A Celebration of Words

Events seem to be like buses. It’s a while since I’ve done one, but next month I’ve got two in the space of two weeks1 I’ve already posted here about the launch event for the paperback edition of Revolution Day (see A Date for your Diary) on 24 April. Before that, on Monday 10 April, at 7.30 at Holmfirth Library, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Words. This event is organised by Holmfirth Writers Group in collaboration with the Friends of Holmfirth Library and Tourist Information Centre.

There will be readings of poems and short prose pieces – members of the public are welcome to come along and read too, or just listen – and free refreshments.  I hope to see lots of my friends there, in support and celebration of this brilliant library at a time of funding cuts and uncertainty. And it’s going to be great!

Anyway, here’s a poem I’m thinking of reading at the event – it seems appropriate, in view of its local setting.  It was written for the Holmfirth Arts Festival a few years ago, about the night when Bilberry Reservoir (just above Digley, shown in the picture) burst its dam, causing a catastrophic flood in the town.

 

The Ballad of Bilberry Reservoir 

Stranger, as you walk my shore

and think my home a tranquil place,

look closer: do you see a frown

within the ripples of my face?

 

These were not always quiet waters.

When first the moor gave birth to me

this valley echoed with my laughter,

unfettered, I ran wild and free.

 

Men looked in envy and desired

to bend my labour to their wills.

They made an earthen dam to bind me,

pipes to bleed me for their mills.

 

But I was strong, and with a storm

conspired to burst my prison walls

and through the breach my righteous anger

surged in furious waterfalls.

 

That happy night! How I did dance

among the streets and houses, free

to vent my power and forge anew

my ancient pathway to the sea.

 

That time is gone: men learned to fear

and built for me a stronger cage

in which I languish, left to brood

on memories of a better age.

 

What else to do but plot revenge

with my old friends, the wind and rain.

You who think me tamed, beware:

I sleep, but I shall wake again.

 

Attention to Death

Today we have a guest post from fellow Crooked Cat author Ailsa Abraham, who’s here to talk about her latest novel, murder mystery Attention to Death, which is published today!  Take it away, Ailsa ….

 

YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE.

Thank you for inviting me to talk about my latest release today.

This is a departure from my previous series in magical realism. Here I take off on murder mystery. Why? Erm… limited attention span? Love of variety?

Attention to Death is released on 10th March and here is the info on it.

“Find Attention to Death on pre-order on Amazon: http://mybook.to/AttentionDeath

“In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn’t have thought possible – a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next.”  ~ India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany.  The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship. Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret? The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.”

I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men to research this book. Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems that men who have to be “in the closet” and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it, although this doesn’t stop them leaving reviews. Me? I’ve never been too sure. I’m gender-neutral which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people isn’t “What do they do in their bedrooms?”

Read it for yourself and decide. Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

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Bio and links

Ailsa Abraham is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman’s Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes mystery romance.

She has lived in France since 1990 and is now naturalized French. She enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell’s Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family. She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care (pirate gear is her favourite!)

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A Date for your Diary

As I announced on this blog recently the paperback edition of my second novel, Revolution Day is now out (https://timwordsblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/revolution-reborn/).

I am now delighted to announce that there will be a launch event for the paperback at Holmfirth Library at 7.30 on Monday 24 April. I will be giving readings from the book, discussing some of the real-life dictators whose careers provided my inspiration, and signing copies for anyone who is interested in buying it. Refreshments will be provided, including wine. I expect the event to last about an hour. I hope to see lots of you there!  The library address is 47 Huddersfield Road Holmfirth HD9 3JH.

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s a very short excerpt.  Juanita, the estranged wife of ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor, recalls an incident early in his rule. Carlos has been receiving some military advisers from the Soviet Union …

We walked down the steps, sharing inconsequential conversation with the ambassador and his wife, and a protocol officer beckoned us towards the first Rolls-Royce. Carlos shook his head, and turned to the ambassador.

“You are our honoured friends and guests today; it is only right that you should have pride of place.”

