It’s my great pleasure to welcome Paul English to this month’s Launch Pad spot!
Paul lives just up the road from me in Somerset West in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa. You might remember him from the book signing we co-hosted back in 2019. It’s such a pleasure to have a fellow author close by with whom to exchange ideas and discuss the ups and downs of a writer’s life, although much of this has had to be virtual over the past year or so of lockdowns.
Paul’s an ardent superhero and sci-fi fan and has a love for mysteries, all of which has contributed to the writing of his novels. Originally inspired to create his first superhero character by watching an interview with the late great Stan Lee, Paul is an encyclopaedia of knowledge concerning anything and everything related to Marvel and DC comics. Paul’s also a keen follower of pro-wrestling and enjoys dabbling in drawing his own comic books and writing the stories. You can find him blogging about his writing and his books on his blog, Backroom Bulletin.
Paul’s book, Scorched Earth: Arrival was released earlier this year and he’s here to tell us about it. Take it away, Paul!
Thank you for having me on your blog today Chris, I’m excited to tell you about my latest book which is the start of my Scorched Earth trilogy.
Scorched Earth: Arrival is the seventh book in the Fire Angel Universe, the new superhero universe which I created when I started my writing and publishing journey. Once I’d introduced several compelling characters over the course of my previous Fire Angel books, I decided it was time for all these characters to come together, and what better time for superheroes to meet than during an invasion from an alien empire? Given the fact I’m a science fiction fan it seemed the obvious choice and hence the Scorched Earth trilogy came into being. This first book deals with the arrival of a powerful alien force, an empire bent on the invasion of yet another planet: Earth.
Writing the Fire Angel series has been really enjoyable, although each book has come with its own set of challenges. The Scorched Earth trilogy is proving no different. I’m currently nearing the completion of the second book, Scorched Earth: Takeover, so keep an eye out for that when it comes out.
The Earth is being invaded. A hero falls.
As a ruthless alien empire sets its sights on Earth, the time has come for courageous people to step up and defend the world.
When Project: Guardian’s leader, Kat Palmer goes AWOL, Randy Wilson is next in line to lead the clandestine government task force against the most serious threat the human race has ever faced.
And now, when both the military and the police have their backs against the wall, humanity needs new heroes too. Alexandra Grant answers the call, not only to save others, but to redeem herself for condemning the superhuman, Fire Angel.
Meanwhile, the members of the underground Society of Science, are working against the clock to find a chink in the invaders’ armor and stop them before it’s too late.
It’s half the way through the year already, can you believe it? Almost the end of June and it’s wet and wintry here, and while many of you are enjoying your ‘summer reading’ and I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading this year. I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and I firmly believe that the more good writing I read, the more my own writing improves.
Last year I did the ArmedWithABingo year-long reading challenge hosted by Kriti Khare & Ariel Joy which was great fun, and which encouraged my to read a few books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. But this year I’m on a ‘free choice’ foray, guided mostly by some great reviews I’ve read by some great reviewers here in our WordPress family, who’ve wickedly tempted me to augment my already tottering ‘TBR’ pile way beyond normal safety parameters.
I’ve also over-stuffed my book shelves with piles of pre-loved books from our local indie book stores.
However, I must confess to my shame that I haven’t been to our lovely local library for ages. I really should, even though under lockdown regulations you can only spend half an hour at a time there. Before Covid, I used to go to write there sometimes since being surrounded by all those books was rather inspiring (and it’s lovely and warm in winter).
Anyway, enough rambling. Here’s what I’ve read so far this year.
I’ve had a most enjoyable half-year’s reading: a mixture of old books and new, prose and poetry, even a cookery book. I’ve continued to honour my resolve to read more books from the southern hemisphere, especially by African writers, as I feel authors down here don’t get the exposure they should.
As a writer I know how exciting it is to receive a review from a reader, and I offer a big, big thank you to all of my readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to rate/review my books, although to know someone has read one of my books is even enough.
I faithfully post a review of the books I’ve read on Goodreads and usually on Bookbub, so long as the book comes up in a search. You can find all of my reviews here on Goodreads.
As for the next half of the year, I did promise myself not to buy any more books until I’d made a proper dent in the tottering TBR pile, but there’s a sale at Bookworms tomorrow, and I have to support the store which carries copies of my own books, don’t I?
Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. This week we’ll taking a pleasant drive from my home town to the little fictional town on the West Coast of South Africa to meet the characters from Song of the Sea Goddess who were so much fun to write about. The ladies are loosely based on some of the people whom I met when I arrived in Somerset West, not so long ago as the postcard above might suggest, I hasten to add.
The reason I’m showing you the postcard is that it gives you an idea of the style of house in which my two little aunties live, although their cottage stands alone on a dusty road just a stone-throw from the sea. Several similar ‘Cape Dutch’ style houses still remain in Somerset West, the best examples being in Church Street, which has an interesting history and which is a place that became an important part of my life when I arrived here.
Auntie Grace and Auntie Rose provide a comedic element to the novel, and the group of ladies their characters are based upon had the same wry outlook on life.
We were all part of a small volunteer group which sought to provide support to clients of the public clinic who were being treated for HIV, TB and other chronic conditions. It sounds a bit grim, but we did in fact have a lot of fun, as we engaged in various uplifting activities including sewing, knitting and beadwork, all of which was accompanied by singing and chatting over cups of tea and coffee, and the plates of sandwiches which were my contribution.
