Location, Location, Location #21

Location No 21 – Chinatown, Liverpool

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.

My favourite of the many restaurants which line both sides of Nelson Street was the New Capital, formerly the Blue Funnel’s shipping and recruitment office, one reason being that I never carried out an insurance inspection of the kitchen! Believe me, there was more than one establishment on Nelson Street that I would definitely avoid. Let’s take a look at what’s on the menu. Looks good, doesn’t it?

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…

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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.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Released 2 years ago this week!!

Image credits: Juan Jorge Arellano, liverpoolecho.co.uk

Location, Location, Location #20

Location No. 20 – Lewis’s Department Store, Liverpool

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 Lewis’s building and the ‘Lambanana’ in the new Aparthotel dining room,

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.

Probe Records, mid 1980s. That could almost be me with Cliff on an early date!

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?”

“Of course.”

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.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Photo credits: Liverpool Echo, Wikipedia, Aparthotel Adagio

Location, Location, Location #17

Today, we’re just a stone’s throw away from our previous stop on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, but this time we’re catching up with Laura from The Silver Locket.

Here we are at one of the entrances to Princes Park, another of Liverpool’s urban oases, and a location mentioned in both You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket. Time-wise, the books are set a few years apart, with You’ll Never Walk Alone being set sometime in the mid 1980s and The Silver Locket in 1989. Maybe one day, the paths of some of the characters from the two books will cross!

In the excerpt below, we join Laura who’s travelled from Rufford on the train to Liverpool to meet the reclusive Ceridwen, who is something of a specialist in strange objects like the locket that Laura’s found under the floorboards of the house she’s inherited. I decided to put Ceridwen in a flat overlooking Princes Park, based on a place I’d have loved to have lived in and so fictionally I could go back and spend a little more time there.

Back in September 1984, I was looking for a new place to stay after I’d graduated and left the house I’d shared in my final year. Of course, back then there were no online sites on which to seek a flat, nor were there any mobile phones, so I was armed with a copy of the Liverpool Echo, folded to the ‘flats for rent’ section, and a pocketful of 10 pence pieces for a public phone box.

I’d already decided I wanted to move across the city to South Liverpool, where a number of my friends had flats. I’d been kipping on the ‘imprompu chaise-longue’ in a friend’s house for a week or so and it was high time I moved on. Having narrowed down my search, the first flat I viewed that afternoon was on the first floor of a huge high-ceilinged converted house on Devonshire Road, right next to Princes Park. The large bed-sitting room, with its curtained-off kitchen, was at the back of the house. The bathroom was down the hall, but only shared with one other flat, which was across the landing. But what really impressed me was the view over the Park. It was stunning! And the room was even within my price range (just).

I still had another place to view, which wasn’t far away, so off I went, telling the landlord I’d phone him straight afterwards, because I was very, very keen on his place. Sadly, however, by the time I found an unvandalised phone box, the ‘room with a view’ had already been taken by someone else. The flat I ended up in was that second one. It was, of course, in the house that belonged to a Chinese landlord – my Tony Wong, from You’ll Never Walk Alone. Who knows what would have happened to that novel without him in my head!

But back to Princes Park and the view from Devonshire Road. From here you can almost see the grave of Judy the Donkey, who was buried on the site of her favourite grazing spot back in 1926. Judy  worked in Princes Park for 21 of her 26 years. Not just a donkey for children’s pleasure riding, she was a working animal helping the gardeners by pulling a cart for them.

It’s such a lovely little memorial that couldn’t resist mentioning it in the book. A tiny reference to Judy’s grave appears a few pages further along from today’s excerpt where we catch up with Laura on her visit to the mysterious Ceridwen in that lovely ‘room with a view’.

Visit the Friends of Princes Park for a host of information including Judy’s story

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Excerpt from The Silver Locket

The following afternoon Laura was in a black taxi cab heading from Lime Street station to the southern suburbs of Liverpool, clutching a local address in her hand. The locket and an envelope containing forty seven pounds, were tucked into the inside packet of her handbag.

