the gate. He takes the collar of the boxer in the other and lifts the latch.

Still he does not speak.

There is a moment when the threat of violence is tangible..

'Je vous souhaite un bon matin!' says Bev, jauntily, taking Carol's arm and leading her away at a brisk pace.

'What did you say to the ugly bastard?'

'I wished him a nice morning!'

'You're such an optimist!'

They stagger back to the house hooting with laughter.

'Let's hope the latch on that gate holds!'  says Bev.

'I'm hungry,' says Carol.

Bev sets a tray of freshly baked delights on the garden table and tries to decide between strawberry and raspberry jam.  Carol fidgets for a while and then settles.

'They've stopped now,' she says, 'listen'.

Carol helps herself to butter and stares at a pair of hoopoe wandering around the lawn. 'Never seen one of those before...'

Bev grins.  'They make a noise like their name.'

And they did.

If you like this, you can read more about Bev and Carol in One Summer in France, Bunny on a Bike and Stranded in the Seychelles.  Links are to the right of this post. Thanks for looking:)

Friday, 19 April 2019

Dip a toe in the water and see if you are a Bev and Carol kind of person...

View on Amazon

Chapter One

     Older but not wiser, we perused the Times Educational Supplement for jobs, on a dull afternoon in August at my house in Milton Keynes.  Carol was back, and suddenly, living in Milton Keynes didn’t seem to matter as much!  My bosom buddy had spent the previous year working in a school in the Himalayas, and had finally flown back to somewhere nearer sea level. 
Outside, nothing was happening.  Inside, the walls remained perfectly aligned and painted magnolia. Carol sighed and looked out of the large, double-glazed window onto a square patch of lawn penned in by a chest-high, cheap, wooden fence.  “How can you live in a place called Pennyland?”
As I didn’t know the answer to this question, I hedged.  “It’s only a name.”
“It’s a stupid name.”
I had to admit that Carol was right. It couldn’t have helped that she had been used to living in a mountaintop retreat in Tibet, above the clouds and as remote as you can get from affordable housing, inadequate porches and gas central heating.
“How do you stand it?”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, half-heartedly.
A man cycled past.  “Christ!  It’s worse than science fiction!”
Baffled as I was by this particular insight, I laughed, and Carol gave me a look that I recognised instantly.  It was a look that said it was time to set out again into the world, united against the banal, the drab and the superficial, determined to have some fun and wreak some havoc.  I went back to the newspaper and kicked off with something contentious:
     “There’s one here for a maths teacher in Beijing. I could be the stay-at-home housewife.”
     “No thanks,” replied Carol.
     “Too much of a culture shock?  Don’t want the Saturday morning military training?”
     “Nah.  Can’t stand Chinese food.  All those wriggly bits. And oyster sauce – can’t eat oysters since Alice!”
     “In Wonderland?”
     “The Walrus and the Carpenter?”
     “The very same.  Poor little oysters…”
     I realised that, cartoon horror apart, and allowing for Carol’s sketchy knowledge of proper Chinese cuisine, this would be a deal-breaker.  Food was top priority.  Followed closely by sunshine, a great beach and a good library.  Good looking, intelligent men of independent means were also a consideration.
“No blokes there, either.  Too short.  Too Chinese.”
I could not argue, although I would not have put my feelings in quite the same way.  Carol spoke her mind, whilst I generally harboured my sharp-edged opinions.  I didn’t mention the fact that, this time, she was indulging in a stereotypical assessment of a nation containing over one hundred million people, not all of whom would be too short or, indeed, too Chinese. 
“What about this one?” I suggested.  English teachers required by the Seychelles government.  Sounds interesting.”
     “Aren’t they in the Indian Ocean?” Carol sat back in her chair and poked a finger into her ear.  She was as beautiful as ever.  How I had missed her! 
     “I believe that is correct, you lovely tart,” I replied, pretty sure that Carol knew a lot more about the Seychelles than she was letting on.
     “Capital?” she asked.
     “Fish. Creole style.”
     “I think it’s more likely to be rice,” I said, although I was not entirely sure.
     “Fish and rice with curry sauce!”
     “We can make our own chips,” I said, reasonably.  “Just need a chip pan and some Trex.”
     “Granted.” Carol chewed the pencil we were using to circle ads.  It had also served as a coffee spoon and more recently, to kill an ant.
     “Shall I read the rest of it?”
     “Don’t see why not,” she said. 
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks-
     “The National what!”
     “Youth Service.  Must be something like the Department of Education.”
     “Doesn’t sound like the Department of Education.  Go on. Let’s hear it.”
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks qualified teachers of ESL to instruct secondary school students on the island of Ste. Anne.”
     “Never heard of it.  There’s Mahé and Praslin and some kind of bird island.  Let me see.”  Carol grabbed the paper. “Twelve-month contracts. Flights and accommodation provided. Interviews to be held in London on 14th/15th August.” She closed the newspaper and got up.  “Want a cuppa?”
     I followed my friend into the kitchen, thinking that the interviews would be at the end of the week, in three days’ time.
     “Where d’you keep the biscuits, you bugger?  Hope you’re not still buying those Poptarts!” Carol was opening cupboards, rummaging.
     “There are some Jammy Dodgers in the cutlery drawer,” I told her.  The mention of Poptarts had brought back a momentary nostalgia.
     She eyed me and I eyed her back.
     “Are we going?” I asked.
     “Book it, Danno,” she said.