So the ambassador, his wife, and the Russian general who was the boss of the advisers went in the first car, and Carlos, Angel and I in the second. Of the preceding conversations my only memory is of thinking that the ambassador’s wife was badly dressed and had nothing of interest to say. But my mind has preserved every detail of what happened next. I remember slumping in the seat, relieved that I did not have to make chit chat for a while. I remember looking at the red leather seats of the car and noticing that they were slightly faded. I remember putting my head back to relax and becoming aware that there were hundreds of faces peering at me from the side of the road. I remember starting to wave at them, having realised that I still had to put on some kind of an act, and feeling at once irritated, amused and flattered. I remember thinking how ponderous the convoy’s progress was, and wondering whether I would have to keep waving all the way. I remember hearing an untidy rattle of sharp bangs, and watching the people stop waving and turn their heads. I remember turning my own head, then seeing a man pointing a long tube at the car in front of us. I remember a bright flash (oddly, I don’t recall hearing a bang), and pieces of bodywork leaping into the air like scraps of paper caught by the wind. And I remember being thrown into the seat in front and onto the floor, as our driver stamped first upon the brake and then the accelerator and threw the Rolls-Royce into a violent turn. I have no memory of screaming, though people tell me I was hysterical. Then it is all a blank, until we have arrived somehow at the palace, and I am sitting in a leather armchair and people are comforting me and offering me things to drink. I remember thinking that the leather was the same colour as in the Rolls-Royce.

You can find out more about Revolution Day, and read more excerpts and reviews, here:

http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/revday

 

Revolution Day full

 

 

For you, the war is over

As I go through the process of editing the draft of my novel, a few thoughts are starting to emerge about things I need to do. Regular readers of this blog may recall that one of my central characters, Herbert, was a prisoner of war during WWII and later, when he moves into a nursing home, starts to believe he is in a POW camp (see Prisoner of Memory).

Conscious that there are so many myths about POW camps, spawned by films like Colditz and The Great Escape, I thought I’d better do a bit of research, to make sure that Herbert’s experience as revealed in the book is true to life. I’ve been reasonably reassured that I’ve not committed any howlers, but have also picked up a few details which should add a bit of texture to the novel.

As a downed airman, Herbert would have faced his greatest ordeals before he even got to the camp – that is, assuming he was one of the mere 15% of Lancaster aircrew who survived the loss of their plane. The civilian populace were understandably hostile to bomber crews, calling them Terrorflieger or Kindermorder (terror flyer, child-murderer). They might be pelted with stones or worse, beaten up or even lynched.  Their troubles were not over once in the custody of the regular armed forces. Unlike the majority of allied prisoners of war, most airmen were interrogated before being sent to a permanent camp. They were not generally tortured as such, but to encourage cooperation they might subjected to solitary confinement, sometimes in cells heated to uncomfortably high temperatures. Tricks were also used to obtain information, such as fake Red Cross officials asking them to fill out forms purportedly to be sent to relatives.

Once he had been transferred to a permanent POW camp – for an airman, normally a Stalag Luft operated by the Luftwaffe – he would be relatively safe. It is an odd fact about the war that Nazi Germany, so contemptuous of international law and common decency in many other respects, did for the most part (with some significant exceptions – such as the murder of 50 of those who broke out of Stalag Luft III in the ‘great escape’) adhere to the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War in respect of captured personnel of the western Allies (the position for Soviet prisoners was very different indeed). The Convention provided for prisoners to be treated humanely, allowed to communicate with relatives, to be given adequate food, clothing, housing and medical attention, and to receive packages of food, etc. from relatives and the International Committee of the Red Cross. As a result, only some 3.5% of British prisoners of the Germans died – compared with a quarter of British prisoners of the Japanese – and a staggering 57.5% of Soviet prisoners of Germany.

Once in their camps POWs now faced a rather different set of problems: crowded, basic living conditions, variable rations and above all, boredom. The films give us the impression that they addressed this by constant efforts to escape – and it’s true that many POWs did feel some sort of duty to do so (as does Herbert in my novel). However, only a minority were actively involved in escape attempts. A few hundred did succeed in escaping the camps, but the vast majority of these were quickly recaptured. Nor did those escapes – even the ‘great escape’ itself – have any significant impact on the war.

For all that POW camps have spawned an entire genre of exciting films, the reality of life, for the vast  majority of prisoners, was one of years of separation from loved ones and undending monotony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting of Minds

Here’s a little bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers a while back. The perils of enhanced cognition …

 

“Mr Taylor?”

The words sparked my consciousness back into life, setting it free from the depths where it had been tethered. I swam back up towards the light like a diver through a murky sea. Slowly, the light resolved itself into an oval shape, with eyes, a nose, a mouth. And the mouth spoke.

“Mr Taylor. Welcome back! This is Doctor Schmidt.”

“Doctor?”

“Doctor Schmidt, of the Phrenos mind expansion clinic. I’m pleased to tell you that your operation has been a complete success. You are now the proud owner of our top-of-the-range intra-cranial expansion pack. Your mind has been upgraded, Mr Taylor.”

“Upgraded?” Ah yes, it was coming back to me now. It had seemed like a good investment of my lottery winnings. “But I don’t feel any different.”

“Of course not, Mr Taylor. Your mind is still your mind. But now it is partially hosted on our latest and most powerful processor chip. With all sorts of extra functionality thrown in. Tell me, Mr Taylor, what is the cube root of 2129.26331?”

“12.865,” I answered immediately. “What the …?”

“That’s your complementary math co-processor,” said Schmidt. “And you’ll also find a full suite of Omnipedia, comprehensive book, music and video library and, of course, Angry Birds. Plus, since the processor is not subject to biological degradation, you are now effectively immortal. I’ll leave you now for a while, to let you get used to your new abilities. The nurses will bring your dinner in about an hour, then I’ll come back and see how you’re getting on.”

He left, and I began to experiment. I closed my eyes and watched one of my favourite Tom and Jerry cartoons from my childhood. Then I did a few more instant calculations, quickly getting bored of them. Next, I discovered that I could recite the Deputy Finance Ministers of the Netherlands from 1911 onwards. “Van Rijn, Hoeksma, Geesters ..”

“It’s actually pronounced ‘Haysters’.”

“What? Who said that?”

“I did. And what are you doing in my brain?”

“This is my brain. I’ve just paid an awful lot of money for it.”

“So did I. I’ve had this brain for four years now. I was here first.”

“I’m sorry, but who the hell are you?”

“My name is Candice Murray. I’m an actress.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of you. Look, I’m sorry to have to break this to you, Candice, but you died in a car crash three months ago.”

“I can’t die. I’m immortal. I’ve been backed-up.”

“Yes, to an intra-cranial chip which now belongs to me. Those bastards at Phrenos have been recycling second-hand stuff. Wait till I get my hands on that Dr Schmidt.”

Our hands,” said the voice, and to my horror my hands began to gesticulate without any prompting from me.

 

 

 

 

Revolution Reborn

I am delighted to announce that my second novel, Revolution Day, hitherto published only as an e-book, is now available to buy in paperback!  It’s priced at £6.99 in the UK, $9.99 in the US and €9.46 in the Eurozone.  Here’s an all-purpose Amazon link http://authl.it/4yo

I’ll be looking to arrange a launch event for the paperback edition some time soon, so watch this space for further news!

In the meantime, I guess a short excerpt is in order.  President Carlos Almanzor has ruled his country for 37 years after seizing power in a revolution. His estranged wife Juanita is writing a memoir in which she charts his regime’s descent from idealism into autocracy and repression. Here, she looks out of the house where she has been a prisoner for sixteen years…

 

It is just a line on the ground, a slight change in colour between the asphalt on one side and the gravel on the other, a few metres away from the door of my house. The same weeds grow on both sides of the line. After rain, part of it is concealed by a puddle. When I was free, I crossed this line hundreds of times without noticing it, except when the wrought iron gate lay closed above it. But even the gate had little significance. It was never locked in those days; its opening and closing were the task of a couple of seconds. Walking over the line made no impact upon my consciousness other than a rather pleasant, fleeting sense of entering a place of peace, of refuge from the demands of public life. Or – when I was going the other way – an odd mix of apprehension and excitement as I prepared to get back to work.

The line has not changed in any way since then. It, and the gate itself – still the same gate, after all these years – continue to be ignored by all other forms of life but me. The birds fly over it. Snails and lizards move unhindered beneath it. My cat – how I envy her this – passes between the bars as if they were not there when she begins and ends her nightly prowlings. The gate is locked now, of course, but for the various men and occasional woman who come here for one purpose or another, that fact is of no consequence. They all have keys, and the act of unlocking it hardly delays their progress at all.

But for me, the line, and the gate above it, are now an impermeable barrier. I have crossed it no more than four times in sixteen years, under armed guard. The trees on the other side of the road beyond the gate do not look any different from the ones I remember, the ones I could have walked among and touched if I had wanted to. They are no further away, in space. But I no longer see them as real trees. To me, they are like a picture of trees or, when the wind blows, a movie of trees swaying to and fro. They are beyond the line, and all that is outside it has for years been slowly fading out of reality.

 

Juanita is not the only one disillusioned with Carlos’ Presidency.  As vice-president Manuel uses intrigue, manipulation and blackmail to make his own bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwilling participant in his plans.

You can find out more about Revolution Day here:  http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/revday

 

 

 

 

Mexico: the final solution

Here’s a bit of fun from Holmfirth Writer’s Group yesterday evening.  The starting point for our writing was a piece of paper on which were posted a selection of twenty-odd newspaper headlines.  One of these was “Mexico. The nightmare has begun.”  This felt like a bit of a gift, in the aftermath of the Trump inauguration.  So fast forward a few years, to a time when a new Mexican president is having to deal with the fallout of Mr Trump’s obsession with their mutual border ….

The President could tell from the look on her private secretary’s face that it was not good news.

“What is it this time, Gomez?  Let me guess. Now, it wouldn’t happen to be President Trump, by any chance, would it?”

The private secretary nodded. “We have new information from our intelligence services about his latest plans for the border.”

“Oh for God’s sake. Isn’t he satisfied with his bloody wall by now?”  After three years and eight trillion dollars, the border wall was now 2000 miles long and 400 feet high, and was patrolled by three quarters of the US Army. It was equipped every 200 yards with machine guns, artillery and PA speakers playing country and western music, to deter new immigrants; and large catapults for repatriating old ones.  It could be seen from Mars and had a permanent effect on global weather.

“It’s not the wall this time, Presidente. Apparently, he’s no longer satisfied that a wall is adequate to keep us Mexicans out. No, he’s decided to dig a ditch.”

“A ditch, eh?  Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. Though I don’t see what difference it’s going to make. I mean, if someone is prepared to climb over 400 feet of concrete and face the guns of the US Army, I don’t see how a ditch is going to put them off.

“Well, Presidente, ‘ditch’ may be something of an understatement.”

“So. A trench, then?  A moat?”

“More of a man-made geological fault.  As I understand it, the intention is to fracture the North American tectonic plate at the line of the border, so that continental drift will cause Mexico to move one way and the USA and Canada the other.”

“The man is insane! Quite apart from the absurdity of it, how is it even possible?  Making a humungous great crack in the earth’s crust is a bit beyond the average bulldozer.”

“Ah, but Mr Trump thinks he has a solution. Our intelligence sources tell us that Mr Putin has told him he has to get rid of his nuclear weapons, or else certain compromising images will turn up on Instagram. So Trump has decided to dig deep holes for them along the line of the border and set them all off, killing two birds with one stone, as it were.  Look on the bright side, Presidente. At least he’s not asking us to pay for it this time.”

“I don’t believe it. It’s just another one of his megalomaniac fantasies. I’m surprised at you, Gomez.  You can’t take this stuff seriously.”

But a few weeks later, residents of the Mexican city of Tijuana awoke to a loud bang and an earthquake. They scrambled from the ruins of their houses to find that a finger of sea had appeared between their city and San Diego, California. As a series of similar bangs unzipped the continent, the Trump Sea came into existence, the wall suddenly became redundant and the US Army went home.  And as the Panama Canal went out of business, the residents of that newly impoverished country set out in boats in their tens of thousands, seeking a new life in the country that was the source of their misery.