The taxi slowed and turned into the broad driveway of a large double-fronted Georgian house. Laura paid the driver and walked up to the front door. The house had been divided into six flats; she pressed the buzzer for Flat 4. Laura still didn’t know the name of the woman she was about to meet. The jeweller’s friend had arranged the appointment for three o’clock, but had only passed on the address. The woman was apparently very nervous about giving out any personal information.

“Yes,” a low voice answered the intercom.

“It’s Laura Peterson; I have an appointment at three o’clock.”

“Come up, Laura. My flat’s on the first floor landing, on the right.”

The front door unlocked and Laura went in. The entrance hall was rather grand, if somewhat dilapidated. There was a large table to the side of the door with the usual mixture of circulars and uncollected post, common to shared houses. A bicycle was chained to the iron balusters at the foot of the stairs.

The door to Flat 4 was standing slightly ajar. Laura knocked gently.

“Come in,” said the low voice.

Laura pushed open the door. The room was large with a high ceiling.  The blinds were closed and the room was warm and rather stuffy. Laura closed the door gently and peered into the gloom.

“Come, my dear.” The voice came from a chaise-longue which stood next to the empty fireplace. Laura saw a slight figure, dressed in flowing garments, rising to greet her.

Laura crossed the room, the heels of her shoes noisy on the wooden floor.

“Hi, I’m Laura,” she said holding out her hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

The woman made no attempt to take Laura’s outstretched hand.

“Please sit down, Laura,” she said, indicating a low armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace. My name is Ceridwen. I must apologise for not taking your hand just yet, but you will understand why presently.”

Laura sat down.

“Can I bring you some tea, Laura?”

Laura nodded. Ceridwen disappeared behind a curtain on the far side of the room. Laura heard her filling a kettle. Something brushed against Laura’s knee. She looked down and saw a green-eyed cat looking up at her. She stroked the cat’s soft grey head.

Ceridwen returned carrying a tray which held a painted china teapot and two matching mugs. “I see Cullen has introduced himself to you.”

The cat stood up, stretched and walked off. Laura watched as he jumped up onto the windowsill, nosing his way behind the drawn blind.

“Keeping a look out, eh?” said Laura.

Ceridwen said nothing. She poured the tea and handed a mug to Laura.  The brown liquid had a pungent, slightly antiseptic smell.

“A herbal mixture of my own.  It aids precision of thought and clarity of understanding. I think you’ll find it refreshing.”

Laura sipped the tea; it actually tasted rather pleasant.

“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”

Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket. She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.

“I found it…” began Laura.

Ceridwen held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet. May I hold it please?”

Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket. She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.

“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket. Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”

Laura paused. “It’s complicated.”

“Take you time, my dear. Start with the facts. Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful.  That’s why you’re here with me now.”

Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew. While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket. As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark intently.

On the windowsill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound. Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.

“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about? It must be something in the park outside.”

Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind. A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window. The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen leaving the station earlier.

Cullen continued to growl. The woman turned and hurried away. Cullen sat back down on the windowsill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.

Laura returned to her seat. “It’s strange; I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat. It’s as if she’s following me. But when she realises I’ve seen her, she rushes off. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window. I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”

“She could be following this.” Ceridwen held up the locket.


The Silver Locket
(written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

USA UK ~ ESPCAN ~ AUS ~ IND ~ the rest of the world


Image credits:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk (Welcome to Princes Park)

Colin Lane (aerial view of Princes Park) on http://www.nearlythereyet.co.uk

Rodhullandemu (Devonshire Road) Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Location, Location, Location #16

Location No 16 – Toxteth, Liverpool 8

This time on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we return to 1980s Liverpool and visit Toxteth, an inner city area through which the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone frequently pass.

I doubt that many people outside the UK will have heard of Toxteth, and even anyone who has will probably associate it only with the headline-hitting riots of the summer of 1981. As it happened, I moved to Liverpool that autumn, although initially to a different part of the city, but three years later, I’d moved to the south of the city and was living in bedsit in a large, three storey dwelling on the edge of Toxteth. It was on this house, complete with its Chinese landlord, who lived in the room opposite mine, that the house occupied by the main characters in the You’ll Never Walk Alone was based.

