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.
‘Welcome to the…’ the double doors swish open before you can read the rest of the sign emblazoned across them and you stumble forward onto a deep coir doormat where a homely-looking nurse in a crisp white uniform stands waiting, clipboard in hand.
‘You must sign in,’ she says, taking you firmly by the elbow and propelling you towards a large wooden desk where an unsmiling administrator slides a sheet of paper across the polished surface towards you; the nurse thrusts a pen into your hand and for a moment you’re not sure what to do; you stare at the form but the words slide off the page and tumble into oblivion.
‘Just sign it, we have your details,’ instructs the unsmiling administrator; the homely-looking nurse stabs the form with a forefinger, so you submit a faint fragile scribble that seems to satisfy them.
The nurse whisks the pen from your fingers and indicates that you should follow her down a blank corridor lined with unlabelled doors, offering no clue as to what might lie behind them; you have no alternative than to comply, although you have no idea where you are or why you are here, so you shuffle along after her until finally she comes to a halt and opens a door.
She ushers you into a clean, compact dorm room: ‘Your new clothes are on the bed,’ she gives you a little shove then withdraws.
The key turns in the lock and her footsteps fade into silence.
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?
As the sun’s pink fingertipscaress the tops of the purple mountains behind the cave, Owab is the first of the hunters to wake. Aquila waiting for him outside. The eagle bows and turns to the east, where a procession of wispy clouds rises with the dawn. Aquila takes to the air and Owab, in the thrall of his night-time vision, follows where his guide and protector leads.
When they return, Owab is leading a long-legged rain-cow which will bring soft raindrops to last a whole season.
The Great Bull bellows rain swells the gathering clouds: the parched land awaits.
This concludes my little African adventure, although I wouldn’t rule out a comeback for Owab and Aquila sometime in the future. You can find the previous episodes here.
Image credit: Dakota Corbin @ Unsplash The image shows a wall decorated by splashes of colour. There are outlined sketches of two hands on the wall. Above the decorations, the words “The best gift is you” are written. A woman can be seen walking a baby in a stroller in the front.
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.
Hopeless as it’s beginning to seem without the elder’s lead, the dance continues. Chanting, stamping, every person keeps in time, as strings of shells which dangle from their ankles, rattle to a timeless beat. Owab, carried by the rhythm of the dance, wills himself on, inhaling the powerful scent of the sacred herbs smouldering on the remnants of the fading fire.
They cannot fail. Without the Rain Bull, the land will turn to dust and the group will be driven from the place they call home.
Far into the night they dance on through scented smoke; waiting for a sign.
Previous episodes of this little African adventure are here.
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.”