Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sick As A Dog

I'ver had a bad cold for the last few days so I haven't written much. Not 'flu, which I've had three times in my life and which is infinitely worse than a cold, but I just feel off colour and listless with a sore throat and a blocked nose. When I don't feel well I have trouble writing.... just managed to get to 25,617 words on the new Spider book which is ok but means I'm behind schedule. I am aiming to finish it by the end of May and I'd like it to be about 125,000 words so I have to write 100,000 words in about sixty days. That's actually not too bad, about 1,700 words a day which is achievable.

I can't write when I feel ill and I can't write when I've been drinking. The delicate balance that's required for me to write creatively is one the reasons that I have never ever taken recreational drugs - I'm too worried about how it might effect my ability to write. I do have a writer friend who swears that his output trebles when he takes cocaine, but I'm not prepared to take the risk!

It's a far cry from my time as a financial reporter on the Daily Mirror, when I would have three or four gin and tonics at lunch and share a couple of bottles of wine with the City Editor, the great Bob Head, at 6pm. Those were the days...

Bob died last month. He gave me my first job in Fleet Street and hired me after a couple of hours drinking in the White Hart (known as the Stab In The Back). He wrote my salary down on a beer mat!

Here's his obituary from The Times:

Robert Head was the youngest City editor on a national newspaper when he was appointed in his early thirties by the Daily Mirror’s bulky, hard-drinking but shrewd and authoritative Editor Lee Howard as the first in that post on a tabloid paper. Thirty years on he was the longest serving when he finally retired from the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, both of which he had served for seven days a week.

In those three decades he had given the English language a new expression — “hole in the wall” for the new cash machines that proliferated in City and suburb. He also succeeded in establishing news of soaring stocks, plummeting shares and boardroom drama that preferred privacy to publicity, as an integral part of tabloid journalism, no less at home in that popular format as in the pages of broadsheet pink and white newspapers.

In the always lively and sometimes boisterous newsroom in the Daily Mirror’s Holborn Circus home, he was a calm presence whose authority grew with every year that he occupied his small, personal office by the side of the celebrated agony aunt Marjorie Proops. And by the end of his stint, the bulk of the Mirror’s largely working-class readership knew that stocks were an instrument not of punishment but of profit and occasional loss, and that shares could be bought over the counter at their high street bank. It was as big a revolutuion in tabloid journalism as any brought about by Alfred Northcliffe or Hugh Cudlipp.

Head was born in Winnipeg, Canada, where his parents had gone in search of work and a climate that might benefit his father’s fragile health. He was 4 when they returned first to Liverpool and soon settled in the western suburbs of London. He went to Gunnersbury Grammar School, and from there straight to the City Press as an apprentice reporter to the formidable City editor S. W. Alexander.

He took to financial journalism as others did to the crime, gossip or politics, never deviated from it and ultimately brought it from the fringes to the mainstream of tabloid journalism. He established standards that were remembered with nostalgia when a couple of his successors became embroiled in scandal. He set a shining record by never owning a share from the day he first went to work for Alexander to the day he died. And for decades many a City reporter or editor got their training and first experience in his small Mirror office.

He was married twice, first in 1952 to Phyllis Rose. That marriage ended in divorce after about two decades. He was married secondly to Maureen Mauchline in 1974. She predeceased him and he is survived by a daughter and two sons of his first marriage.

Robert Head, financial journalist and pioneer of tabloid City pages, was born on June 24, 1930. He died on February 6, 2009, aged 78

Okay, it's back to bed with some Night Nurse for me....

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interview With Emma

I was clearing out my computer files and came across an email interview I did with someone called Emma... not sure who Emma was or who she worked for but the Q&A was interesting so I thought I might as well put it on my blog! I think it's from a couple of years ago...

1) Whereabouts in Manchester are you from? did you enjoy your childhood here? any striking memories?

I was born in Swinton and moved to Sale when I was six or seven. When I was sixteen I moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy. I went to Manchester Grammar School, which was great fun. I worked for the school newspaper so I guess even back then I enjoyed writing but I had no thoughts then about being a writer or a journalist.
Most of my memories seem to revolve around my school or work. I had a job delivering milk when I was ten years old, helping the local milkman before school and at weekends and during school holidays. Then I lied about my age when I was eleven and got two paper rounds. I worked stacking shelves in a local shop, then in a Macfisheries supermarket, then served petrol in a filling station in Sale, picked potatoes on a farm near Knutsford, then worked in a bakery in Altrincham. All before I was seventeen! Then I worked for the Inland Revenue in Stretford before going to University.
One striking memory would be spending the night in the police cells at Altrincham Police Station after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly on my eighteenth birthday. As it was my local pub and I’d been drinking there for two years, I was pretty indignant, I can tell you! I was fined £5 and the money came from my student grant, so the State paid.

2) Tell me a bit about your journalism career - highs, lows, why you started writing fiction while a journalist.

Yeah, I loved being a journalist and still miss it. I was trained on the Daily Mirror Graduate Training Scheme and had staff jobs on The Glasgow Herald, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, the South China Morning Post and The Times. At one time or another I freelanced for pretty much every tabloid and broadsheet newspaper in Fleet Street.

I worked as a sub-editor, as a general reporter, on the news desk, and as a financial reporter and business editor.

High points? I guess meeting Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch and Tiny Rowland were definite high points. I worked for all three. Robert Maxwell personally interviewed me for my job on the Daily Mirror and spent half an hour with me.

High point journalism-wise was being in Hong Kong when the Chinese Army stormed into Tiananmen Square to break up the pro-democracy demonstrations. I covered the story for four UK national newspapers. And I lost a small fortune because the flat I owned in Hong Kong slumped in value!

3) Do you think you chose journalist because it was the closest thing to writing that was a 'proper job'? or was it because you've been attracted to the pressure/danger/topics - and then found these inspiring for fiction?

Nah, I really wanted to be a journalist. I studied biochemistry at Bath University and didn’t really enjoy it. During a six month work placement as a research scientist I was so bored that I got an evening job in a pub. One night we had a drunken journalist who wouldn’t leave so we locked up and sat drinking with him. He made his job sound so much fun that I decided there and then that I wanted to be a journalist. I started writing for the student newspaper and eighteen months later I was on the Daily Mirror Journalist Training Scheme.

I always wanted to write fiction, but as a teenager I never imagined that I could make a living as a writer. Strange, because my uncle, who lived in Knutsford, was a well-known TV writer. He wrote for shows like the Avengers, Danger Man, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I wrote my first book while I was working for the Daily Mirror, much of it in the Mirror’s City Office. I wrote my second and third while I was Business Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and then I wrote my break-out book, The Chinaman, while working or the Times in London. The Chinaman sold for six figures and meant I could write full time. But I loved being a journalist, the only reason I left the Times was that I would have paid more in tax than I was earning as a journalist!

4) What made you start writing for TV? do you feel this is in any way inferior to your fiction; do you have a different process when writing it, or do you treat it exactly the same? do you feel you have more freedom with TV? More pressure? more fear?

I love writing for TV because you get to work with other people. Book-writing is a lonely business because it’s just you and the keyboard. When you’re working on a TV show you get to share the experience with producers, directors, actors, editors, lots of people. There is less freedom, though, because everyone wants their input. I can be a nightmare at time. I wrote for The Knock, London’s Burning and the BBC’s Murder In Mind, and all were fairly difficult experiences. I had more fun doing The Stretch and The Bombmaker for Sky because there I was dealing with my stories and I had more control. The people at Sky were more supportive than the people at ITV and the BBC, though. I did buy my first ever TV licence after working for the BBC, though. I figured it was the least I could do! No fear, either in books or TV, though the deadlines are tighter for TV. Everyone wants their rewrite done yesterday whereas with books I have just to deliver once a year!

5) Tell me about the time you spent in Belmarsh Prison - it sounds like an extreme bit of research!

Yeah, I spent a day there to research Hard Landing. I wrote to the governor on spec and he showed me around. I wanted to set a book in a modern high-security prison and the research I did was invaluable. It was an eye-opener and not at all what you’d expect. More like my student halls of residence than a prison!

6) Do you like Johnny Cash?

Sure. Why? Because he did prison visits or because I like wearing black?

7) Do you have strong feelings about the prison service?

I think the guys in the prison service do the best they can with the resources they have. The problems that exist are caused by our government. We send too many people to prison, and the ones who should be behind bars are often released early. I have nothing but contempt for a system that puts pensioners behind bars for not paying their council tax and yet allows paedophiles out on parole to abuse more children.
There’s no point in sending people with drugs problems to prison. They need help, not punishment. We should be a lot more selective about who we send to prison, and a lot more creative about punishing people. Confiscating assets, house arrest, fines, loss of passport and driving licence, there are all sorts of alternatives to prison for minor offences, but prison is the easy option. I’d hate to go to prison, but having toured most of the prisons in the UK I can tell you, they are not that bad. The main punishment is the loss of freedom and not being able to be with your family and friends. The physical confinement is no big deal. I could probably get more writing done as there are fewer distractions! I do have nightmares about being locked up, though.

8) Do you see yourself as a political writer?

Not at all. I don’t have any political leanings at all. I am now fifty years old and I have never voted and probably never will. There is no political party that I agree with, and I pretty much hold all politicians in contempt. Any political views in my thrillers are always the views of my characters and not any authorial voice, but it is fair to say that most of my characters are critical of the government. But then, most of the police officers I know are also contemptuous of politicians, too. My writing reflects the real world, so my characters do reflect real opinions.

9) Do you think you'll ever write a happy ending?

Ha ha! I do try, honest, it’s just that my books are very rooted in reality and in the real world there aren’t too many happy endings. It’s only in fairy stories that you get to write ‘..and they lived happily ever after.’

I did go through a phase of having my heroes die, but I’ve stopped that. And if my hero is alive at the end then that’s got to be a happy ending, right? The problem is, I guess, that even my heroes have to do things that they don’t like, which means that while they usually come out on top, they do so at considerable cost to themselves. Which is what it’s like in the real world, right? Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd, the undercover cop who is the hero of my last four books, does shoot people, and while he does it to save lives, it still takes its toll on him, mentally and physically. But he does always live to fight another day!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Lucky Week

It’s been my lucky week. People just keep on wanting to give me money! Today I got the following email:

From: Mr. Douglas Amoo.
Plot No.7-Flat 4 Kweku Innocent Crescent,
Labadi district
Accra - Ghana.

(RE: TRANSFER OF ($ 42,000.000.00 USD}

We want to transfer to overseas ($ 42,000.000.00 USD) from a prime bank here in Ghana, I want to ask you to quietly look for a reliable and honest person who will be capable and fit to provide either an existing bank account or to set up a new Bank a/c immediately to receive this money, even an empty a/c can serve to receive this money, as long as you will remain honest to me till the end of this important business trusting in you and believing in God that you will never let me down either now or in future.

I am Mr.Douglas Amoo, Director of International Relation with a bank here in Ghana,during the course of our auditing I discovered a floating fund in an account opened in the bank in 2001 and since 2002 nobody has operated on this account again, after going through some old files in the records I discovered that the owner of the account died without a [heir] hence the money is floating and if I do not remit this money out urgently it will be forfeited for nothing.

The owner of this account is Mr.Louis Kennedy , a foreigner, and a sailor, and he died since 2002. and no other person knows about this account or any thing concerning it, the account has no other beneficiary and my investigation proved to me as well that Late Mr.Louis Kennedy was the manager of K.Louis.(Gh). LTD.

We will start the first transfer with Twelve Million USD [$12,000.000.00] upon successful transaction without any disappoint from your side, we shall re-apply for the payment of the remaining amount to your account,The amount involved is (USD 42M) I want to first transfer $12,000.000 [Twelve Million million United States Dollar from this money into a safe foreigners account abroad before the rest, but I don't know any foreigner in my life, I am only contacting you as a foreigner because this money can not be approved to a local person here, without valid international foreign passport, but can only be approved to any foreigner with valid international passport or drivers license and foreign a/c because the money is in US dollars and the former owner of the a/c Mr.Louis Kennedy was a foreigner too, [and the money can only be approved into a foreign a/c.

Arrange your A/c and send it to me as follows for the processing of the payment:

1]A/C NUMBER:...............
2]A/C NAME:...................
3]BANK NAME:.................
4]BANK ADDRESS:..............
5]SWIFT CODE:..................

I got your contact address from my secretary who operates computer and I am revealing this to you with believe in God that you will never let me down in this business, you are the first and the only person that I am contacting for this business,so please reply urgently so that I will inform you the next step to take.Send also your private telephone and fax number including the full details of the account to be used for the deposit as started above.

I need your full co-operation to make this work fine.because the management is ready to approve this payment to any foreigner who has correct information of this account, which I will give to you, upon your positive response and once I am convinced that you are capable and will meet up with instruction of a key bank official who is helping us in this business.

I need your strong assurance that you will never let me down,With the influence and the position of the key bank official we can transfer this money to any foreigner's reliable account which you can provide with assurance that this money will be intact pending our physical arrival in your country for sharing. The bank official will destroy all documents of transaction immediately we receive this money leaving to no trace to any place and to build confidence, you can come immediately to discuss with me face to face after which I will make this remittance in your presence and three of us will fly to your country at least two days ahead of the money going into the account.

I will apply for annual leave to get visa immediately I hear from you that you are ready to act and receive this fund in your account.I will apply for the legal approvals for onward transfer of this money to your account with appropriate clearance from the relevant ministries and Foreign Exchange Departments. At the conclusion of this business, you will be given 30% of the total amount, 60% will be for me,5% will be for expenses both parties might have incurred during the process of transferring and 5% will be for orphanage homes.

I look forward to hear from you as soon as possible if you are interested.

Yours Sincerely,

Mr. Douglas Amoo.

And, what are the odds, I got this email too:

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £800,000 (Eight Hundred Thousand (British Pounds) held on the 17th of March,2009 in LONDON UK.The Selection was carried out through a Computer Random Selection System and your email address came out as one of the Three Lucky WINNERS.

Contact our fiduciary agent for claims with:

Agents Name: Mr.James Brown

Fill the below:
1. Name:
2. Address
3. Marital Status:
4. Occupation:
5. Age:
6. Sex:
7. Nationality:
8. Country of Residence:
9. Telephone Number:

Mrs.Anna Marthin.

I can’t believe my luck! It comes hard on the heels of some fascinating correspondence with a Mrs Maria James in South Africa, who also wanted to give me money! This was her first email to me:

From: Mrs. Maria
James Tsvangirai
241 Sidney Ave
Waterkloof, Pretoria
South Africa
Email:( )
Phone: Tel: +27782075328

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Mrs. Maria James Tsvangirai, from Zimbabwe Southern Africa .
I am the wife of Late James Tsvangirai, owner UZZI farm Ltd and a brother to MDC Party Leader Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, affected by President Mugabe's land reform acts which is depriving us of rights in all facets.
I have $12.5Million dollars which I will like to invest for my children Miss Agnes and Mr. Mack with your firm /company since I am not business inclined following the loss of my husband.

If you are interested do get back to me for more information or call my son Mack on (+27782075328) you can also contact me by replying this mail or through my private email: (
You may wish to read about the problems in Zimbabwe my country through the following links clearing any doubt in my proposition and to ascertain my reasons of contacting you and the situation we are in. .uk/1/hi/world/africa/1063785.stm
& nbsp;

Waiting for your urgent response
Yours truly
Mrs. Maria James Sangria
(For the Family)

That sounded like a great deal so I wrote to Maria asking for her to send me a cheque. Bless her, she wrote back:

Dear Stephen Leather,

I received your mail with thanks and due believe that God has sent a helping hand to assist me to transfer this fund out of South Africa to your country for an investment purpose, also i agree to invest this fund in your company since i have not been involve in any transaction of business before so i prefer to invest my own share in your company with you together.

Also i will like to come over to your country for the investment of this fund as soon as the fund is transferred to your account because my attorney has promised to obtain all my travel documents ready as soon as this fund is transferred out of South Africa to enable me move out of the country for the investment purpose with my partner. Also with your help me and my kids will have an easy trip to your country as soon as you confirm the receipt of the fund in your account.

So now i have forwarded your information to my attorney so as to obtain all the necessary documents on your behalf as the beneficiary of this fund so that the bank will process for the direct transfer of this fund to your account.

Which i will like you to send down your full bank account information where this fund will be transferred to including the name of the bank, address of the bank, swift code/routing number, account number and account holder's name so that my attorney will forward it to the top bank officials for the immediate and direct transfer of this fund to your account.

So please i will be waiting to receive your bank account information so that my attorney will proceed immediately with the bank for the transfer.

Best Regard,
Mrs. Maria

There was no cheque so I asked her again, and back came the reply:

My Dear ,

Thank you for your reply to my mail. I am happy that you really want to assist me in this matter.

The only thing I am begging you is not to disappoint me when the money is transferred to your account. In other words, please ensure that my own part of the money is given to me when the money is transferred to your account.
Also, there will be the need for you to always keep this matter STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL as i do not want undue publicity about it.

There will also be the need for us to sign an agreement stating clearly our percentages. This is very important in other for us to conclude this transaction in a respectable and dignified manner. In the meantime, i shall tomorrow take the preliminary step of applying to the Ministry of Finance for the transfer of the fund to your account outside South Africa.

This i will do while waiting for your response and your arrangement about the account where the money shall be transferred to. In other words, please do send me URGENTLY your account/bank information where the money shall be transferred into. This is very urgent. Also, do send me a copy of your international passport as it will enable me process the transfer.

The assurance i am giving you is that this transaction is 100% risk-free, as such, you do not have anything to be afraid of.

Finally, i shall be happy if in your reply you include your direct telephone number for easy communication.
Treat as very urgent.


Still no cheque, so I thought it might be interesting to see what she looks like, so I asked her for a photograph so that I could see who I was dealing with. I got the following email:

Dear stephen,

This is my refugee permit document attached herein and also please kindly forward down the information as you promise so as to proceed further.

I wait for your urgent reply.

Best Regard,
Mrs. Maria

That’s the story so far. Not sure what I should do next, because it looks as if she won’t send me a cheque!

I really shouldn’t waste my time playing with people like Maria.... if I invested as much time on my fiction writing I’d be half way through the new Spider Shepherd book, instead of only having 22,000 words done!

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Brush With Death

Here's my latest You Tube video where I almost get killed on a Bangkok zebra crossing!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You Tube

I thought I'd have a go at linking my blog to You Tube. Here's a video I shot driving on a motorbike through Bangkok at night, which isn't a sensible thing to do when all is said and done!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I received the folowing email this week from a reader who'd just finished Live Fire -

Dear Stephen,Just read "live fire'.....great book,well written(even my missus likes it),but,as an ex -naval armourer your small arms expertise is lacking.............Christ! a safety catch on a revolver(dont have them).............repetetive blank shots from a semi-auto pistol(cant be done), it didnt lose the credibility of the plot,let it go,but please,as you a thriller writer suggest a copy of"Small arms of the World" may help you..........keep writing...................luv ya.........Kev

I always like emails pointing out mistakes, rather than typos. Typos generally aren't my fault, it's the fault of the typesetting company that my publisher uses, but genuine mistakes are always a learning experience!

I have to hold up my hand to the mistake about the safety on the revolver, and I'm not sure how that got into the book. Very few revolvers have safety catches, and the ones that do are so rare that there would have to be a very good reason for having them in a book. Safety catches aren't necessary because the hammer has to be cocked before firing, which is itself a safety precaution.

I think what probably happened is that I originally had 'gun' in the copy but for some reason changed it during a rewrite to be more specific, without realising that the safety catch description was there. And it's not the sort of thing that an editor would catch, unless he or she was a gun nut!

What is funny is that I do have a copy of Small Arms Of The World next to my desk, and I often use it!

Now Kev's other point, about a semi-automatic not being able to fire a succession of blanks, I'm not so sure about. I have a replica Glock which fires blanks and the last time I fired it I'm pretty sure that the casing was ejected and a fresh one slotted into the breech and it was ready for firing again. The thing is, it made such a loud noise (surprise!) that I didn't want to fire it again, seeing as how I was in my flat at the time and the neighbours were in! But I'm happy to be corrected, so if anyone thinks Kev is right and I'm wrong, do let me know!

I have made mistakes with guns before, including saying that a Glock has a safety catch, which it doesn't. Instead the Glock has a split trigger which is supposed to prevent accidental firing. That's actually a common mistake for thriller writers to make. But probably the worst gun mistake you can make is to have a revolver with a silencer (or supressor). Silencers don't work on revolvers!

I actually don't mind having mistakes pointed out to me - my books are all reprinted regularly so mistakes can always be corrected. The revolver will be replaced by 'handgun' in the mass market edition of Live Fire which is due out later this year.

Mistakes that I hate to see in books are 'Drug Enforcement Agency' when it should be 'Drug Enforcement Administration' and 'Serious And Organised Crime Agency' when it should be 'Serious Organised Crime Agency'.

The new Spider Shepherd book is going well - just hit 17,000 words. I'm thinking of calling it Big Boys but that does sound a bit like a porn movie. I quite like Old Wounds. I don't have to decide for a few months so theres no hurry!

At the moment I'm planning the perfect murder... it's quite fun. My good friend Anthony Horowitz, the childrens writer, says that crime writers would make the best killers. He should know, I don't think anyone has killed off more people on TV than Anthony (Poirot, Murder In Mind, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War). Shepherd won't actually do the killing but he will help, and it'll involve a struggle with his conscience.... It'll mean taking him to a point where he has never been before. He's killed in the past, to save lives or because he was under attack, but this latest killing is something much more personal....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nightingale - the rewrite

It’s been a busy week and I seem to have spent most of my time at the laptop! I’ve pretty much finished the rewrite of Nightingale. It’s gone up from 85,000 words to 101,000 so I’ve increased it by almost twenty per cent. I think it’s much darker now, with more menace. Here’s one of the extra chapters that I wrote:

Nightingale parked his MGB in the street in front of his uncle’s house, a neat three-bedroom semi-detached in Ealing. He climbed out and lit a cigarette. His aunt and uncle were both ex-smokers, had been for twenty years, and refused to allow anyone else to light up anywhere near them. Uncle Tommy’s blue Renault Megane was parked in the driveway. Nightingale locked his MGB and walked slowly down the path to the front door, knowing that he would have to extinguish the cigarette before ringing the doorbell. The garden was well-tended, with two large rhododendron bushes on either side of a neatly-mown lawn, and there was a small water feature with a twee stone wishing well and a bearded gnome holding a fishing rod. The gnome had been there for as long as Nightingale could remember and as a child he’d always been a little scared of it, half convinced that it was moving whenever he took his eyes off it. Nightingale flicked ash at the gnome. ‘How are they biting?’ he asked. The gnome stared fixedly ahead at the hook on the end of its line. ‘Maybe you should try somewhere else.’ He tossed the remains of his cigarette into a flowerbed, then went up to the front door and reached out to press the doorbell. He heard a rustling noise behind him and his heart raced as his childhood fears flooded back and he turned around half expecting to see the gnome coming up behind him, but it was only Walter, his aunt’s black and white cat. The cat brushed itself against the back of Nightingale’s legs and meowed. Nightingale lent down and rubbed it behind its ears. ‘Long time no see, Walter,’ he said. The cat arched its back and purred loudly.

Nightingale straightened up and rang the doorbell. He heard a chime inside the house. Walter continued to purr and run himself against Nightingale’s legs. ‘What’s wrong, Walter, you starved of affection?’ asked Nightingale. After thirty seconds he rang the bell again but no one came to answer the door. ‘Where are they, Walter?’ said Nightingale. ‘Are they in the back garden, is that it?’

Nightingale walked around the side of the house and opened a wooden gate that led to the rear of the house. That was where Uncle Tommy had his vegetable patch and where he grew his prize-winning roses. As Nightingale closed the door behind him, he noticed a red smudge on his hand. He held the hand up to his face, frowning. It looked like blood. There was no cut, just a smear of red. He checked both hands, and then the latch on the gate, but there was only the one smudge.
He walked down the path to the garden. ‘Uncle Tommy?’ he called. ‘Are you out here?’

There was no answer. He knocked on the kitchen door. ‘Aunty Linda, it’s me, Jack!’

Walter meowed and looked up at Nightingale. Nightingale knelt down and stroked the back of the cat’s neck. ‘What’s going on Walter?’ he said. There was a glistening red smudge on the cat’s nose. A sudden panic gripped Nightingale and his heart began to race. He looked across at the kitchen door. Set into the bottom was a cat flap which Walter used to get in and out of the house. There were red smudges on the bottom the flap.

Nightingale stood up and banged on the kitchen door . ‘Aunty Linda! Uncle Tommy! Are you in there?’ He pressed his ear to the wooden door but heard nothing. He hit the door again with the flat of his hand.

He moved over to the kitchen window and stood on tiptoe as he peered through. Beyond the sink he could see a bare leg, a shattered plate and a pool of blood. Nightingale banged on the window. ‘Aunty Linda! Aunty Linda!’

He looked around, wondering what he should do. He saw his uncle’s shed and he ran to it, throwing open the door and grabbing a spade. He dashed back to the house and used the spade to smash the window and knock the glass out of the frame, then he climbed inside. His aunt was on the kitchen floor, her head smashed open, brains and blood congealing on the tile-patterned lino. Her mouth was wide open and her eyes stared glassily up at the ceiling. Nightingale knew immediately that there was no point in checking for signs of life.

He walked carefully around the pool of blood. There was no sign of a murder weapon and the back door had been locked which meant that the attacker had either left by the front door or was still in the house. There was a knife block by the fridge and Nightingale pulled out a large wood-handled carving knife.

‘Uncle Tommy, are you in the house?’ he shouted.

He went through to the sitting room. There was an unopened copy of the News Of The World on the coffee table, and an untouched cup of tea. Nightingale went over to the table and touched the cup. It was cold and there was a thick scum on the surface of the tea.

He moved slowly back into the hallway, listening intently. He started up the stairs, taking them one at time, craning to look up at the landing above. Halfway up the stairs was an axe, the blade covered in blood. Nightingale didn’t touch it but stepped carefully over it. As he reached the top of the stairs he heard a soft creaking sound and he froze, the knife out in front of him. He took another step. There was something moving on the landing. Something just out of sight. He crept up, his mouth bone dry, his heart pounding. He stopped again when he heard another gentle creak and then he saw something move. It was a foot. A naked foot, suspended in the air.

Nightingale took another step and saw two feet, and then pyjama bottoms and then as he reached the top of the stairs he saw his uncle, hanging from the trapdoor that led to the attic. There was a rope around his neck and from the unnatural angle of the head it was obvious that the neck had snapped. Nightingale realised that Uncle Tommy must have sat in the trapdoor and dropped. He was naked from the waist up and there were flecks of blood across his chest. There were no wounds on him so the blood could only have been his wife’s. He must have battered his wife to death in the kitchen and then come upstairs and killed himself.

The rope creaked as the body moved slightly. He was dead but the fluids within the body were shifting as the organs settled. The pyjama bottoms were wet around the groin and there was a pool of urine on the floor. Nightingale took out his mobile phone and dialled 999. As he waited for the operator to answer, he turned around. The bathroom door was wide open and through the doorway Nightingale saw the mirror above the sink. Scrawled across it in bloody capital letters were seven words. YOU ARE GOING TO HELL, JACK NIGHTINGALE.

I arranged another 3000 copy print run of Private Dancer last week which takes the book up to 32,000 copies in print, which is really good for a self-published book which is sold almost exclusively in Thailand.

Some time ago I helped Warren Olson write his autobiography – Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye. It turned out to be one of my favourite books, and it’s selling quite well. Warren has now written a sequel, without my help, and it’s another good read. You can find out more at

Like Confessions, it has been published by Phil Tatham at Monsoon Books in Singapore. I think they’ve done a great job with the cover, too. It’s very atmospheric! Unlike Confessions Of A Bangkok private Eye, where we roped in my pal Andy Yates and two bargirls for the cover photograph, this time the craggily-handsome Warren has decided to use his own picture. Don’t let that put you off, it’s still a good read! Phil also published Private Dancer in Singapore, and if you buy your copy through Amazon then the chances are that it’ll be a Monsoon copy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Voice of America

A friend emailed me this today, and I thought it deserved a wider reading. It's from an American talking about America, but a lot of what he says applies equally as well to the UK.


Robert A. Hall

I'll be 63 soon. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce, and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked, hard, since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired -very tired.

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth around" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy or stupid to earn it.

I'm tired of being told that I have to pay more taxes to "keep people in their homes." Sure, if they lost their jobs or got sick, I'm willing to help. But if they bought McMansions at three times the price of our paid-off, $250,000 condo, on one-third of my salary, then let the leftwing Congress-critters who passed Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act that created the bubble help them-with their own money.

I'm tired of being told how bad America is by leftwing millionaires like Michael Moore, George Soros and Hollywood entertainers who live in luxury because of the opportunities America offers. In thirty years, if they get their way, the United States will have the religious freedom and women's rights of Saudi Arabia, the economy of Zimbabwe, the freedom of the press of China, the crime and violence of Mexico, the tolerance for Gay people of Iran, and the freedom of speech of Venezuela. Won't multiculturalism be beautiful?

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honor;" of Muslims rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers;" of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery;" of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to.

I believe "a man should be judged by the content of his character, not by the color of his skin." I'm tired of being told that "race doesn't matter" in the post-racial world of President Obama, when it's all that matters in affirmative action jobs, lower college admission and graduation standards for minorities (harming them the most), government contract set-asides, tolerance for the ghetto culture of violence and fatherless children that hurts minorities more than anyone, and in the appointment of US Senators from Illinois. I think it's very cool that we have a black president and that a black child is doing her homework at the desk where Lincoln wrote the emancipation proclamation. I just wish the black president was Condi Rice, or someone who believes more in freedom and the individual and less in an all-knowing government.

I'm tired of a news media that thinks Bush's fundraising and inaugural expenses were obscene, but that think Obama's, at triple the cost, were wonderful. That thinks Bush exercising daily was a waste of presidential time, but Obama exercising is a great example for the public to control weight and stress, that picked over every line of Bush's military records, but never demanded that Kerry release his, that slammed Palin with two years as governor for being too inexperienced for VP, but touted Obama with three years as senator as potentially the best president ever.

Wonder why people are dropping their subscriptions or switching to Fox News? Get a clue. I didn't vote for Bush in 2000, but the media and Kerry drove me to his camp in 2004.

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia use our oil money to fund mosques and madrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in America, while no American group is allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia to teach love and tolerance.

I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate. My wife and I live in a two-bedroom apartment and carpool together five miles to our jobs. We also own a three-bedroom condo where our daughter and granddaughter live. Our carbon footprint is about 5% of Al Gore's, and if you're greener than Gore, you're green enough.

I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses while they tried to fight it off? I don't think Gay people choose to be Gay, but I damn sure think druggies chose to take drugs. And I'm tired of harassment from cool people treating me like a freak when I tell them I never tried marijuana.

I'm tired of illegal aliens being called "undocumented workers," especially the ones who aren't working, but are living on welfare or crime. What's next? Calling drug dealers, "Undocumented Pharmacists"? And, no, I'm not against Hispanics. Most of them are Catholic and it's been a few hundred years since Catholics wanted to kill me for my religion. I'm willing to fast track for citizenship any Hispanic person who can speak English, doesn't have a criminal record and who is self-supporting without family on welfare, or who serves honorably for three years in our military. Those are the citizens we need.

I'm tired of latte liberals and journalists, who would never wear the uniform of the Republic themselves, or let their entitlement-handicapped kids near a recruiting station, trashing our military. They and their kids can sit at home, never having to make split-second decisions under life and death circumstances, and bad mouth better people then themselves. Do bad things happen in war? You bet. Do our troops sometimes misbehave? Sure. Does this compare with the atrocities that were the policy of our enemies for the last fifty years-and still are? Not even close. So here's the deal. I'll let myself be subjected to all the humiliation and abuse that was heaped on terrorists at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, and the critics can let themselves be subject to captivity by the Muslims who tortured and beheaded Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, or the Muslims who tortured and murdered Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins in Lebanon, or the Muslims who ran the blood-spattered Al Qaeda torture rooms our troops found in Iraq, or the Muslims who cut off the heads of schoolgirls in Indonesia, because the girls were Christian. Then we'll compare notes. British and American soldiers are the only troops in history that civilians came to for help and handouts, instead of hiding from in fear.

I'm tired of people telling me that their party has a corner on virtue and the other party has a corner on corruption. Read the papers-bums are bi-partisan. And I'm tired of people telling me we need bi-partisanship. I live in Illinois, where the "Illinois Combine" of Democrats and Republicans has worked together harmoniously to loot the public for years. And I notice that the tax cheats in Obama's cabinet are bi-partisan as well.

I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of both parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

Speaking of poor, I'm tired of hearing people with air-conditioned homes, color TVs and two cars called poor. The majority of Americans didn't have that in 1970, but we didn't know we were "poor." The poverty pimps have to keep changing the definition of poor to keep the dollars flowing.

I'm real tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination, or big-whatever for their problems.

Yes, I'm damn tired. But I'm also glad to be 63. Because, mostly, I'm not going to get to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter.

Robert A. Hall is a Marine Vietnam veteran who served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate. He blogs at His blog has the same layout and colour scheme as mine, which just goes to show that great minds think alike!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Killing Characters

I watched a Channel Four TV show called Dead Set last week, a zombie drama based around the Big Brother show. I’d been looking forward to watching it, and had resisted watching it when it was shown on TV so that I could see the whole thing without adverts and interruptions. I do that a lot these days, especially with comedy shows. Rather than watch them when they go out, I buy the DVDs and watch when I want, usually in one go! I watched all three series of Dexter that way, and I’m currently working my way through DVDs of Seinfeld and Frasier.

Dead Set was quite disturbing, on many levels, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Basically it’s set in the Big Brother house at a time when the whole population outside are being zombified. Then the zombies lay siege to the Big Brother house and mayhem ensues.

Now, I love zombie movies. 28 Days Later is brilliant, and I enjoyed the follow-up 28 Weeks Later. And I thought that Sean Of The Dead was hilarious. I’m a big fan of George Romero’s zombie movies, too. But Dead Set was just plain disturbing, and I don’t mean that in a good way! Everyone dies in it. Everyone dies and everyone dies horribly. There is no redemption, and no sense that people were becoming better people as a result of what they were going through. Most of the characters were rude, self-centred and just plain stupid at the beginning, and that’s how they were at the end. And it wasn’t ironic in the way that Sean Of The Dead was. Dead Set takes itself very seriously. That’s how it was written, a group of horrible people (mainly) who all die horribly. And at the end you are left with the impression that the whole world has been zombified. It’s the end of the human race.

The DVD came with extras including an interview with the writer, Charlie Brooker, and I found him as disturbing as the show. In fact, he could easily have been a character in the drama and he wouldn’t have been out of place. There’s an interview with him at:

In it he says: “I guess you'd say it's a horror-thriller with satirical, darkly comic undertones. But mainly it's a horror-thriller.”

I would argue with him that it was a satire. I didn’t find it in the least bit satirical. Nor was it comic, even darkly comic. It was sometimes ridiculous, but I don’t think that was intentional.

I can’t work out why he wrote Dead Set, and I can’t understand why Channel Four made it and E4 broadcast it. The last episode of Dead Set was only seen by a total of 652,000 viewers, making it the lowest rated episode of the series, so it’s clear that a lot of viewers were getting turned off by it. I’m not surprised. People don’t watch TV just to see pain and suffering, they want to feel good, they want to think that life is a pleasant experience and that people can triumph over adversity. Dead Set was totally nihilistic, totally without heart or soul. I don’t think I cared about any of the characters, and while I might have flinched at the gory way in which they died, I never once felt any sense of loss.

I’m not against killing off characters, some of the best writers do that. I’ll never forget the way Frederick Forsyth has the main character of Dogs Of War, Cat Shannon, kill himself at the end of the book. And I killed off Mike ‘Joker’ Cramer at the end of my book The Double Tap and The Chinaman doesn’t survive the book of the same name. But when you kill off a character there has to be a reason and it has to be plot-driven. Sometimes characters have to die in the story, because there’s nothing left for them to do. Or they have to die because it helps someone else or because it’s for the greater good.

In The Chinaman, the hero had to die because he had lost all his family, he had taken revenge on the men who had killed them, and there was nothing left for him to do. Killing off Mike Cramer was a mistake with hindsight, but as the plot necessitated him having a terminal illness, I was pretty much stuck with his death. If I had used a plot device (magic cure, wrong diagnosis etc) to save his life it would have been cheating.

In the book I’ve just finished, Nightingale (well, rewriting it actually, as we speak!) I do kill off Jack Nightingale’s friend, but there are repercussions and, as it happens, I do sort of bring him back at the end of the book. Of course characters die, in fact in my Spider Shepherd books an average of half a dozen characters die per volume. A thriller without a death or two wouldn’t be a thriller! But killing characters just for the ‘thrill’ of seeming them die is just perverse, and that was why I found Dead Set so unsettling. I suppose you could say that it was reality TV taken to its ultimate level, where people tune in to watch misery and gore, but Dead Set wasn’t a parody, it took itself very seriously and so did the writer. I’m actually sorry that I watched it, which is a terrible thing to say about any creative work. I learned nothing from it, I didn’t really enjoy it, and it upset me. If I did any of those things to one of my readers then I would feel that I had failed.

You might ask why I kept on watching it if it was upsetting me so much – to be honest I kept expecting the Army to arrive to rescue them, or for a cure to be found, or for them to fight their way to safety. I expected some sort of redemption, some sort of hope, but it never came. Even right at the end, where the main female character is leaving the house, I thought that she might escape – but it’s clear that she dies, and dies horribly. As the credits rolled I had a bitter taste in my mouth and it’s still there. It’s so hard to get decent shows onto television these days that I always get annoyed when time and money is spent producing a programme that isn’t worth watching. Channel Four has quite a small drama budget and it seems a great shame to waste it on something as empty as Dead Set.

While doing my recent book tour to promote Live Fire, I saw the Twilight books everywhere, and with such a demand for vampire books I did wonder about writing a thriller about a zombie detective.... I sort of thought he could wander around crime scenes contaminating them because bits of his body keep dropping off, but I’m not sure how successful a series with a zombie hero would be, especially if the dialogue is limited to ‘Urrgggghhhhh!!!’ I think it’ll be one those ideas that just stays as an idea!

I’m 12,000 words into the new Spider Shepherd book and it’s flowing well, though hand on heart I have to confess that I don’t have an ending yet, and not much of a middle!