Step forward, Felipe

I’m visiting Nancy Jardine’s blog today.  She has a slot which focuses on supporting characters.  A great idea, I think, and a chance for me to feature an important character from Revolution Day who never really gets a fair crack of the whip when I have to describe the novel in just a few words.  Felipe is the private secretary to ageing, irascible dictator Carlos Almanzor.  He is doing his best to drag his boss into the modern world and steer him towards the light.  But how do you influence an old man who is set in his ways and expects unquestioning obedience?  Read the extract on Nancy’s blog (see link below) to find out!


What next? – help me decide!

It’s been quite difficult to get down to any serious writing recently. I’ve had quite a lot of teaching work on (I teach Ethics at Leeds University), and over the past few weeks there’s been a lot to do in connection with the sale of my Mum’s old house in Staffordshire, following her move to a care home here in Meltham last May (see  The next month or so is going to be a dead loss too, as the house needs to be emptied before the new owner moves in.  After that, though, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I should be able to start work on my next fiction project.

As for what that project might be, there are two possibilities:

A:  A much-delayed sequel to my first novel, Zeus of Ithome.  My central character, Diocles, would be participating in the events of the mid-3rd century BCE in and around Greece. In particular, his life would intersect with the careers of two important historical figures – the Theban statesman and general Epaminondas (who has already played a big part in Zeus of Ithome) and the future King Philip II of Macedon, who in later life established hegemony over the Greek world (probably not in this novel, though possibly in the next one after that).  I don’t yet have a story line, but I do have some plot ideas and a possible theme of Greek unification.

The second idea is something completely different!

B:  For a few months now, I have been exploring an idea for a sci-fi novel (or series of novels) about a human colony in a remote star system.  The community is ruled by a caste of priests, and over time has lost access to its history and most of its technology (as a result, the novel would have, at least initially, something of the feel of a fantasy novel, since technology, when encountered, is interpreted as magic or divine intervention).  Again, I don’t yet have a story line, but it is likely to revolve around characters trying to escape the rigid theocratic regime and uncovering bit by bit the true history of their people.

What to do?  My head says A – it would be a continuation of my previous work and hopefully would have a ready-made initial readership in the people who enjoyed Zeus of Ithome.  I do want to write this novel, and I’m sure that I will, sooner or later.  By contrast, B would be something of a leap in the dark.  I’ve not written sci-fi before, except in a few short stories.  I’d be looking for new readers – I don’t know how many of those who read my first two novels would be interested in this kind of thing.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that, as far as my heart is concerned, B has more momentum right now.  I’ve become a bit hooked on fleshing out the world where the story would be set – even to the point of developing a functional language!  I’m not sure how easy I’ll find it to put all that away and knuckle down to write something different.

There is a third possibility, which is to do A, but set aside a bit of time to keep B going as a long-term project which would hopefully come to fruition a year or two down the line, and continue ‘world-building’ in the meantime.  But is that really feasible?

Anyway, I have a month or so to make up my mind.  I would welcome any comments or suggestions as to what I should do – here, or on my Facebook page.


photo:  (c) Филип Романски 2012

A Family Secret

The exercise at Holmfirth Writers’ Group on Monday asked us to reveal a secret – or make one up.  Thus forcing me to divulge a little-known falsehood about my family history …..


I’ve got to reveal a secret, you say? Must I really? Well, I’d been hoping to keep this quiet, but you’ve given me no choice but to let the cat out of the bag. I don’t like to talk about it but …. I’m actually twelfth in line to the throne of Albania.

There, I’ve said it. I don’t want you to treat me any differently. Well, I suppose a quick bow or curtsey when you come into the house would be nice, now you know. And in future, when you come round for a cup of tea I’d be grateful if you could sit on the sofa and not on the throne, as I like to call it. Yes, that’s it, the armchair over in the corner with the Paisley pattern on it. But other than that, just think of me as the same old person I always was. Just an ordinary member of the public, not the scion of an ancient royal house dating all the way back to 1928.

