Monthly Archives: February 2015

Echoes of war.

There are times when I feel especially close to my father and grandfather. Given that there are days when I do the same job at the same time as they did, often with equipment they’d recognise, it’s probably not surprising.

But after all these years they can still manage to surprise you.

My Grandfather was born the son of a dairyman who milked cows in Cheltenham Street in Barrow in Furness, and walked them down Abbey Road to graze on the fields where one day the Grammar Schools would be built. When I was at the school, the remnants of hedges my Great Grandfather probably laid were still there.

My Grandfather inherited debts greater than his assets but still managed to build up a business. I can still picture him, tall, thinnish faced. He wore the old fashioned shirts with separate collars, which were a sensible length. A proper man’s shirt tucks so far into his trousers that he sits on it when he sits down.

I was his first grandchild. He’d had five daughters, and the first thing the oldest does is present him with a grandson. Apparently I’m a bit like him in some ways (or so some members of the older generation used to say, somewhat darkly, without going into details.)

As a child I remember ‘looking stock’ with him; sitting in the passenger seat of an old Morris pickup as he drove across fields to check on yet another batch of cattle.

Before I started school, I also remember getting a ride out when he took milk to the dairy. This he did every day, with ten gallon steel churns (or Kits) in the back of his old pickup. That was a real treat; not only did I get so see the dairy, but I have a vague feeling that at least one of my mother’s younger sisters worked there at the time. So I always remember being made a fuss off by a crowd of glamorous young ladies who kept giving me orange juice to drink. Life never really gets better as you get older does it. Then if the day was going really well, Granddad would stop the pickup as we crossed Roose Bridge and take me into Ernie Hayton’s sweet shop. There he’d buy me a Raspberry Split.

Raspberry Split

He could be a bit irascible. Personally I’d blame the fact that he had five daughters and a wife to keep him in order. I do remember hearing him use the phrase, “Oh hod tha whist woman.” This, freely translated, means ‘Please be quiet my dear.”

He had other phrases as well. One I managed to work into my first SF story, ‘Justice 4.1’

“Eventually people finished and the bowls were passed down to the end of the table. Then a young girl disappeared into the galley and came back carrying a cake. She placed it in front of Tongo. “This is the dessert, Tongo,” she said, with intense earnestness.

 Tongo contemplated the cake. “Would you like to cut a slice young lady? Then I can try it; see if it’s fit for guests.”
She nodded, realised there was no knife and bolted for the galley. She came back with the knife and with immense care cut a slice of cake and manoeuvred it onto a plate. The plate she passed to Tongo, who cautiously picked up the piece of cake and studied it. He was holding it carefully; it had been cut remarkably thin. He bit off a piece and chewed it meditatively. Without comment he ate the rest. There was silence round the table. The children especially were watching Tongo like hawks.

Eventually, the masticated cake swallowed, Tongo spoke.

“Well it’s very good, but…” With the ‘but’ the girl started to look very serious.

After soaking the pause for its drama Tongo continued. “It tastes of knife.”

The girl looked perplexed and studied the knife blade carefully. Zenobia reached across the table and tapped the girl on the arm.

“What the great loon means is that next time, cut him a thick piece, not one so thin he could read a newspaper through.” She smiled at the girl to encourage her. “Now cut the cake into sensible pieces and pass it round.


The ‘tastes of knife’ comment was one my Granddad made when my sister cut him a piece of cake to try.

But anyway, you think you know a person, and then somebody tells you something.

Last Wednesday I was talking to a lady who had been brought up as a girl with my mother. Her father had worked for my Grandfather. It was during the war and Barrow was being heavily bombed. Because we’re a naval shipbuilding town, we did suffer a lot from bombing.

And then a German plane gets shot down over my Grandfather’s land. Stopping only to grab pitchforks my Grandfather and the chap working for him run to the crash site to deal with the pilot. Apparently watching the young German get out of the plane, my Grandfather had said, “He’s nowt but a lad.” But anyway they’d detained him and kept him detained until the village bobby from Rampside had cycled out, arrested him and then walked him the three miles into Barrow to the main police station.

And it’s funny, the picture of the big chap with the pitchfork, looking at the young German, shaking his head and saying ‘He’s nowt but a lad’ fits in well with the Grandfather who bought me Raspberry Splits, or who teased my sister when she cut the cake too thin.

You know, whilst war brings out the good and the bad in people, it only brings out what was there in the first place.

And on the desk near me is a .50 cal round one of the metal detectorists found on our land. It was probably fired either at or by an aircraft. A big numb lump of a thing, if it hit you, it’d spoil your whole afternoon one way or another. And now when I see it I can see my Grandfather with his pitchfork as well.

And I suppose I ought to mention the second Science Fiction book. My Grandfather doesn’t figure in this one, although other Barrow people I know inevitably do. My Granddad was a man who built up a business; he’d never forgive me for not taking the chance to mention that the entire Tsarina Sector series is now available

Beware the machinations of tyrants.

Apparently the organisers of the first European games in Baku have pretty well paid for the British team to attend.

I know it’s hardly blood diamonds, but people are still asking questions about it.
But I know a chap who was in with a damned good chance of representing us at the Moscow Olympics back in 1980. He’d spent an awful lot of time training and what happened? There were all sorts of people saying how shocking it was that we were sending athletes to the Soviet Union after they’d invaded Afghanistan, and eventually his sport pulled out. He never got his chance. Four years later it’s a different world, he’s four years older; he’d quite literally missed the boat.

The problem with ‘sports boycotts’ is that they enable people to ‘send a message’, feel smug AND sanctimonious, and at no cost. If the British team don’t go to Baku, frankly I’d never notice. I’m unlikely to watch the games. (Let’s not beat about the bush, if they held the games in Barrow I doubt I could work up the enthusiasm to watch them.)

But firstly there are a lot of people who enjoy this sort of sport. Even more there are people who’ve trained with eye watering dedication, all their lives, just to get a chance to compete at this level.

Now then; I could demand we boycott Baku; feel smug when we do, tell people that we’ve shown ‘them’ what we think of ‘them’ and it hasn’t cost me a penny. Indeed I’ve suffered nothing.

Screwed some other poor beggar’s life but one cannot have petty moral victories without some cost.

I must admit I rather regard athletics and sport as part of the entertainment industry. Long distant runners probably get out more than rock guitarists and might even be healthier, but they’re part of the same industry.

So I suppose as a writer I’m also part of the same industry as well. Should I announce that I want to ban my books being sold in Baku?
As an aside it might be worth it for the free publicity and the chance of a couple of column inches in the Guardian.

But actually, I’ve had a better idea. This way you, the honest reader, can take a stand for liberty and democracy.

It’s beautifully simple.

TS2 War 2-2 (1)

Go to

Or  if you’re American.

Then you can pre-order a copy of the book. The cunning plan is that if decent people buy them all, it’ll mean there’s none left for tyrants and rogue states.

That’ll show them we mean business!

Chuffed to bits I was.

Every so often good things happen at random

So there I was. Every couple of hours, if nobody competent is about, I have to walk through the three lambing sheds to check nothing is happening.

Actually they’re pretty slow at the moment, so at some point everything is going to happen at once and we’ll be swamped. But at the moment we’ve got a couple of ewes lambing a day. This isn’t a lot when 400 have to lamb by the start of April.
Anyway I was walking down on shed and a ewe had just dropped a lamb. Great, open a pen gate, whisk her and her lamb into the pen.

Now according to her mark she’d been scanned for a single. So at this point it’s worth trying to ‘wet mother’ another lamb onto her so she’s got two.

So I go into the other shed where the triplets are and borrow a ‘spare lamb’ from one of them.

This is because a ewe has two teats so really can only feed two lambs properly, so a third lamb tends to be fostered onto a ewe who only has one.

So I collect a lamb, who isn’t entirely impressed by the fuss, and a disposable plastic glove. This is because the lamb is about to be drenched in afterbirth and similar so it smells like its new mother.

Everything prepared I walk back into the first shed, and as I’m about to climb into the pen, I notice that the lady in question has just dropped a second lamb and is contentedly licking that one down as well.

So the ‘spare lamb’ goes back to mum for a little while and I get on with the rest of the day, whistling cheerfully.

It’s funny how such little things do make your day isn’t it.

Like today I got an email from a chap who’d bought Justice 4.1


It read

“You just ruined a day’s work for me. I couldn’t put it down! Please press on with the series – I can’t wait!

My first impression was that it was rather a slim volume, the size would have been normal 30 years back, but 450 pages seems to be the average now. However, I do not feel cheated. The insights into future farming and insurance are breath-taking. I do hope your own insurers don’t get a copy…”

Chuffed to bits I was


Anyway the whole series is now out


 Sheep, a socket set and a dog that howls back at police cars.


For simple country folk we lead complicated lives. It started when I let the dog out. Or perhaps it really started when the wheel bearing went on the quad trailer? But anyway, it was obvious the bearing was going so there was a replacement bearing sitting, pristine and jewel like in its wrapping.

Before I could get hay to sheep I needed the trailer and before I could use the trailer I would need to change the wheel bearing. And Sal, the dog, was getting bored and wanted out. So I let her out and started on the wheel bearing.

Now I like to take the wheel off first. Then I can put the hub in a bucket of hot water and detergent and clean it. So that way I know what’s happening. And then obviously it makes sense to clean off the axle as well. But as I’m doing this, I glance up and notice Sal walking backwards and looking distinctly unhappy.

Now it occurs to me that some explanation is called for. We’re lambing at the moment and the minute Sal is let out in a morning, she goes straight to the lambing shed. Not only is there the off chance of a bit of afterbirth, but joy of joys, there might be a bit of skin. Because sometimes if a lamb dies you skin it, put the skin on an orphan so the mother assumes that it’s the same lamb. That way she’ll let it suckle, and once it’s successfully suckled for a couple of days it smells like its new mum anyway and you can take the extra skin off.
From the point of view of a Border Collie, this is dog-chew heaven!

But if you remember an earlier blog, a common term used to describe mule ewes is ‘ya bluidy auld witch’. Apparently this isn’t a dialect term, as it is used by Shepherds from Somerset to Shap.

And this morning, one bluidy auld witch had got out of her lambing pen, and with her two lambs in tow, was taking the morning air. I don’t think she had any set destination in mind, other than ‘out’.

So as she came out of the shed in one direction, she met Sal going into the shed in the other direction. Now normally this would have had one result, the ewe would have retreated back into the shed. But this ewe had two lambs.

Now the maternal instinct can be strong in sheep. It seems to vary between individuals, and it’s something that has been bred for over the years. Indeed when ‘mothering on’, or trying to fit the third lamb from a set of triplets onto a ewe who only had a single, you depend heavily on this maternal instinct to kick in.

Indeed our previous dog, Jess, was encouraged to drift round the lambing shed on the grounds that her presence could arouse the protective maternal instinct in a tup!

So Sal, a dog so open and helpful that she howls back at the sirens on emergency vehicles, had run into a ewe, tooled up with lord alone knows how many millennia of selective breeding for maternal instinct.

At this point we had a communications breakdown. Thinking about it, probably a three species communication breakdown. I just wanted them to sort themselves out so I could change the bearing. Sal was just interested in anything she might find to nibble on. The ewe had taken one look at Sal’s teeth, a silhouette which doubtless matched perfectly the one marked ‘wolf’ in ‘A sheep’s guide to the predators of the world’ and suspected that this nibbling might involve her lambs.

So she stamped her foot.

Other species can be more spectacularly demonstrative. The roar of the lion, the snarl of big dog; they’re all pretty graphic warnings.

A sheep has a bleat that never sounds less than plaintive, and dentition that threatens nobody. So they stamp a front foot.

From the human point of view this doesn’t work well. It places them very firmly into ‘petulant infant’ territory.

What you must remember is that sheep have one good attack. Head down and hell for leather at whoever is the problem. It actually works best with bigger targets like people. Dogs are a bit nippy and unless the sheep can get the dog in a corner, the dog will probably escape.

But Sal wasn’t looking for trouble. She was walking backwards looking nervous and the ewe, her two lambs clustering round her, had a triumphal gleam in her eye.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time for all this. A hot date with a socket set and a wheel bearing called, and after that I had work to do. So I just walked past the dog and up to the ewe. Who stamped her foot!

At which point I called her a bluidy auld witch and told her to get back in the shed. This she did, her lambs leading the way as she kept turning and looking past me to keep an eye on the dog. Sal just slunk about looking embarrassed.

So I tied the hurdle back up and got on with the bearing. At some point in the day I’d vague hopes of writing some more deathless prose.


Whilst we’re talking about deathless prose


As the reviewer mentioned, “Benor is a cartographer and he’s come to Port Naain to produce a handbook. He makes a home with Tallis, a professional poet and his wife Shena. She’s a mud-jobber or as we might say, a beachcomber. Some of her combings include bodies. Everything has a price and families will pay for the privilege of burying their dead and, if possible, finding who caused it. Benor is a natural. He’s a nosy person and, with the aid of the wonderful Mutt, a ten year-old wise beyond his years, he sorts out the villains from the corpses. This first short story from The Port Naain Intelligencer bodes well for the rest of the series. A really great Whodunit.”

Oh and another thing

I remember a story told me by mate who was some years older than me, old enough to have done National Service out in Malaya.

One of the lads in his platoon had been engaged to be married. Now he’d heard rumours at home about his fiancée’s behaviour. So it wasn’t a complete shock when she wrote him a letter breaking off the engagement and asking for her photograph back.

He’d decided that he was going to get his own back, so he went round the base collecting unwanted photos of girls from everyone in the base. Then he put them all in an envelope, along the one his fiancée had previously sent him and posted them back to her.

With the words “I cannot remember which is you; please take it and post the others back.”

Given the number of times I’ve heard the story, I suspect it might have been done several times in several armies.

Anyway, for once, I’ve got news

TS2 War 2-2 (1)

War 2.2 is coming out on the 1st March! It’s the second book featuring Haldar Drom and the Tsarina Sector.

And the cover blurb?

“Haldar Drom is starting to worry. The long running insurgency in the Zala Delta suddenly starts to spiral further out of control. Who is arming the insurgents? How and why? Then a leading local politician who is using his influence to try and keep things calm is threatened with assassination. It’s obvious that things are moving to a climax.

All Haldar has immediately available is a third year university student who gets given a dissertation project she’ll never forget; young journalist who he convinces to investigate the situation of the ground; and a retired marine librarian whose job is to keep the politician alive. As the investigation proceeds, from the mud of the Delta to the luxurious surroundings of the Drake Islands, Haldar comes to realise that he may be facing Wayland Strang’s counter-attack. Faced with a coup d’état spearheaded by off-world mercenaries Haldar has to react quickly to stop a major war.”

A Great Leap Sideways

Apparently it was Al Boliska who said, “Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?”

Well as you know I’ve got this interesting relationship with technology. Not so much ‘love-hate’ as ‘apathetic’

The fact that mobile phones have largely passed me by is well known. I carry a cheap old nokia mainly because the authorities get upset if they realise you’ve got a loaded Verey pistol on your person. But I use the phone as a Verey pistol. It’s almost as good but you don’t get the pretty lights.

Same with e-books; I write them but I’ve not got anything to read them on other than a desktop PC.

So I thought I’d do something about this.

Now I suppose the easy thing to do would be to get a kindle or something similar. But actually, after discussion with publishers etc I’ve decided to do it differently.

You see, when Safhket published Justice 4.1 the decision was taken to produce a paperback as well as an ebook. The paperback reached a lot of people who otherwise would never have seen the book.

When the next book in the series comes out in March, it’s going to get launched twice. In March it’ll come out as an ebook, but then later in the year, it’ll be launched as a paperback. This is because that launch will coincide, hopefully, with a range of miniatures to go with the books.

And then I’ve had a look at the fantasy.  They’re all ebooks, and weighing things in the balance, looking at sales, and the reception the books have had; we’ve come to the decision that they ought to be published in paperback as well, so the process is now underway. No dates yet, just vaguely ‘Summer/Autumn’ before they’re all out there.

And to coincide with them coming out in paperback I have bowed to pressure to write more about Benor Dorfinngil and his adventures. There are now six Benor short stories written and they’re with the editor. Together their common title is ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’. Each is a ‘stand alone’ detective story/investigation. Each is about 16,000 to 20,000 words and the idea is they’ll appear as ebooks, priced at £0.99.  They’ll come out, on a regular basis, one a quarter, and at the end of the year, if they’re well received, the year’s stories will be published together in a paperback, probably with a few bits and bobs of other stuff.

If you’ve not come across Benor, then The Cartographer’s Apprentice is as good a place to start as any.

All this is ready to roll, but dates and suchlike are inevitably tentative because there’s a lot of work for a lot of people and they’re all busy people.

I’ve even got a couple of 8000 word Benor short stories, set in Port Naain, that will appear, free, at some point. I know, wash my mouth out with soap and water, but it’s both a way of saying thank-you to those who have been so loyal buying the books, and also it’s the ‘crack-dealers gambit’ to hook new readers who haven’t somehow ever got round to trying the Benor Dorfinngil experience.

So you have been warned, Port Naain awaits.