Most of my fellow volunteers lived in Church Street in houses which were built on a plot of land originally owned by Lady Phillips, wife of Cape Governor, Lord Charles Phillips around the turn of the 20th century. A Methodist church and a school were also established here. My involvement in the support group was as a result of a connection to that school via an international art competition and exchange programme with my husband’s school in the UK back in 2008. It was through the friends we made at Somerset West Primary School that led to us moving Somerset West, two years later.
During our two mornings a week in our room at the back of the clinic, our conversations tended to centre on matters like ‘soapies’ (soap operas), clothes, kids and cooking. Sharing recipes and talking about food was what really cemented my connection with members of the group and this is how I came upon some of ‘Auntie Rose’s recipes‘ and my character’s cooking became part of her story.
And now to the story. The following excerpt is taken from an early part of the book where Albertina, new to the little West Coast town, first comes across the aunties.
Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess
A commotion at the front of the little house catches Albertina’s attention. Two little old aunties are marching up and down their stoep, noisily pulling the chairs from under the table, bending over and searching the floor. They both straighten up so much as they can; one holds up her hands in the air, the other plants her hands on her broad hips and shakes her head.
She walks over and stands looking at them, her head on one side and a smile on her bright red lips.
‘Come,’ Auntie Rose beckons her onto the stoep. ‘She can help us look, can’t she, Auntie Grace?’
Auntie Grace nods and hurries over to open the little gate for Albertina. She takes hold of Albertina’s sleeve. ‘Come,’ she tugs at the sleeve, propelling Albertina towards the table. ‘Put your bag down here and help us look.’
‘She doesn’t know what we’re looking for,’ says Auntie Rose.
‘I’m coming to that.’
Auntie Rose rolls her eyes and squints up at Albertina. ‘She’s lost her glasses,’ she points to her sister, ‘and I’ve lost my teeth,’ she explains gurning at Albertina. ‘My false teeth,’ she adds, in case Albertina misunderstands.
Albertina places her bag on the table and looks from one little auntie to the other. Immediately she notices the pair of glasses perched on Grace’s head. She points to her own head. Auntie Grace reaches up with one hand, pulls her glasses off her tightly cropped grey hair and holds them out to her sister, her eyebrows raised.
It’s Auntie Rose’s turn to put her hands on her hips. ‘I wasn’t looking there,’ she said indignantly. ‘You said they must have fallen on the floor, and anyway,’ she continued, ‘that’s where I was looking for my teeth.’ Albertina bends down to look under the table. As she does so, she notices a crescent-shaped bulge halfway down Auntie Rose’s rather tightly stretched pants’ leg. She stands up and points at the bulge. Auntie Rose looks down. Her hand goes to her thigh feeling the trapped object. She starts to giggle. She sits on the nearest chair and eases the object down past her knee. Still giggling she scoops the object up as it drops out of her pants’ leg and brandishes a set of teeth aloft. Both aunties burst into peals of laughter. Such is their merriment that Albertina joins in too, her eyes darting about the stoep.
As the laughter dies down, Albertina seizes the brush which is leaning by the wall and starts to sweep the stoep. Albertina is a demon sweeper. The aunties watch as she whisks up the dust and crumbs and bits of fabric and thread which have accumulated under the table. She makes a neat pile and looks around. She grabs the little shovel that stands in the corner and deftly sweeps the pile onto it. She spies the dirt bin the other side of the wall and swiftly deposits the rubbish inside, before replacing the brush and shovel. She goes to pick up her bag, but Auntie Grace puts her hand on hers and points towards a chair. ‘Sit a moment.’
The sisters look at each other and something unspoken passes between them.
‘We could do with some help,’ says Auntie Grace. ‘We can’t pay a lot mind. There’s not so much to do but, you know, some of the heavier work…’
A smile spreads across Albertina’s face.
‘Where do you stay?’ asks Auntie Rose.
Albertina gestures vaguely at the road behind them.
The two aunties nod at each other and stand up. ‘Come and see,’ Auntie Grace says to Albertina as she heads into the house. Albertina picks up her handbag and follows her through the little kitchen to the back yard. Auntie Rose follows, her left leg swings awkwardly as she walks.
Out in the yard is a little wendy house. Auntie Grace pulls the door open. ‘It needs a good clean but would you like to…’
Albertina throws her arms around Auntie Grace, who totters, slightly off balance. Auntie Grace laughs, disentangling herself.
‘There’s a little bathroom too,’ says Auntie Rose, pointing to a small lean-to next to the kitchen. ‘It only has cold water though…’
‘Albertina only washes in cold water,’ she says proudly.
The two aunties look at each other. ‘That’s settled then,’ says Auntie Grace. ‘Why don’t you make us some tea?’ Auntie Rose beckons to Albertina and leads the way to the kitchen.
Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. This week you’re going to need your hard hats as we venture into the mysterious network of tunnels and basements built beneath the fine city of Liverpool. These fictional tunnels from You’ll Never Walk Alone, are partly based on fact, although I embellished the extent of the network for the sake of the story.
When I was initially rummaging around in rabbit holes researching the background to the book, I came across this articlewhich talks about a basement areas under Bold Street in the city centre, where Pierre and Lucy do some of their ‘Sunday Shopping’. In fact, I’ve referenced the before – you might even remember it if you were following the unfolding novel back in October 2018! One of the comments in the thread provided me with a big chunk of inspiration for my fictional tunnel network:
“I worked on a refurbishment prog (sic) in 1980 at the Adelphi hotel. A tunnel was found at the front of the hotel, it’s now covered over by the back bar in the night club. It was heading in the direction of Lewis’s or Central Station.”
Many of you will remember that I was once employed as an insurance surveyor, and in the course of some of my building inspections I tramped through many of the dusty, disused and fascinating parts of Liverpool’s panoply of historical edifices.
One of these was the Cotton Exchange. Remember how Liverpool was built on the Far Eastern trade of cotton and silk? Even in the distant days of my insurance career not much was left of the cotton trade in Liverpooland, at the time of my visit, this beautiful old building had fallen into disrepair. I remember being shown the old sample room where the quality of the merchants’ cotton was once assessed against the samples contained in a large beautifully crafted chest of drawers. But the basement held many treasures. Take a look.
Around the perimeter of this massive building there were a number of intriguing metal-clad doors which led from the pavement down into the basement storage level and it was this that captured my imagination for Pierre’s little bolt hole:
“I have just the place. Come, Lucy.” He held out his hand. Lucy took it and followed him as he ducked around the next corner and down a short flight of steps leading to a basement area. There was a heavy door at the bottom of the stairs and the window next to the door was boarded up. Pierre reached down and drew out a key from a recess under the bottom step. He fitted the key into the lock and turned it. The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges...
A few paragraphs later, they finally make their escape through the basement and into the tunnels. Lucy is understandably unnerved when she and Pierre first enter…
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
“This way,” Pierre took Lucy’s hand and guided her out of the room into a dimly lit corridor. The heels of Lucy’s dancing shoes echoed on the tiled floor as they hurried past the closed doors on either side of the corridor. At the end there was a larger metal door with a plate which read ‘boiler room’. Pierre pulled the thick metal handle towards him and they stepped over the threshold. The door clanged shut behind them. They climbed down a short flight of metal steps and crossed the floor of the boiler room to another metal staircase which led to a sub-basement. At the far side of the lower basement there was a smaller unmarked door. Pierre pushed against.
“Okay, Lucy, through here.”
“It’s so dark. Where are we going, Pierre?”
“Hold on, just stand there a sec,” he said letting go of her hand and feeling along the wall. Lucy heard a click and a torch beam shone on the ground in front of her. Pierre shone the beam around revealing a tall, brick-lined tunnel.
“Where are we?” asked Lucy. “It’s not a sewer is it?
“You’d be able to smell if it was. No, this is part of a whole network of tunnels under the city.”
“How did you know about..?”
“Come on, Lucy,” just a bit further. “You’ll like where we come out.” Pierre sounded as if he was enjoying himself now.
“Okay, you’re the boss.”
Hand in hand they strode along the tunnel. Lucy focused on the torch beam, shutting out all thoughts of what might lurk beyond the pool of yellowy light. As they followed a branch in the tunnel which led off to the right, the gradient increased and a little further on, Lucy could make out the faint outline of a door. Pierre clicked off the torch and placed it in a small alcove alongside the door.
“Okay, Lucy, let me just check the coast is clear.” Pierre ducked inside the doorway and looked around. He gestured Lucy to follow.
Lucy stepped into another corridor and followed Pierre through the door opposite where they had come in. The room beyond was shrouded in gloom, but Lucy could make out a row of steel barrels and shelves containing cardboard boxes and bottles. They crept through the storeroom and found themselves behind a bar counter, looking out into a room containing an assortment of tables with chairs piled up on them. Pierre looked at Lucy and smiled.
“I know where this is. It’s that little bar at the side of the Adelphi Hotel.” Lucy said triumphantly.
“It certainly is,” Pierre held out his hand. “Follow me, let’s see about a room.”
It’s my great pleasure to welcome Jude Itakali to this month’s Launch Pad spot. Many of you will already be familiar with Jude through his blog, Tales Told Different, but let’s find out a little bit more about him from his author bio.
Jude was born and lives in Kampala, Uganda, and when not being an athlete on the rugby field, or crunching down numbers on a computer for work, he delicately pens the epiphanies from life and its different relationships and encounters.
He writes about all sorts of topics, finding a way to relate them with each other because no one theme exists in a vacuum.
Empathy is sometimes considered a gift, and Jude has it in abundance.
Jude has recently released his first book, Crossroads (Winds of Love) – a collection of poetry, prose and short stories. Here he is to tell us all about it. Take it away, Jude!
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today, Chris. I’m excited to tell you all about my book, which is entitled Crossroads (Winds of Love).
This is my debut publication and I used poetry because of its ability to touch a variety of people in a variety of ways. I admire the creativity it gives and the outlet of emotions that might otherwise fester within. The ability to exercise the breadth of language to pass on a message has always captivated me because it touches and evokes much deeper than plain words.
CROSSROADS (Winds of love) is a collection of poems, prose, and short stories written in verse. Many times, romantic love is depicted as a formula: advice on ways in which to get the best out of love. In my time and experience through many kinds of love, some my own, many from the people closest to me, and a few from the world testimonies and stories, I have come to understand that each situation is different, and not all advice is applicable for everyone. Love is not bound by rules, and in most cases, it does not make sense.
I wrote and compiled these poems and stories to show multiple aspects of love, to show the reader that they are not alone, that they should not be judged, and even though love’s pleasures may come with even greater pains, that in the end, the power to change it or discover it in its best form, lies within us.
This precious gem of a book has poetry in structured forms including, but not limited to sonnets, haiku, etheree, tanka, cinquain, shadorma, and many more. It also contains free verse poetry and a splattering of short stories. It takes us on an adventure through longing, intimacy, heartbreak and healing.
Click here for some of my latest reviews and some short extracts from the book.
In the corridors of love, At the crossroads of loneliness, We stand at our most vulnerable. As the winds of love swirl, we are often ill-prepared for the portends and promises they carry; The longing, fear, and deception. The intimacy, and the horrors of heartbreak. But also the hope, renewal and strength from the trials we have survived.
May these poems, prose and short stories touch each in their own particular way, And bring us all perspective, compassion, hope and ultimately; Love!
On our literary tour this week we’re going on a little time-travelling detour. Let me take you back to my school-days when I deftly managed to avoid a week’s work experience by wangling my way onto a historical workshop run by a local theatre group.
There were about 10 of us from our all girls grammar school, and we were about to be transported to the time of the English Civil War, accompanied by a handful of enthusiastic actors, who were keen to recreate the correct conditions for our plight under the iron fist of the Royalists who held the walled City of York.
The historical details were somewhat lost on me, but the story was that our fathers, fearful for our safety, were sending us out of the city to an unspecified rural location, were we would conceal our identities as daughters of prominent Parliamentarians and assume the roles of farmer’s daughters.
There were various preparations including the fitting of period costumes and, for the sake of historical accuracy, being urged not to wash or wear modern undergarments (which of course we ignored). Then the following day, with minimal baggage and concealed toothbrushes, we were whisked away to the past in the theatre minibus.
We were undoubtedly too compliant for young ladies of the time thrown into such a situation, but eager to get into our roles we got down to work. There was much peeling to be done. I chiefly remember the potatoes and onions. The onion skins were boiled up to make a dye for some rather malodorous sheep’s wool, which was marinated overnight, and came up a vibrant shade of yellow the following day. We learned to card and spin wool. My spinning was woeful and I was sent to the kitchen to busy myself about the potatoes again. I learned to milk a cow which was brilliant, unlike the subsequent butter-making. Churning is absolutely arm-aching.
We were also shown the hayloft where we would hide should anyone in authority from the ‘wrong side’ come calling. Little did we know that the following evening we wouldn’t have time to hide.
The sun was setting and we’d finished our supper. We were all sitting together in the large room at the front of the farmhouse which looked out onto the yard. I chanced to look through the window to see a group of soldiers, wearing high boots and feather-plumed hats, marching towards the farmhouse. They were undoubtedly the enemy. Almost before I’d had time to call out a warning, they were hammering on the door.
They took the farmer into the back room. His wife followed. One soldier stayed guarding the door. We heard punches, screams and cries; furniture was being overturned. If we hadn’t been in character before, we certainly were in those few moments.
Then they emerged. The make-up was very realistic.
The soldiers moved on.
I really don’t recall what happened after that, but what an experience! One on which I was to draw on for a little piece, written about 30 years later, in a response to a writing group prompt: ‘A Scary Moment’. Revised and updated it became the first piece in my tiny collection of short fiction, released in 2018.
The Day the Soldiers Came
I smile as I watch my mother play with my little brother Tommy on the hearth-rug. My father sits in his chair, still but alert. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I detect a movement in the yard. I turn to look. Soldiers, four of them! By the way they are dressed, I know them instantly as ‘the enemy’. My father has followed my gaze as I gasp in fright and immediately he’s on his feet, sweeping up Tommy in the same movement and shoving him in my direction.
‘You know what to do Annie,’ he says quietly. He nods urgently at me and I grab Tommy’s hand and propel him through the kitchen. I look through the window, checking our route to the barn. It’s clear, so I open the door and we slide through and dash into the slatted wooden building. Behind us, I hear the soldiers hammering on the front door, shouting.
Although Tommy’s only little he knows what to do. Just as we’ve practiced so many times in recent months, I help him up the ladder to the hayloft. He doesn’t make a sound as we creep across the creaky boards and hide ourselves in the straw behind the loosely baled hay. We lie there, waiting. We haven’t practised what happens next. Then I hear a scream; I know it’s my mother, although the sound is like none I’ve ever heard her make. Her pain and terror flood my head. I grip Tommy tightly; he’s trembling and sobbing silently. The minutes tick by; I wonder what’s happening in the house. My father is shouting, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. The shouting stops abruptly and I hear the back door slam against the outside wall of the kitchen.
Heavy boots march towards the barn; I bite down hard on my knuckles. A cold fist contorts my stomach as I realise I forgot to drag the ladder up behind us. I hear the soldier’s heavy breathing down below. He’s pulling things over, searching. He approaches the ladder and in my mind’s eye I see him grab the ladder and place his boot on the first rung. Sweat runs down my back. Tommy is rigid in my arms.
There is a loud call from the house: ‘Move on!’ I hear the sound of the ladder clattering to the floor. It settles and there is no sound apart from the blood pumping in my ears. Slowly I get up, my legs are shaking. I grab the rail at the edge of the loft and feel for the rope which we use as a swing when it’s too wet to play outside. Telling Tommy to stay where his is, I let myself down and run towards the back door which is gaping off its hinges.
Inside the house furniture has been overturned and one curtain has been ripped from the window. My mother cowers in a corner. Her blouse is torn and there is blood on her skirt. Father’s face is bruised and bloody. He reaches for her, but she turns her face to the wall.
A Sextet of Shorts is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. We’re parking up by this magnificent Chinese Arch as the coach driver has reminded me that we finished our tour of Toxteth with a promise to come back and visit Liverpool’s famous Chinatown. Here we are at the gateway.
Opened on Chinese New Year in 2000, the Arch was manufactured in Shanghai and shipped over to Liverpool in sections together with the Chinese workers who assembled it from 2000 pieces. It stands 13.5 metres (44 ft) high and boasts 200 hand carved dragons of which 188 are ordinary and 12 are pregnant, the meaning of which is to symbolise good fortune between Liverpool and Shanghai.
Liverpool’s Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. Their sailors were the first to arrive in the city in the 1830s when Chinese vessels arrived carrying silk and cotton. Many more came in the 1860s when the Blue Funnel Shipping Line was established by Alfred Holt, creating strong links between Liverpool, Shanghai and Hong Kong. By the 1890s, the Chinese were setting up their own businesses to cater to the needs of their own community. Many also married local women, often Irish immigrants.
During the Second World War, Liverpool became the headquarters of the Western Approaches which monitored and guarded the crucial lifelines across the Atlantic. Thousands of the Chinese sailors lost their lives to the Atlantic during attacks from German submarines and as part of the British fleet the Chinese sailors played an important role to Britain’s victory in the war. If you ever visit Liverpool, I strongly recommend a visit to the Western Approaches Museum.
Beyond the Chinese Arch is Nelson Street, where most of Liverpool’s Chinese restaurants are concentrated. There was always a brisk lunchtime trade, and I have fond memories of having lunches with intruder alarm reps, customers and colleagues, in particular a surveyor from Malaysia, who was desperately missing his ‘rice fix’. But the street really comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights when people pile in from the pubs and clubs in search of a late night meal.
Another of my favourite businesses was the Chung Wah Supermarket. Originally housed in a dilapidated three storey Victorian building, which was packed to the rafters and incredibly untidy (and virtually uninsurable), it was fortunately in the process of moving to a purpose-built premises, when I first carried out my inspection. The shiny new building was much more appealing insurance risk. The owner was a charming young man with some very interesting (Triad?) tattoos on his neck and wrists who, following my second inspection, insisted on giving me a lift into town as I’d arrived on the bus because my new company car had rolled off the transporter the previous day and stubbornly refused to start. I did a lot of grocery shopping in his store over the years!
But back to Nelson Street where, next door to New Capital restaurant, is The Nook. Sadly now closed, it was famous for being the only Chinese pub in England, and was a favourite with the Chinese seafaring community from the 1940s. I remember it being dark and dingy, with a pool table in the back room where a load of dodgy-looking Chinese characters used to hang out. The landlady was a very small but formidable woman who called ‘last orders’ in Cantonese. You wouldn’t argue with her or her ‘boys’!
In You’ll Never Walk Alone, I took a little bit of a liberty and placed ruthless Triad boss, Albie Chan’s office on the upper floor of the building. The basement also belongs to him.
Now, imagine it’s night time. It’s dark but the street and pub are still alive with the last of the late night revellers. Our hero, Pierre, has entered the building from the back entry and climbed the stairs to Albie Chan’s office. This is where the trouble really starts…
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
“Mr Chan, Mr Chan, Mr Chan!” Arms stretched wide open, the man who called himself Pierre Bezukhov strode across the floor, his high black boots raising dust from the carpet. “I have a new proposition for you.”
“Where is the necklace you promised me, Mr Bezukhov?” said the Asian man sitting behind the desk.
Pierre put his hands on the desk and leaned over towards Mr Chan, his long dark hair tumbling over his shoulders. “I’ve found something which I know you’re going to like so much better.”
“I commissioned you to procure a particular necklace. Where is it?”
“I’m afraid I no longer have it.” Pierre walked over to the grimy window. He stared out at the dark Liverpool rooftops. “I found a better home for it.”
Mr Chan frowned. “A better home? I do not understand you.”
“Listen, I have something else for you. Something better.”
“Mr Bezukhov,” Mr Chan said quietly. “I paid you a substantial sum to obtain a very specific item. I will accept no substitute.”
Turning to face him, Pierre reached into the pocket of his long brocade jacket and took out a small velvet bag. He held it up between thumb and forefinger. “Mr Chan, you don’t know what I’m offering. If you just care to…”
Mr Chan banged his fist on the desk. “No!” His eyes widened. “No substitutes.” He looked over at his tall henchman who had been lurking in the shadows by the door. “Ju-long!”
Ju-long stepped forward and smiled revealing two gold front teeth. Mr Chan nodded and Ju-long advanced on Pierre.
“Bring me the ruby necklace. I give you one week.”