At one time, Toxteth had been rather grand. In the 18th and 19th centuries the district became home to the wealthy merchants of Liverpool, alongside a much larger, poor population, living in modest Victorian terraces, who came from all around the world to work as dockers and builders. Come the late 1970s, Liverpool, and Liverpool 8 in particular, had been badly hit by economic stagnation and unemployment, sowing the seeds of a growing unrest that escalated and eventually led to the riots. You can read more about ‘The Summer Liverpool burned’ here.

By the 1980s many of the large Georgian and Victorian houses were converted into flats, mainly occupied by students and others on very modest incomes. Crime levels rocketed, especially house-breaking. My landlord, on whom the fictional Tony Wong is based, owned a second property on Princes Road, one of the main thoroughfares in L8, and I put minor characters, Mark and Stu, in a very similar basement flat (‘The Bunker’). We briefly visit the Bunker in a later chapter and the security measures described are no exaggeration. I remember them well, since a succession of my friends lived there in the mid-80s.

It was one evening in 1984 that a friend and I were walking back to my house from that very basement flat. We happened to come across a couple of young guys who were trying to push start an old van. By chance, I bumped into one of them up by the University only a few days later. Reader, I (eventually) married him; but that, as they say, is another story.

Regeneration began in parts of the area in the 1990s and the area was gradually gentrified and transformed. This is Princes Boulevard today.

Moving onwards towards the city centre, as we do in today’s book excerpt, we walk down the formerly grand boulevards with their blackened exteriors and boarded up windows, passing St Luke’s ‘bombed out church’ (seen in a previous tour), then crossing the road past ‘The Blackie’, which was once a chapel and later a community centre. It was so-called because the walls had been blackened by the soot and smoke over many decades. Finally we come to Liverpool’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinese community in Europe, but it’s getting late, so we’ll come back and have a proper look around here another day.

‘The Blackie’ (left) now cleaned up and (right) the beautiful archway through which you enter Liverpool’s Chinatown that was brought from Shanghai and re-erected, piece by piece, in 2000.

In the following excerpt, Tony Wong takes an after-dark walk into the city centre. Why Asmar, his tenant Cynthia’s cat, follows Tony into town isn’t immediately apparent, but let’s just say that later on in the story it was just as well he did.

It was this journey, in which Tony Wong was not alone as he ventured into Chinatown, which partly inspired the title of the novel. The fact that it’s also the title of Liverpool Football Club’s well-known anthem is (largely) coincidental. The song, You’ll Never Walk Alone, was written by Rogers and Hammerstein for the musical, Carousel. If you’re not familiar with it, you can listen to a selection of excellent renditions by moseying on over to see Jen Goldie who, by happy coincidence, just happened to post them earlier this week.

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Tony Wong had been woken by the beep of his Casio watch. He lifted his head from the cushion and listened. The house was quiet. He pushed the coverless duvet over the back of the couch and stood up.  He pulled on his suit trousers and tucked the shirt he had been wearing earlier that day into the waistband.  He pulled on socks and pushed his feet into scuffed white plimsolls.

Shuffling past the coffee table, he approached the wide bay window and drew aside one of the heavy curtains, the velvety fabric was stiff and slightly sticky to the touch.  Peering around the curtain he checked outside.  Pools of orange light illuminated the empty street, reflecting in the puddles of the day’s rain. Letting the curtain fall back into place he picked up a folded note from the table. He re-read the Chinese symbols and stuffed the note into his pocket. Then he put on his jacket and took his keys from the chest by the door. He unlocked his door and listened.  The hallway was silent.  He glanced at Cynthia’s door opposite and saw the post-it note by the payphone on the wall. He didn’t stop to read the message.

He opened the front door with his key. The large panelled door swung open easily.  Streetlight played on the frosted glass casting awkward patterns on the tiled floor of the hall.  Tony stepped out and carefully locked the door behind him. His tennis shoes were silent on the worn sandstone steps that led down to the path.  At the foot of the steep driveway he turned and headed towards the main road.

Asmar detached himself from the garden shadows and padded silently behind him.  His red-gold coat glowed in the light from the street lamps.

Tony Wong trudged purposefully towards the city centre, the cat following.  The midweek traffic was light: just the occasional black cab.  Up ahead a police car, blue lights flashing, siren off, crossed the intersection of Princes Road and Duke Street.  The tall red brick houses with their blank, black windows were silent.  Once the dwellings of rich merchants, some had been converted to bed-sitters over cheap shops, whilst the many boarded up and blackened buildings were the legacy of the notorious riots which had happened a few summers ago.

Man and cat crossed Berry Street by the bombed-out church on the corner with its well-tended public gardens. The church had remained unrestored, a monument to the devastation of the city of World War Two.  Trying to ignore the sounds of the couple who were busy in the grounds of the community building known as The Blackie opposite, Tony pressed on.  He heard the man grunt and swear, then saw him push the girl away.  Tony glanced towards them and saw the man zip up his jeans, while the girl straightened her short orange skirt. He watched them part without a word, he to the cab rank while she, on spikey white heels, stalked back up the hill towards the cathedral.

The lights were still on in the Nelson Street restaurants, the boundary between club land and Chinatown.  Two men holding takeaway cartons swayed past Tony Wong.  ‘All right, China?’ one asked him cheerfully.  The other mumbled something and they both chortled as they staggered off up the road.

Asmar remained out of sight clinging to the shadows, skipping up and down through the basement areas and railings.

A few yards further on Tony Wong paused and looked around. Sure that no-one was watching he darted down the passageway into the back entry of the famous Chinese pub which in English was called ‘The Nook’.  He picked his way along the rubbish strewn alleyway trying not to think about what might be lurking there.  The cat followed carefully along the top of the wall avoiding the glass shards which had been set in concrete on the wall-top as a security measure. Turning the corner, Tony Wong scampered up the steps at the rear of the building. As he opened the door, light flooded the entry.  He closed it quickly, trying to ignore the flurry of scurrying amongst the rubbish.

Asmar settled down on the wall and waited.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: Liverpool Echo, Liverpool City Council

Location, Location, Location #15

Location No. 15 – The Royal Liver Building, Liverpool

Today, on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, we’re back in Liverpool outside the Royal Liver Building, one of the most recognisable buildings in the city and the setting for a meeting between local Triad leader, Albie Chan and nightclub owner, Alan Green, two of my favourite supporting characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Back in the 1990s, I considered myself fortunate to receive the instruction to carry out an insurance inspection of the building, so I’ve had the privilege of poking around all the nooks and crannies of this historic building from the basement boiler room to the feet of the famous birds that perch on top of the two clock towers!

Completed in 1911, coincidentally the same date as the house we visited last time we were in the city, the building was constructed as the head office of Royal Liver Assurance. It was one of the first buildings in the world to be built of reinforced concrete, and its design has much in common with early American skyscrapers. Thirteen floors high, looking out over the river Mersey, it is an impressive part of the Liverpool skyline, especially when viewed from the opposite bank. Two huge clock towers rise from the building, where two mythical Liver Birds perch (liver rhyming with fiver), each bearing a branch of seaweed in its beak. Various legends attach to these 18ft high birds and one of these is mentioned by Alan Green in the excerpt below.

After hours, the car park on the river side is deserted and rather desolate; the ideal location for Messrs Chan and Green to meet to discuss a bit of business. Let’s join them now…

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

The late afternoon sunlight sparkled on the surface of the murky River Mersey. The fresh-smelling breeze, blowing from the estuary, almost masked the odour of the nearby tannery. Big Al and Joe were leaning on the polished burgundy paintwork of Big Al’s Jaguar XJ6. Big Al looked up at the clock on the Liver Building. It was almost half past six and Chan was late.

“What’s that chinky bastard up to, keeping me waiting like this? Our Pauline said she’s doing something special for our tea tonight. She’ll give me down the banks if I’m late home.” Big Al started to pace about.

Joe shrugged. “Dunno boss.” He looked around. “Eh up, this must be him,” said Joe pointing at the large black Mercedes rounding the corner of the Liver Building.

Big Al watched as the car cruised up to them. The driver got out. Big Al noticed he was limping. The driver opened the rear door and Albie Chan got out. He was immaculately dressed entirely in black, the only decoration being two tiny dragon heads facing each other on the mandarin collar of his shirt. Big Al was wearing a rather lived-in sports jacket and shapeless cords. Despite his wife’s protests, Alan Castle was a man who dressed for comfort rather than style.

Chan spoke first: “Mr Castle.”

“Albie, mate!” Chan flinched, unnoticed by Big Al, who continued, holding out his hand. “Call me Al, you know, like in the song?” Chan gazed at him blankly, ignoring the proffered hand. “Never mind.” Big Al clapped his hands together. “You know the story about Bella and Bertie? You know, the Liver Birds up on the towers there?” He pointed at the Liver Building behind them. Chan raised an eyebrow. “Well Bella’s the girl, looking out to sea for a sailor; and the other one, Bertie, he’s the fella, and he’s looking to see if the pubs are open yet, which they have been for the last thirty minutes.”

Bertha and Bertie

“Mr Castle, are you referring to the fact that I am a little late? I regret to say that I have had some unforeseen business to attend to. That business concerned the two individuals you spoke to me about last night, one of whom I had expected you to bring to me.”

Big Al frowned. Before he could say anything, Chan went on: “You telephoned me last night to say that my men had caused some disruption in your establishment. I explained the reason for the disturbance and you said you would handle it. After we spoke, I assumed that you would intervene and get hold of the man I was seeking straight away. You did not. Since you did not intervene, my men continued their pursuit. Later, there was an altercation involving the gentleman and his lady friend, which included Ju-long here,” Chan indicated his driver. “Unfortunately,” he went on, glaring at the hapless employee, “Ju-long and the two men with him were outmanoeuvred. Then this morning, when you still failed to deliver, I put out some feelers. Information led to Ju-long attempting to apprehend the target at The Adelphi Hotel, but I am disappointed to say that once again he failed.” Chan paused and gave Ju-long a sideways glace. “Ju-long knows precisely how disappointed I am.” Big Al looked at Ju-long, but his face remained impassive behind his dark glasses.

“So what happened?” asked Big Al.

“What has happened is irrelevant. What is important is that the man known as Pierre Bezukhov got away. I have unconcluded business with him, which I am anxious to complete. I thought I had explained this to you already. Clearly you did not understand the urgency of the matter. I need to apprehend him and I am reluctant to leave it in the hands of incompetents.”

There was a pause. Big Al said: “Well now, no worries, I’ll just get on the blower and ask whatshisname? New DJ…Joe?”

“Mark,” supplied Joe helpfully.

“Yeah, get on the blower to Mark. We’ll get hold of him, find the girl, and she in turn will lead us to your guy. Simple. You don’t need to have people running around town beating each other up. Although I’m surprised a big guy like him,” Big Al pointed at Ju-long, “couldn’t take on a couple of dancers.”

Joe detected a twitch on Ju-long’s otherwise inscrutable face.

“Bezukhov has displeased me and I want him found. I am inclined to leave it to you on this occasion since I have a temporary personnel problem.”

Big Al rubbed his hands together. “So this guy owes you money? What’s the deal? And more importantly, what’s my cut?”

“Let us see if you can come up with the goods first,” Chan said. “After all, it was your offer and at this stage you have failed to deliver.”

“Eh, I’m not just doing this outta the goodness of me heart.”

“Well you would not want anything untoward to happen to ‘The Pink Parrot’, would you? Even the stupidest of my men can torch a place.”

Big Al held his hands up: “Alright, alright, leave it with me.”

“Very good, Mr Castle, I will give you until the end of this week. Now run along, I wouldn’t want your supper to get cold.”


And finally, a little music to play us out. ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ written by the late Gerry Marsden. This version, sung by Liverpool band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was in the charts at about the time the novel is set. The accompanying video is more recent, but gives you a feel for the location.

As an aside, I once had to take the ferry across to Birkenhead in my slippers because I’d locked myself out of our student house popping down to the corner shop for some milk. My three housemates had all gone home for the holidays and that was were the landlord stayed. Happy days!


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Image credits: smarttravelapp.com, explore-liverpool.com

Location, Location, Location #12

Location No.12 – Sefton Park, Liverpool

Today’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us back to Liverpool, to Sefton Park where a little piece of the action in You’ll Never Walk Alone plays out.

I lived within a short walk of Sefton Park for more than 15 years, moving from one bedsit, to three different flats and eventually my own house. We only have a fleeting glimpse of the park in the book, but the location gives the narrative a sense of place, particularly to anyone familiar with the city.

And now, as I imagine myself back in the park, I’m engulfed by a huge wave of nostalgia, which threatens to stay my fingers while I wallow in memories… but no, we must press on!

Sefton Park is a huge and glorious public park; a green island set amongst row upon row of terraced houses dating from the early 1900s, and encircled by impressive old mansions, once the homes of rich merchants, civic dignitaries and even a foreign embassy or two, although many of these have been converted into rather desirable flats. Over the years I spent countless hours in Sefton Park, wandering its paths, feeding the ducks on the lake, and on occasion, watching my friend’s husband playing cricket or, more accurately, sitting in the sun gossiping over a glass or two of wine (sorry, Jim, you scored how many?).

In all the time I lived there I don’t  think I ever took a photo of any of the wonderful aspects of the park, so let me hand you over to another ‘tour guide’ whose blog I came across the other day. Take a moment for a spin around the park to see why it’s such a special place.

Click on the LINK

I hope that gave you a little flavour of a true Liverpool gem.

And now, we’ll take a tiny detour into Lark Lane, which is just across the road and where, if you’d met up with friends in the park of an afternoon, you’d be sure to end up.

Lark Lane, Liverpool

Lark Lane was, and still is, a lively little street, full of trendy bars, ‘proper’ pubs, well-priced eateries and quirky shops. It’s popular with students and locals alike, and perfect for a Sunday lunch or a weekend night out. Needless to say, my friends and I spent a fair amount of time hanging out here over the years.

Now, back to the book. The house in which my principal characters live in You’ll Never Walk Alone, is based on a very similar house, also with a Chinese landlord, where I rented a room, back in 1984-5. Just a stone’s throw away from the northern edge of the park it’s a pleasant 15 minute walk over the grass and along the paths to Lark Lane where we join Gary and Bob for a lunchtime pint. Of course they choose The Albert, a traditional ale house, over one of the poncy wine bars (as Bob would, no doubt, say).

The Albert, Lark Lane

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Bob looked up from the Echo he’d found on the seat next to him as Gary put their drinks down on the scuffed wooden table.

“Cheers mate,” said Bob as he picked up his pint. He swallowed some of the golden liquid. “I keep thinking about that Pierre guy. Why would he have a load of Chinese thugs after him?”

“Who knows? Maybe we should ask Tony?”

Someone switched on the television. The highlights from the previous day’s football were showing. Bob and Gary turned their attention to the game. Neither of them noticed the three smartly dressed oriental gentlemen who’d just entered the pub.

Inside The Albert

The match highlights had finished as Gary and Bob drained their second pints. “Better get off then, I suppose,” said Gary putting his glass down on the table. Bob nodded.

Gary glanced towards the bar as he picked up his jacket. He grabbed his friend’s arm. Bob looked at him: “Wha…”

Gary put his mouth close to Bob’s ear: “Don’t look round, but there are three Chinese guys at the bar. “D’you think they’re watching us?”

Bob frowned and started to turn around. Gary jerked his sleeve. “Don’t look…”

“Don’t be daft, what would they want with us?”

“The thing with Lucy,” Gary hissed, raising his eyebrows.

“Look, you’re just being paranoid. C’mon, let’s get off.”

Gary let go of his arm. “Alright, but maybe we should get a cab?”

Bob rolled his eyes and put on his jacket, glancing across to the bar as he did so. The three Chinese guys were busy chatting and didn’t even look up. “Okay, let’s go.”

As the door swung shut behind Gary and Bob, the three men finished their drinks and headed after them.

Walking through Sefton Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon – what could possibly happen?

Bob and Gary crossed the road into Sefton Park passing a queue of noisy children by an ice cream van. As was usual on a warm Sunday afternoon, the park was busy with families, couples and dog walkers. Bob sometimes went fishing in the central lake, not that he’d ever caught anything. Few people did. Gary cast a look over his shoulder, but there was no sign of the Chinese guys. Bob was probably right, he was being paranoid. They plodded across the grass, skirting around a football match between two teams of random players, before reaching the edge of the boating lake.

Suddenly they were aware of someone running behind them; there was a shout. Both turned to see one of the Chinese guys from the pub. The other two weren’t far behind.

“Shit,” Gary muttered under his breath.

“Look, we’ll just have to face up to them. There’s loads of people around. It’ll be fine, no-one’s going to attack us here in broad daylight,” Bob muttered back, flexing his fingers ready to fight if need be.

The Chinese guy slowed down to a walk and approached them. His friends had caught up and had fallen in just behind him. The guy in front reached into his jacket pocket.


You’ll Never Walk Alone
is available from Amazon
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and on Kindle Unlimited

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Image credits:
Liverpool Echo, Visit Liverpool, Trip Advisor

Location, Location, Location #9

Speke Hall, Liverpool

Today’s stop on our literary tour through my novels takes us to a specific location in South Liverpool. Grade 1 listed Speke Hall has a fascinating history, and a whole novel could have been constructed around a number of events associated with the house and its inhabitants. However, it purely serves as a backdrop to my story.

My familiarity with the building is connected to the tea-rooms there, and not just for the coffee and cake, although as any writer knows, that would be reason enough. It was, among a number of venues, where I used to meet with members of my team to conduct their appraisals. We were all home-based workers, probably some of the first back in the early noughties, and following a remark from one of my neighbours about the number of ‘gentleman callers’ I’d had to my house, I realised that having home-based meetings was probably not such a good idea. Hence I came to know the nearby tea-rooms at Speke Hall rather well. Not all the meetings were easy, but the lovely setting made the whole business a little less stressful, and allowed my reputation to recover.

Speke Hall – tea-rooms and visitors’ centre

Speke Hall is a beautiful old manor house, with parts dating back to Tudor times, and it’s just the kind of place that wicked Lord Childecott, the antagonist in Following the Green Rabbit, might have lived, although I had to whisk it away to the next county for the purposes of my story. In addition, the estate’s former farm buildings, which were converted into the tea-rooms, could quite easily have served as one of the outbuildings in which Mr Eyre was imprisoned by the evil Lord, if you picture them without windows and with a thatched roof, as they probably would have been in the past.

I was deliberately vague about the time-period in which the novel was set in order to avoid becoming embroiled in too much historical research, but we’re somewhere in the late sixteenth century. Like William Norris, a Royalist, who lived in Speke Hall at the time, Lord Childecott would be suspicious of both the French and the Jacobites. Of course, my antagonist is suspicious of any stranger, but to tell you more would give the game away if you haven’t read the novel.

I had in mind the Great Hall with its grand fireplace and oak paneling, as the setting for the scene below.

Speke Hall, The Great Hall

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit

Up at the Manor House, Lord Childecott was getting nowhere with his new prisoner. Despite his best efforts, Mr Eyre was failing to co-operate. True, he hadn’t resorted to violence yet, and that was always a possibility. His chief enforcer, Smiler, so named because of his lack of teeth, was a dab hand with the thumb screws and other less than dainty tools. However, he had a feeling that such methods would only work if Eyre was to watch them being applied to someone he cared about. If local gossip was true, then he knew just who that would be.

Lord Childecott paced the room while Mr Eyre sat patiently on the chair to which he had been bound. Since his capture that afternoon, he’d been locked up in a dusty outbuilding. He had tried to find a way out, but although he’d succeeded in freeing himself from the ropes which tied his hands and feet, escape from the building had proved impossible. Now it was evening. He was hungry and thirsty and he was facing his captor and his questions.

“I’ll ask you again, Eyre, where are you from?”

“And I’ll tell you again. I came from the other side of the wood.”

“You were on my land and that’s forbidden.” Lord Childecott glared at him. What do you want here?” He strode over and fingered Mr Eyre’s jacket. “And why are you so strangely dressed?”

Had his hands not been bound to the chair, Mr Eyre would have raised them in a gesture of exasperation. “If I told you where I’m from, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me,” Lord Childecott snarled, an inch from Mr Eyre’s face. Mr Eyre tried to avoid grimacing at the stench of Lord Childecott’s rotten-toothed breath.

“I believe I’ve come from the future. More than two hundred years in the future, judging by what you’re wearing and the style of the buildings here,” Mr Eyre replied glancing around the room.

“Don’t trifle with me, Eyre.”

“I’m not. Look, you say I’m strangely dressed. This is how gentlemen are accustomed to dress in the first decade of the twentieth century. Look in my pocket” he indicated his jacket pocket. Childecott didn’t move. “Well, go on, look.”

Childecott reached into Mr Eyre’s pocket and brought out the Box Brownie.

“That’s called a camera. It’s a new invention. Something from the future,” said Mr Eyre. “It takes pictures, likenesses if you will.” Mr Eyre thought for a moment. “Like an automated artist.”

Childecott turned the camera over in his hands. He put it to his ear and shook it. “In this little box?”

“Do be careful with that,” Mr Eyre pleaded.

Childecott tossed the camera onto a nearby couch where it rolled over and came to rest on its side. “I don’t believe you. Some foreign toy, no doubt,” he sneered. “Now, who are you working for? The Jacobites? The French?”

“I’ve told you. I’m not working for anyone and I’m not a spy. I’ve told you what I believe has happened.”

“Enough! You are trying my patience.” Lord Childecott thought for a moment, then turned to one of his men who was standing by the door. “Lock him up again and fetch Martha Stebbins, I’m sure we can give you an incentive to talk once you see what Smiler here can do to your friend Mistress Stebbins.”

Two of Lord Childecott’s enforcers untied Mr Eyre, then taking him firmly by the arms, frog-marched him from the room.

“No! No!” He struggled against them wildly. “You leave Martha out of this. I…” At Lord Childecott’s signal one of the guards stuffed a grubby piece of material in to Mr Eyre’s mouth and he could speak no more.

As the two enforcers dragged the struggling Mr Eyre across the courtyard and back to the barn, he noticed a flash of movement behind the Manor House. The guards, however, were too preoccupied with trying to manoeuvre their resisting captive to notice the two boys watching from the other side of the yard. Mr Eyre was manhandled through the barn door, all the time protesting through his gag. One of the men yanked it out of his mouth.

“Go on, you can yell all you like out here. No one will hear you.” He laughed and heaved the door closed, dropping the heavy wooden plank into place and barring the door shut.

Mr Eyre got to his feet and started to hammer on the door with his bound hands, bellowing at the top of his voice to be released.

“Right then, we’d better go and fetch old Martha,” the guard said to his companion as they stomped off, leaving Mr Eyre cursing and yelling and banging on the barn door.


Following the Green Rabbit
is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon at a discounted price
for the month of December.

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Image credits: Rodhullandemu, wikiwand, countrylife.co.uk

Back on the Black Friday Bandwagon

black friday lunasonline

Here it is: MY FREE OFFER TO YOU!

Until Sunday 1 December (midnight PST)



YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE
5 star rated on Amazon and Goodreads

A novel set against the backdrop of 1980s Liverpool. It’s a tale of love and loss, thieves and gangsters, and ultimate reunion and redemption. There are mysteries to be solved and a few laughs along the way. And don’t forget your dancing shoes!
PS – it’s not about football or allegiances but is does contain content of a sexual nature; some swearing and occasional violence. 
Try a sample!


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You’ll Never Walk Alone

Many thanks to author and songwriter, Kevin Cooper, for his review of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. My two animal characters are thrilled to bits at the shout out he gave them. “Sound bloke this Kevin,” said Fingers when I read out the review. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Author Kevin Cooper

When Lucy is given a beautiful ruby necklace by Pierre, a gorgeous man she’s only just met, her life suddenly becomes more complicated. 
But the necklace isn’t Pierre’s to give and he and Lucy are forced to flee from Albie Chan, the local Triad boss. With night-club owner and would-be gangster, Big Al, also in pursuit, Lucy is drawn into Liverpool’s shady underworld via a secret network of underground tunnels. Here we meet the enigmatic Aurora, her suave yet sinister assistant, and a band of strange little people.
There’s a kleptomaniac monkey called Fingers, and an Abyssinian cat with a talent for tracking which comes in handy when an odd little jade statue in the shape of a camel turns up. A possibly-forged painting is discovered, and there’s even a cameo appearance by 1980’s pop star, Pete Burns, although these two things are not necessarily related.
Finally, when the adrenaline…

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