I’ll bet you’d never have guessed this about me. Though I suppose it may help to explain certain things, such as why I like to wear that papier mache crown on special occasions. And why on Albania Day each year I dress up in military uniform and fire a cannon in the back yard.

Now you’re in the know, you can consider yourself part of my Court. I might even make you a privy counsellor, if we have such things in Albania. But, as I say, I don’t want my friends to treat me any differently. I’ve always prided myself on having friends who are of the Common People, and I’ve made it my business to come down to your level rather than be aloof or patronising.

But the Council, though, that’s a different matter entirely. As an official body, they need to know who I am, but they persistently ignore my diplomatic status as a foreign dignitary and keep sending me rent demands and parking tickets. And do they respect my polite requests to refer the issue to the Albanian embassy? Oh no. Those people have no idea how to treat a member of a royal family. They’re far too puffed up with their own self-importance.

By the way, since you know the truth now, I was wondering if you’d like to contribute to my campaign fund. To restore the Albanian monarchy and allow my Aunty Mavis to claim her rightful throne. It’s the coin jar on the mantelpiece, next to those plastic tulips. It will help us put an end to an injustice that has been festering ever since my glorious great-great grandfather, King Zog, was forced into exile all those years ago. I’m sure that, when the great day comes, Queen Mavis will be happy to grant you an Earldom or something in recognition of your support.

Please don’t grovel like that. As I said, a simple bow or curtsey is perfectly sufficient. I don’t like to stand on ceremony. Why are you giggling? I assure you, protocol is no laughing matter. And don’t call me ‘Your Majesty’. The correct salutation for a prince of the blood royal is ‘Your Royal Highness’.

WILL YOU STOP LAUGHING!! Right, that’s it, I’m banishing you from Court. And you can forget about that peerage. Oh, why does no one understand the burdens of greatness? I bet William and Harry don’t have to put up with this crap.


The Haunted Menagerie

I was disappointed not to be able to go to Write Out Loud in Marsden tonight.  It’s a monthly gathering where people gather to read poetry and chat, and is always a great evening.

So to cheer myself up, I thought I’d post here one of the poems I had been planning to read.  The theme this month was ‘animals’ and this is one of a very few pieces I’ve got on that subject.  Just a bit of fun, really.


The Haunted Menagerie


The shriek of gate on rusty hinges

wail of wind through broken glass.

Ivy grasps in tendril fingers

relics from a glorious past.


Children used to point and wonder,

lions paced around the cells

that now lie vacant, hidden under

strange cacophonies of smells


Where are they now, those agile cheetahs

rhinos, prowling jaguars?

They are still here, free of their fetters

no more imprisoned by their bars.


You cannot see them, but at night

you’ll hear the monkey’s ghostly calls.

The roar of bear and shriek of eagle

echo round these crumbling walls.


So are they free, these undead creatures,

disembodied feral minds?

Not so, they pine for distant lands

their lost souls cannot hope to find.


Should you come here to tread once more

the paths of this forbidden zoo

beware; within these empty cages

are things that might still feed on you.


Picture:  (c) Tekashifuka 2013

Sale Time

It’s Crooked Cat Sale time again!  The e-book of Revolution Day (along with lots of other books) is reduced to 99p/99c until tomorrow (Friday 29 December).  You can find it via these links: Amazon UK   Other Amazon sites

Usually, when there’s a sale on, I post an excerpt to give people a taster of the novel.  But this time I thought I would do something different. So here’s a brief summary of what the novel is about, illustrated by half a dozen very short extracts.  Hope it whets your appetite!

Carlos Almanzor has ruled his country for 37 years. Now in his seventies, he is feeling his age.

“… the figure of an old man stumbled onto the balcony. He appeared lost, confused, as if, in the grip of senile delirium, he had wandered onto the balcony by mistake. His body was so frail, so insubstantial, that it seemed to be held upright only by the starched creases of his elaborate uniform...”