     We were not the kind of girls to pass up an opportunity like this.  We had been through university together and worked for Playboy in London, as blackjack dealers. After that, Carol had left England to sell encyclopaedias in Germany and had thrown it in after meeting a businessman at a party who offered her a job teaching English to Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.  I had gone on to work as a secretary in London at various establishments which were practised in the art of exploiting as little as possible of a person’s potential and where, at my lowest ebb, I had slavishly typed out legal contracts for solicitors who patronised both their staff and their clients.  Later, I had worked for a very nice family with a business just off Oxford Street, in a small office, up some rickety stairs, where I had learned all there was to know about high-tensile low-density bin bags (didn’t take long), including how to fold them and label them, before sending them off with a quote for anything from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.   And, after just over a year of knowing that I didn’t want to be in plastic for the rest of my days, I had applied for and, to my utter amazement, been accepted by Queens’ College to do a postgraduate teaching certificate at Cambridge University.  I subsequently took up my first post in Milton Keynes, where I discovered that I was no good at controlling a class of secondary school kids who didn’t care about Keats, and I gradually came to realise that the next proper adventure was long overdue.  All I had needed was the return of my best friend and sparring partner.
Carol had descended from the mountains under slightly mysterious circumstances, which she refused to divulge, but which had probably involved some kind of extra-curricular activity with one of her students.  She had telephoned me to say that she wanted to come and stay for a while. So, with my probationary year as a very eager, but more or less ineffectual English teacher at Stantonbury Campus mercifully completed, and with no one begging me to stay, there was nothing to stop us, apart from fear of the unknown and crushing financial limitations.  We were in the market for some excitement and risk.  A teaching job in the Indian Ocean, with all expenses paid, seemed an opportunity too good to miss. 
     We looked up trains to London and, in the meantime, found out that the Seychelles was a group of volcanic and coral islands stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a language that was based on French, due to the fact that they had been colonised by… France.  Following this, the islands had been subjected to British rule, before gaining independence in 1976. I wondered vaguely whether we would be welcomed by the locals, until Carol pointed out that anything “we” had done to them was bound to be better than the treatment they would have received at the hands of our closest allies, the French, who, according to Carol, had used the inhabitants as slaves to work on their plantations and probably taught them to roll their Rs. 

I dialled the number in the advertisement and asked to be put through to Roseline Bananne.