“Well, if you’re not prepared even to look.” Pierre shrugged. Pocketing the little velvet bag, he turned back to the window. In one swift movement he threw it open and swung onto the roof below. “Ta-ra, gentlemen!” And he was gone, skittering over the rooftop below and onto the wall of the back-alley, disturbing a cat which yowled indignantly.
“I’ll go after him, Mr Chan. Don’t worry, I’ll get the necklace from him.”
Albie Chan stood up and went to the window. He gazed across the inky black roofs. “Good. Find him and identify any associates he may have. Retrieve the necklace but do not harm him unduly. He may be useful to us.”
“Very good, Mr Chan.” Ju-long bowed and quietly left the room.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome international best-selling author, Lizzie Chantree to the first of my Launch Pad spots!
International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor, running a popular networking hour on social media, CreativeBizHour, where creatives can support to each other.
This week I picked up a copy of Lizzie’sNetworking for Writers. What a useful little book it is, containing lots of useful tips for any author navigating their way though the minefields of marketing and social media.
Lizzie’s novels are full of friendship and laughter, and are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.
Lizzie has a new book out and she can’t wait to tell us all about it. Take it away, Lizzie!
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today Chris. I’m excited to tell you all about my latest book, which is called Shh… It’s Our Secret.
The story is about a woman called Violet, who has lots of insecurities since losing her parents at a young age. Violet has been looked after by her older sister, but feels that the local community around the café that she runs, have become her surrogate family.
The café that Violet works in is very run down, but she can see it’s potential. Unfortunately the current owner, who is also her boyfriend, does not see things her way. Violet has a secret that could help the local community and her makeshift family, but first she has to pluck up the courage to leave a man who doesn’t appreciate her, rebuild her confidence and find her voice. Can someone who shies from the limelight, step out of the shadows and show the world how incredible she really is?
Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.
Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.
When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidently discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered.
For this week’s stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, I’m inviting you to meet me under ‘Big Willie’, the striking statue which adorns the main entrance to the building which was formerly one of Liverpool’s best known department stores, Lewis’s. The statue was created by Sir Jacob Epstein to symbolise Liverpool’s resurgence following World War II. The bronze figure is 18 feet high and stands on a plinth shaped like the prow of a ship. It’s official title is Liverpool Resurgent, although everyone I know calls him by him nickname!
The store and the statue were very much a part of my student days, when the Saturday afternoon ritual was generally to meet up under said statue, duck into the department store for a free spray of scent from one of the many perfume counters that arrayed part of the ground floor and trot into town for a spot of shopping, or maybe just window shopping, since we didn’t exactly have money to burn.
The store is no more and the building has been converted into an Aparthotel. We can quickly admire the lambanana as we pass through the new dining room. The mural in the background is the original from Lewis’s restaurant the 1950s which was rediscovered during the building refurbishment. More about the original Superlambanana, here.
The statue, which still presides over the Aparthotel entrance, was made famous in the 1962 song In My Liverpool Home sung by The Spinners. “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,meet under a statue exceedingly bare…”
Listen to the immortal words and savour the ‘exceedingly rare’ accent which, during the 30 years I lived in Liverpool, I managed both to acquire and discard (most of the time).
Within the pages of You’ll Never Walk Alone, feisty Lucy and her handsome boyfriend, Pierre visit Lewis’s for a spot of unorthodox out of hours shopping, accessing the store on a Sunday (there was no such thing as Sunday opening back in he 1980s) via one of the underground tunnels which run under the city – more about those on a future tour. While they’re dodging the security guards, they bump into another iconic figure of the 1980s, singer and songwriter, Pete Burns.
In those days, still building his musical career, Pete Burns worked at a small but popular independent record store, Probe Records, an important stop off point for musicians and fans of the alternative music scene in Liverpool. Located in Button Street, just around the corner from the more famous, Mathew Street (home of the Cavern Club), it was always packed on a Saturday.
‘He caused a sensation in Liverpool because he was the ultimate head-turner,’ recalls Geoff Davies, Probe Records MD. ‘The nearest I ever got to being involved in a fight was when I stopped some fella beating him up in the shop because he took exception to his appearance.’
He was also notorious for his maltreatment of customers, sometimes throwing their purchases at them because he disapproved of their selection. He was a frequent visitor to the cosmetics counters in Lewis where I remember seeing him wearing his striking all-black contact lenses. Quite a disturbing sight close up.
Now, if you’ve got all your vinyl, let’s return to Lewis’s and join Lucy and Pierre as they start their own spot of shopping. They’re about to go on a trip to the Isle of Man and they need to pick up a few bits and pieces…
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
“You’ve been here, you know, out of hours, before?”
Lucy nodded. “Okay, after you…”
Pierre opened the door slowly and peered into the corridor. They both slipped out and hurried past the metal loading doors which stood opposite the goods lift. There was a flight of worn stone steps next to it. Pierre took the steps two at a time, Lucy following him. He opened the door at the top of the steps cautiously, listening for signs of the security guards. He jerked his head for Lucy to follow him. They emerged next to the curtain which led to the changing rooms on the ground floor of the store. Pierre scanned the sales floor. There was no sign of any security guard.
“Okay,” Pierre whispered. “Keep away from the windows, just in case one of the boys in blue come strolling past. I think the luggage department’s over there.” He pointed. Lucy nodded. “It’s just after the perfume counter…I know this store,” said Lucy. “We often pop in for a free spray of scent!”
Five minutes later they had each picked out a case. Lucy lingered by the perfume counter. Her hand hovered over a bottle of Chanel No.5. Just then, they heard the sound of someone whistling from the far side of the store, close to the main entrance. Lucy turned to Pierre who had been admiring the watches. He gestured to her to get down. The guard was coming up the main aisle. Lucy and Pierre inched behind the nearest counter, leaving their cases at the side of the aisle. The guard’s footsteps slowed; he was only a few feet away from where they were crouching. Lucy realised she was holding her breath.
“Aye, aye,” he said. “Who’s been leaving the stock out of place?” They heard him pick up one of the cases. Just then, his two-way radio crackled into life.
“Receiving, Charlie…over.” There was a pause and more crackling. “Can’t hear yer, Charlie. Where are yer?” They heard him put the case down. “Listen, Charlie, I can’t hear a bloody word on this thing. I’ll meet you by the main doors and yer can speak to me where I can hear yer.” They heard the guard’s footsteps marching back the way he’d come.
“Let’s go,” Pierre mouthed to Lucy. “Keep low,” he indicated with his hand. Lucy nodded and followed him as he picked up the cases and weaved through the side aisles and display stands. They had almost reached the changing rooms when one of the ruffles on Lucy’s skirt caught on the protruding arm of a loaded display stand which carried a selection of rather fetching straw boaters. Lucy felt the material snag. The hats bobbed jauntily as Lucy struggled to free the lace trim from the metal prong.
Just then a man appeared from behind the nearby make-up counter where he had obviously been busy with a selection of products. He grabbed the display stand just as it was about to crash to the floor. As he set it straight, Lucy finally managed to free herself. She looked up to see that he was dressed in tight shiny black PVC trousers and a tight black shirt. His eyes were very strange. No colour, just huge black pupils.
Pierre turned. His face lit up with a smile. “All right, Pete,” he whispered. “Better scarper, the guard’s by the front door.”
The man nodded and headed for the exit by the changing rooms. Pierre and Lucy followed.
“Who’s dat now?” The guard called out. They turned to see him charging up the central aisle, already panting with the effort.
They hurried through the door and ran down the stone steps. As they reached the bottom they heard the sound of a two-way radio coming from the corridor where they had entered from the tunnels. Pierre and Pete looked at each other for a second, then charged the goods doors in front of them. A piercing alarm bell started to ring.
“Run for it,” Pete yelled over his shoulder as he headed for the back alley at the back of the store.
Pierre strode across the road to a graffiti-covered door in the building opposite. He put one of the cases down and turned the handle. The door swung inwards. He and Lucy had just disappeared from view as the two security men emerged on the street. Hands on hips and breathing heavily they scanned the street. Charlie turned to his colleague: “I’m getting too old for this.” The other man held his hands up. “Let’s go sit down; I need a smoke.”
Pierre and Lucy were threading their way through a narrow service corridor. On the other side of the breeze-block wall they could hear the whirr and screech of the underground trains.
“That was Pete Burns, wasn’t it?” said Lucy. “You know him?”
“Sure. He’s a regular to the tunnels. Someone who looks as different as that needs a bolt hole occasionally. I mean, he’s confident and all that, but sometimes people don’t, you know, accept the way he looks and want to have a go at him.”
“We danced to his new record at the club last night, didn’t we?”
“Your DJ friend has good taste. That tune’s definitely going to the top.”
Let’s let Pete Burns and his band, Dead or Alive, play us out with the very single Lucy’s talking about. Released as a single in 1984, ‘You Spin me Round’ reached No. 1 in the UK in March 1985.
Today on our literary journey through the pages of my novels we’re returning to the beautiful Berg River where it meets the wonderful West Coast of South Africa, one of my favourite places. This time we’re going a little way inland from our previous visit to Laaiplek where the story of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’ first seeped into my imagination.
The Berg River rises in the mountains almost 200 miles to the south east, flowing north then west, disappearing and reappearing from a second mountain range, having joined up with a handful of seasonal streams from where it meanders towards the Atlantic Ocean through mudflats, reed beds and sandy scrub. In the summer at low tide careful navigation through the riverine channels is required.
Just a mile or two before the estuary at Laaiplek, the Berg River flows through Velddrift, where we find numerous little jetties reaching out into the river to which the local fishermen moor their little boats. One small section, Bokkomlaan, is particularly delightful. Bokkomlaan (Bokkom Lane) is named for ‘bokkoms’, small whole dried and salted fish (mullet) which are caught in this area. There are lots of little eateries to choose from, river trips and even an art gallery, all packed into one little lane by the banks of the Berg River. Let’s drop in for a spot of seafood and a lot of birdlife!
Bokkoms are something of an acquired taste in my opinion, but the fresh mullet, called ‘harders’ here, are delicious sprinkled with coarse salt and cooked over the braai (barbeque). Bought from the local fish shop, they are incredibly cheap and absolutely delicious, especially if helped down with a chilled bottle of one of our local wines.
Now, if you’ve finished licking the salt off your fingers, let’s join fisherman Sam as he takes his little boat up the river – a man on a mission with something to hide and a rumbling belly.
Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’
Sam slows Porcupine’s engine. This part of the river can be tricky to navigate, especially when the water’s low. It is now well into the dry summer season when all the upland waters have already flowed down from the mountains. There is no more left to replenish the river until the rains come again. Sandbanks lie just beneath the surface of the water, waiting to catch the unwary, and Sam has no wish to run aground and risk becoming stranded. It gives him an idea though. He remembers there’s a tiny island a little further upstream. It’s only accessible by boat and it’s unlikely to be visited by anyone. There are no roads leading to this part of the river and no farms or dwellings near the river’s edge. Only the soggy reed beds. Sam smiles to himself and presses on. Birds dip and dive into the water in Porcupine’s wake, and Sam can see eddies where fish are being stirred up as the little boat progresses. There are plenty of them here. Sam’s stomach rumbles. A tasty river trout would be perfect for his supper.
The island comes into view around the next meander. There’s nowhere to tie up, so he drops the anchor.
Sam looks around. Up and downstream, and across over the open, empty marshland either side of the river. There is no one about. All is deserted apart from the insects that hover and the birds that stalk among the tall reeds. Beyond the marsh, cows graze on a strip of green, and in the distance, the purple and ochre of the distant mountains rise on either side of the wide river valley. The headland where Jannie found the cave, looks down on him. It dominates the landscape and looms over the ocean beyond. It too is deserted.
He listens. Only the sounds of nature and the water gently lapping against Porcupine’s hull reach his straining ears.
He opens the bow end storage compartment and takes out his fishing line and bait tin. There are still a few scraps of dried fish. Enough for him to quickly bait a couple of hooks. He throws the lines over the stern and secures them to the rail of boat, then kicking off his worn takkies, he grabs his spade and jumps over the side into the warm waist-height water. Within a couple of strides he’s standing on the grassy bank of the island.
The island is oval-shaped, no more than four times the length of his little boat. One small, solitary tree stands slightly off centre, its branches spreading low, dipping into the water at the upstream end of the island. He attacks sandy ground with his spade. It’s pretty hard work, since the sand keeps sliding back and refilling the hole, but slowly, slowly he’s making progress. After a few minutes more of steady digging, the spade strikes something hard. Not rock though. It makes the dull metallic clunk of metal on metal. Sam drops the spade and crouches down, scrabbling away at the sand with his hands.
Soon he’s uncovered a square metal box the length and width of his forearm. It’s rusted with age, but still sound. He feels around the edges, his hands seeking a way in. He locates the lip of the box and starts to dig down with his fingers. The sand is damp at this depth and separates from the side of the box easily. He peers into the hole. The lid of the box is a little deeper than his hand and is secured with a rusty hasp and staple. There’s no padlock though. Sam carefully pulls on the hasp and tugs open the lid. He reaches in and finds that the box is deeper than his forearm. He kneels down and peers in. It’s empty apart from a few pebbles and a thick layer of sand. He probes around with his fingertips. The box is sound; moreover it’s the perfect size in which to hide his treasure.
Sam jumps up and wades back out to the boat. Let me get this done quickly, he thinks to himself, as he clambers aboard. He drags the three sacks to the edge of the boat, then jumps back into the water. One by one, he swings the sacks from the deck onto the island then hauls them over the sand to the waiting box. Soon the gold is safely buried and Sam is smoothing the sand back into place. He scatters some twigs and stones over the site. No one would know that the ground’s been disturbed. He fixes the distance from the tree in his mind. He’s confident he’ll find it again.
Sam sits back on his heels and glances over his shoulder at Porcupine. The little boat is bobbing up and down in the water. Noticing that one of the fishing lines is straining, he hurries over to the edge of the island. Sure enough, something’s taken one of the baited hooks. He jumps into the boat and hurries over to examine the line. The river water is murky where it’s just been stirred up, but it must be a fish.
He wraps the line around his hand and starts to pull steadily. The line moves easily at first, but then the fish begins to fight. It must be a big one. Sam lets the line slacken a little to allow him to wrap his other hand around the line. As it tightens again it bites into his flesh, but Sam’s not going to let go. He pulls again steadily, ignoring the pain in his hands. The hook’s holding, so he puts all his effort into the struggle, bracing one foot against the boat’s rail.
Then he tugs sharply on the line. The silvery head of a large trout breaks the surface, but something’s holding on to the fish. Two slender hands appear, the long fingers wrapped around the belly of the fish. Sam gasps: what in the world..?
Then she breaks the surface. Sam is confronted by the face of a pretty young woman with bright blue-green eyes set in a pale oval-shaped face, which is framed with long dark hair that clings to her skin.
‘Let go of my fish,’ she cries indignantly. ‘It’s mine, I saw it first. I’ve been chasing it for ages and now it’s got caught in your stupid line.’
Sam opens his mouth, but words fail him.
‘Give me my fish,’ she says, tugging on the slippery creature, whose mouth is also working now that it’s out of the water. ‘Well..?’ Her eyes flash angrily.
‘I… I…’ stutters Sam.
She glides towards him and his eyes are drawn to the slender body, which is still submerged just beneath the surface of the water. Her hair swirls around her naked shoulders. His eyes travel down her back and, at first, Sam thinks she is wearing a tight silver skirt, but then he notices the glistening, fish-like scales.