Nevertheless, he still grimly holds the reins of power to himself, believing that he alone can be trusted to run the nation. His Vice President, Manuel Jimenez, is frustrated by his subordinate position. When an attempt to boost his profile is met with humiliating rejection, he resolves to take action.

“… if what one has is worthless, then the risk of losing it is no risk at all. If there is little to lose and the possibility of gaining a great prize, then to roll the dice seems not like gambling, but rational behaviour. And yet, it is still rolling the dice. As he contemplated the possibility of doing so, Manuel experienced for a moment the frisson of excitement that the gambler must crave: that strange wild union of hope and fear.”

Meanwhile, Carlos’s estranged wife Juanita has been under house arrest for sixteen years.

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.”

She is writing a memoir in which she chronicles Carlos’s seizure of power …

I recall very little of what happened next, though I do remember sensing the change in the fleeing crowd in front of us as they realised what was happening and began to turn upon their tormentors. There was a whirring, bewildering confusion of bodies, a cacophony of shouts and screams, and a few shots. Within minutes, a third of the presidential guards were dead.”

… and his long descent from idealism into autocracy and repression.

And so it was done. The men were shot a week later: the first three of eighteen hundred and forty six executions so far during Carlos’ reign. I remember being glad that it would be done quickly, in case he changed his mind. Angel and Pablo did get to sit in the front row. So did Carlos, and Manuel. So, to my discomfort and later shame, did I.”

Lacking a military power base, Manuel makes his move not by force, but through intrigue, playing on Carlos’s paranoia and exploiting the vulnerabilities of those around him, including his young mistress, Corazon, whose spare time is not always spent in the palace.

The door opened and a man entered the room. This was not her usual driver: younger, taller, with slicked-back hair and dressed in a sharp black suit, he looked more like a guest than an employee of the club. Corazon gave the barman a puzzled look, but he smiled and beckoned her to come forward.

Juanita too will soon find herself an unwitting participant in Manuel’s plans. Will he succeed in deposing Carlos and claiming the Presidency for himself? Or will the old man discover the plot and take action before it is too late? You’ll have to read the novel to find out!


You can find more information about Revolution Day, including reviews and longer excerpts, here

Tim’s Christmas Quiz

Here’s a bit of fun for the festive season.  Ten quiz questions, some easy, some a bit harder, all to do with recent or older history.  All of the answers can be found in posts on this blog from 2017.  Get them right, and you can win an e-book of Revolution Day or Zeus of Ithome!

Send me your answers by Facebook message, Twitter or e-mail ( If more than one person gets all ten correct answers, I will pick a winner randomly.  The quiz is open till Christmas Day.

( You can find out about the books here: )


The Questions

1.  Which African nation was implicated in the 1988 Lockerbie air crash?

2.  Which World War 1 battlefield is close to the ancient city of Troy?

3.  Which POW camp was the scene of the 1944 ‘Great Escape’ in which 76 prisoners escaped (of whom 50 were later executed)?

4.  Which reservoir burst its dam in 1952 to cause a catastrophic flood in the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth?

5.  Who was the murderer of archduke Franz Ferdinand?

6.  Which historical figure was the subject of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel The Feast of the Goat?

7.  What is Robert Mugabe’s religion?

8.  Which poet was imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of adultery with Anne Boleyn?

9.  Which Mexican president gave his name to an Italian dictator?

10.  Which Dorset village was taken over by the Army in World War II?


Good luck – and a Happy Christmas to all!


Dictators in History: Robert Mugabe

I was on holiday last month when I heard about the end of Robert Mugabe’s long rule over Zimbabwe. It seemed like an obvious cue for another in my occasional series of posts looking at historical dictators and comparing them to Carlos Almanzor, fictional dictator in my novel Revolution Day. Other things got in the way for a while, but I’ve finally managed to make time to do it.

Robert Mugabe was born in 1924 in Katuma, in the then British colony of Southern Rhodesia. His father was from Nyasaland (now Malawi) and his mother was a Shona, the predominant ethnic group in what is now Zimbabwe. A Catholic, he went to St Francis Xavier College in Katuma and became a teacher. During his time at Fort Hare University in South Africa he was influenced by African nationalist and Marxist ideas and joined the African National Congress.

His teaching work took him to Ghana, where he met Sally Hayfron, whom he later married. Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1960, he joined the National Democratic Party (NDP), a nationalist movement led by Joshua Nkomo, in which he quickly became a prominent figure. The NDP was banned in 1961, but reformed as the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). Differences among the nationalists led to Mugabe and others leaving to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). ZANU and ZAPU were banned in 1964 and Mugabe was imprisoned. In 1965 Ian Smith, the (white) Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, responded to the British policy of No Independence Before Majority Rule with a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

Mugabe remained politically active in prison, and on his release in 1974 he secured the allegience of ZANU’s military wing, which was now fighting a guerilla war against the Rhodesian government. He became ZANU’s president in 1977. The war and international pressure eventually forced Smith to accept majority rule. ZANU and ZAPU boycotted the 1979 election called by Smith, but participated in subsequent negotiations brokered by the British. Mugabe, who had hoped for a military victory rather than a political settlement, reluctantly signed the Lancaster House Agreement, which ended the war and set out the transition to independence.

In the subsequent elections Mugabe’s ZANU-Popular Front won a majority and he became the first Prime Minister of the newly-independent Zimbabwe in April 1980 (he would become its President in 1987). Despite the hardline Marxist/nationalist position he had taken before the settlement, Mugabe sought to reassure white Zimbabweans and encourage them to stay, and pursued land reform initially through voluntary means. He adopted relatively conservative economic policies, spent heavily on education and health, and invited political rivals to join his cabinet.

However, this good start was not to last. Tensions between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, predominantly Shona, and Nkomo’s ZAPU, predominantly of Ndebele ethnicity, erupted into violence. In the mid-80s Mugabe sent troops into the Ndebele heartlands, where an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed. Mugabe replaced the voluntary land reform programme with compulsory purchase in the 1990’s, and later encouraged the violent takeover of remaining white farms by veterans of the independence wars. Much of the redistributed land ended up in the hands of Mugabe’s close supporters. Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed during the 1990’s, leading to hyperinflation and food shortages.

Mugabe nevertheless continued to win elections, which observers repeatedly pronounced neither free nor fair. However, opposition grew, and in 2008 Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing agreement with Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, though he was able to take back control after the 2013 election. In 2017 he sacked his Vice-President, Emerson Mnangagwa, and seemed to be preparing for his second wife, Grace, to succeed him. This proved the final straw for his own supporters. The Army put him under house arrest and, under threat of impeachment, Mugabe finally resigned on 21 November.

Mugabe and Carlos

Mugabe was not one of the various real-life dictators I had in mind when I was developing Carlos’s persona and career. Nevertheless, there are some remarkable parallels between the two men. One spooky coincidence is that at the time of his resignation Mugabe had been in power in Zimbabwe for 37 years (and a few months). Revolution Day begins on the 37th anniversary of Carlos Almanzor’s rise to power, as he too is about to face a potential coup d’etat.

In their earlier careers too there are similarities. Both were well-educated, and joined left-wing political movements, though unlike Mugabe (and many of his own colleagues) Carlos was not a Marxist (or, of course, an African nationalist). Both were initially seen as liberators and made promising beginnings to their tenure of power, showing restraint and introducing beneficial reforms. Both later became increasingly autocratic, paranoid and oppressive, wanting the figleaf of democratic legitimacy but resorting to whatever means were necessary to ensure that votes went their way.

There are differences too, of course. On the whole Carlos comes out favourably in the comparison. For all his egotism and ruthlessness in dealing with dissidents, unlike Mugabe he never resorts to sectarian killings or cronyism. Nevertheless, as I did my research on Mugabe, I found to my surprise that he may have more in common with Carlos than any of the other real-life dictators I have studied for this series.


You can find out more about Carlos (and Revolution Day) here: