Monday, April 26, 2010

Great Covers For My Unpublished Books

Stuart Bache, who has done some great covers for my books with Hodder and Stoughton, has been coming up with some designs for thre eof my unpublished works - Once Bitten, Dreamer's Cat and The Basement.

I'm planning to put them on Kindle and so need covers.

Stuart's done two covers for each of the three books and I think they look brilliant!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Great Review On Amazon!

Just had a great five-star review for Nightfall posted on Amazon. Brilliant. The reviewer is Lizzie Hayes and she clearly got the book. Her review made my day!

Here it is:

I was completely and utterly gripped, 25 April 2010

By Lizzie Hayes "Lizzie" (Leicestershire) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)

This book is advertised as a `supernatural thriller, but if you, like me, have no empathy with the supernatural, don't let this put you off. Many years ago in the 1970's I had a flat in a house that is mentioned in the doomsday book. It was/is the real thing. Having been standing for more than 700 years it must have seen much between its walls. The lady living in the flat upstairs claimed to see the ghost of a nun, and sometimes when I was sitting in her flat she would say `feel that cold wind blowing through - that's her!' I never felt anything, then or since. But even as a non-believer this is a great thriller.

When Jack nightingale of the police armed response unit, fails to save a nine-year-old child, and then confronts the child's father who dies in mysterious circumstances, it effects Jack profoundly. So much so that Jack resigns from the police force.

Two years later Jack is working as a private Investigator - his work, mainly divorce stuff, following the husband or the wife to see who is being unfaithful to whom. Then out of the blue Jack learns that he has inherited a house from his father - as Jack's father has been dead for some years this comes as a shock. Whilst Jack is coming to terms with this knowledge, people around him start dying, their death prefaced with the words, `You're going to hell Jack Nightingale'. Then Jack learns from a DVD found at the house that his biological father had sold his soul to the devil before he was born, and that on his thirty third birthday, just three weeks hence, his soul is forfeit.

As previously mentioned I don't believe in the supernatural, but such was the power of the story telling that I was completely and utterly gripped - I could not put this book down. It is said to be the start of a series and I will be reading the next book, in fact I am avidly awaiting it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why Amazon Reviews Aren't Always What They Seem

I've often thought it unfair that Amazon allows anonymous reviews as often bad reviews can be left for malicious reasons.... I think that explains why books that have a fair number of five star reviews on Amazon can also attract one-star vitriolic attacks.

The Daily Mail has just reported on a historian who posted malicious reviews of work by his competitors. And I'm sure he's not the only person doing it! Amazon needs to clean up its act - it doesn't make sense to give equal weight to serious reviewers with a history of reviewing and morons who only bother to post one bad review littered with spelling and grammatical errors!

Anyway, here's the Mail story:

Historian Orlando Figes has admitted posting anonymous reviews savaging his rivals' books on Amazon.

The Russian scholar has now apologised profusely for the negative and critical reviews, saying he is 'ashamed' of his actions.

In one review, Figes labelled academic Rachel Polonsky's book Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History 'hard to follow' and 'the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published'.

Under the names Historian and Orlando-Birckbeck, Figes also called Professor Service's book Comrades 'awful', while leaving a review calling his own book 'fasincating'.

Figes said in a statement: 'I take full responsibility for posting anonymous reviews on Amazon.

'I have made some foolish errors and apologise wholeheartedly to all concerned.

'In particular, I am sorry for the distress I have caused to Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service.

'I also apologise to my lawyer to whom I gave incorrect information.

'I panicked when confronted with an email sent to academics and the press and instructed my lawyer without thinking this through rationally.

'This escalated the situation and brought more pressure on myself by prompting a legal response.'

Mr Figes said Dr Rachel Polonsky's book Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History 'is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published'

Figes added he was 'ashamed' of his behaviour and did not entirely understand why he acted as he did.

He said: 'It was stupid - some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous but they were not intended to harm.

'This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse.

'I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help.'

The professor, who has gone on sick leave from his job at London's Birkbeck College, admitted to being "stupid" - but said he had not intended to cause harm.

A spokesman for Birkbeck College declined to comment on the issue, simply saying: 'He is on sick leave and we are supporting him at this time.'

The admission is the latest twist in the literary puzzle, after the finger was earlier pointed at Figes' wife Stephanie Palmer.

However, Figers has now admitted he let his wife take responsibility for the reviews, but regrets his decision.

He added: 'My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried for my health, and I owe her an unreserved apology.'

But while author Rachel Polonsky would undoutedly have been offended by Figes' reviews, she is thrilled that her book has experienced a sales boost following the scandal.

She said: 'Molotov's Magic Lantern reached the top 500, then dropped to about 1,600 on Amazon's best-seller list. Now it is back to 500 again.'

Friday, April 23, 2010

Five Star Review On Amazon From A Real Fan!

Mr Myers in Liverpool has just posted a five-star review on Amazon, which brought a smile to my face on what is turning out to be a very rainy day in Bangkok! Thanks Mr Myers! I couldn't have written a better review myself!

Mr Leather has done it again....., 23 April 2010
By T. Myers "elvislives1976" (Liverpool, U.K.) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)
Fantastic read, highly recommend, Stephen in my opinion is a genius, his books are wonderful, not a bad one amongst them, keep up the good work Mr Leather.

Bangkok Dangerous? Another Media Scare Story!

Don't believe anything you read in the Press or on-line about Bangkok being dangerous. It isn't. It's fine, so long as you stay away from the Silom area.

I'm a few miles from there and haven't seen a Red Shirt protestor or a soldier for days, other than a few soldiers at the airport.

I don't know why, but it now seems as if Governments, aided by a gullible media, want us to be in a continuous state of fear - terrorism, volcanic ash, swine flu, AIDS..blah blah blah. These days, I ignore 90 per cent of what I read in the Press and 100 per cent of what politicians say!

This from the Daily Telegraph -

Governments around the world warned their citizens to avoid Thailand's capital Bangkok as deadly political violence paralysed the city centre on Friday.

London, Canberra and Washington also joined the UN in urging all sides to show restraint as riot police faced off against thousands of anti-government "Red Shirts" behind heavily fortified barricades.

Tensions in the long-running political standoff rose after five grenade blasts hit the area on Thursday night, leaving one Thai woman dead and scores wounded, including foreigners.

"There is a strong possibility of renewed violent clashes in Bangkok between demonstrators and security forces," Australia's foreign affairs department said, as it confirmed that an Australian was among the wounded. "We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Thailand."

The United States also warned that more violence was possible.
"Due to escalating violence in central Bangkok, all US citizens should avoid non-essential travel to Bangkok," the State Department said, upgrading a travel alert issued two days earlier.

The State Department also urged travellers to exercise caution in provincial areas, warning that protesters could spread to other parts of the kingdom if dispersed in the capital.

London warned against all but essential travel to the Thai capital due to the "increasingly volatile" situation on the streets.

Ignore them all. If you were planning to come to Thailand, come!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why I Fly ABBA - Anyone But British Airways!

There are some real horror stories coming out of India about the way that British Airways is failing to help stranded passengers there.

I won't fly with BA unless I have too - I've had too many bad experiences! One flight to New York was so bad that I locked myself in the toilet for four hours just to have some space to myself!

A friend of mine came to stay in Thailand a while back and BA lost his luggage - I went to Bangkok airport several times trying to find out what had happened and was treated with total contempt by BA staff. They're not quite as bad as Ryanair but they're not far off!

Anyway, this is off the Guardian website...

Erica Wald, reader in international history at the LSE, is trying to get back to London. She writes:

"I've just returned from my third round trip to Mumbai International Airport in my attempt to return home to London after my flight, BA 138, was cancelled due to the volcanic ash. It was a fairly depressing and enraging experience. BA told me yesterday , after I finally got through to their India number, which I rang for 3 ½ hours, that the earliest I could go home was 6 May.

I miss my husband and I'm concerned to be missing so much work at such a crucial time for my students who are due to sit their exams in May. I've now been away from home for a month and a half- my flight to India was also cancelled by BA because of the strike.

Last night I heard BA were still SELLING tickets for flights from Friday, 23 April, so I decided to check for myself. Sure enough, there are seats on each of the two daily flights out of Mumbai, however, they are now asking nearly £2,000 for a one way ticket. I was so outraged by this blatant, greedy profiteering, that I decided to go to the airport this morning to try to get an answer from them.

At the moment, the airport is filled with very upset stranded passengers in varying states of distress - I met a gentleman who suffers from diabetes and who is running out of medication and money. Moreover, BA has lost his suit case with his spare needles. They have not been offered any accommodation, so have been sleeping in the terminal. BA is not even offering passengers bottled water or food. And if you leave the terminal to find food they tell you that you will probably not be allowed back in. There was another passenger undergoing cancer treatment, whose medical needs were also ignored. Another one's wife is due to give birth in the next two days.

Right now, BA is telling us that we have to find our own hotel, pay for it, and then claim compensation when we return to the UK. While I am lucky enough to have a hotel that held a room available for me many are not so lucky. The BA manager here has been ineffectual and rude, not giving passengers any information and denied that BA was still selling tickets (until I produced the print-out of the page where I was asked to enter my credit card details for the purchase).

There was a very sweet bunch of backpackers who were booked on to today's flight and had come to say that they were willing to give up their seats for people who urgently needed to return home – they just asked BA to provide them a place to stay until there was free flight to get them home. BA refused. Apparently they were unwilling to lay out the cash to them and instead put them on the flight, leaving many desperate waiting passengers flabbergasted.

While I appreciate that this is a difficult situation for airlines, they should have a duty of care to their passengers and after making record profits for years.

It is hard for many of us, left thousands of miles from home, to understand the rationale behind not sending out extra planes to clear the backlog, as surely they would be full in both directions?

I've been very disappointed and upset with British Airway's slapdash and frankly dangerous handling of this situation."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Complaining To Thames Water

April 18, 2010

Susan Stevens,
HomeServe Partnership Manager – Thames Water Utilities Ltd,
Thames Water Utilities Ltd,
Clearwater Court,
Vastern Road,
Reading, Berkshire,
RG1 8DB.

Dear Susan,

I am in receipt of your letter introducing me to HomeServe, which you describe as a leading supplier of home emergency solutions and offering me the opportunity of taking out cover with them through Thames Water.

Let me say first that I hate Thames Water with a vengeance and am only a customer of yours because I have no choice. One of the great unfairnesses of life is that I am forced to buy my water from you. The Government allows me a choice when it comes to gas and electricity but not water and that is the only reason I am a customer of Thames Water. If I am ever given a choice of water supplier you won’t see me for dust.

I have yet to meet anyone who works for Thames Water who isn’t an idiot. Your upper management are self-serving morons and your customer relations people are time-serving jobsworths who couldn’t care less about their customers. The last time I complained to Thames Water, Bill Alexander was chief executive officer, and I found him to be as big an idiot as the rest of the company’s senior management.

There is no way that I would ever do business with any company that you recommend. Ever. Your billing system is a mess, you can barely maintain the water pressure necessary to run a shower, and you lose millions of gallons a year through broken pipes. Yet you pay your upper management the sort of sums that should be reserved for captains of industry.

Why do I have such contempt for Thames Water?

It goes back to March 1 of 2003 when one of your company’s technicians cut off the water supply to the block of flats where I live. Mrs Donna Price of your firm’s Water Supply Customer Communications Team has admitted this in her letter to me of March 24. As a result of the workman’s error I had to spend four hours without water, I had to go up into the attic several times to check the block’s stopcocks, and I phoned Thames Water six times. Each time they refused to come out and fix the problem. The problem that they caused.

Eventually I had to call out a plumber myself. He has charged the block’s management company £88 for restoring the water supply to the block. The experience left me tired, stressed, extremely dirty, and out of pocket. Despite this, Mrs Price only offered me £20 in compensation.

After complaining long and vigorously to the idiots who staff your company, your customer services manager eventually agree to reimburse my managing agents for the £88 they had to pay a plumber to put right the fault caused by your workman. And she had the cheek to say that this was ‘a gesture of goodwill.’

It is most certainly was not a gesture of good will. There is no goodwill between me and your company. I was also most offended by your customer services manager describing this incident as ‘an interruption’ to my water supply. Your workman cut off my water supply, and the people on your customer helpline refused six times to send someone out to reconnect my supply. I will never forgive you for the way your company treated me.

To sum up, I don’t want to receive any more junk mail from you or anyone else at Thames Water. I despise your company and everyone in it. If I do receive any more junk mail from Thames Water I will bill you £25 for each and every one.

And you can tell Bill Alexander that when I can find the time I’ll be dropping around to turn off his water supply at the mains to see how he likes it.

SR Leather

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Bad Amazon Review!

I've just had a two-star review from Lucy (Lou) which is pretty damning!

Here's what she wrote -

disappointing, 16 April 2010
This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)
This was my first book written by Stephen Leather, and quite likely could be my last. I thought the writing was very poor, the characters were two dimensional and the plot had been done many times before, and a lot better.I work in a bookshop and we sell a lot of books by this author and so I had high expectations..maybe that was the problem?!?!

The good news of course is that she sells a lot of my books! Anyway, I wondered what Lucy's problem was so I looked at the other stuff she's reviewed. You'd think that someone who worked in a bookshop would be a prolific reviewer. Sadly, no!

She's reviewed one book (mine!), one movie, and two CDs. Wonder why she chose me?

Anyway, here's the review she did of the movie PS I Love You, from the best-selling book by Cecilia Aherne -

Avoid, 16 Dec 2008
This review is from: P.S. I Love You [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
It is truely a waste of time watching this film, it is awful! I'm sorry, but I have lost someone, I watched my fiancee die from leukaemia and finally lost him when I was only 22. Now at 26 having become involved with someone else, I have found out that he has cancer.Grief is nothing like what is depicted in this film, How anyone could even think of writing a book and making a movie aboout the death of a persons partner,and portraying it in a light hearted chick flick comedy way is totally beyond me. I just hope that A'hearne never has to go through what I have. This film just made me angry!

Oh dear. I'd better stop now....

Great Plot For The New Nightingale Book

Just read this and thought it would make a great plot for the new Jack Nightingale book!

Answer this question honestly – do you read the small print when you buy games on the internet?

High Street retailing giant GameStation decided to put this to the test and inserted a new clause into their terms and conditions earlier this month that granted them legal rights to the immortal souls of thousands of their online customers. Here, in darkest legalese, is how they got away with such a heinous act:

"By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorised minions."

GameStation’s fiendish clause specified that they might serve such notice in “six foot-high letters of fire” too, but also offered customers an option to opt out, rewarding them with a £5 money-off voucher if they did so.

Alas, hardly anyone noticed the clause, let alone the substantial bonus for spotting the gag. More to the point, the fact that it passed more or less unnoticed raises an important issue – too few people actually read the small print when they make online purchases.

According to GameStation, around 7,500 customers carelessly signed their souls away on the day. Were you one of them...?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Double Tap - The Comic!

I've just received an email from a girl who wants to do my book The Double Tap as a comic!

She's never done a comic before but she's sent me a couple of pages and I think they look great!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nightingale Video - Cool or What?

And just got a five-star review on Amazon!

Brilliant, 14 April 2010
By Vixx H "vixx811" (Cannock, Staffs) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)
This book is completely different to other Stephen Leather books but I have to say once you'd got your head around the occult aspect of the story it was brilliant. I could not put this book down and felt almost bereft when I had finished it. I'm not going to go into details about the story, I'll let you discover that for yourself. Give it a WILL be surpised!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

America's War On Terror Is A Joke - Official

There are times when I really despair of America.

Americans have made flying a totally unpleasant experience, with their 'no fly' lists and laws that prohibit me taking my favourite Snapple iced tea on planes. (I still fly with a hidden Kevlar knife, but that's another story!).

The Americans even refused to allow my daughter on a US-bound flight because her Bangkok-issued UK passport wasn't machine-readable. She was six at the time!

And yet these very same people who are scared of a six-year-old girl are not going to charge an Arab who sparked a major security alert on a US bound flight - including jet fighters being scrambled - an Arab who announced that he was trying to set fire to his shoes. And this very same Arab was on his way to meet am al-Qaeda agent. Eexplain that to me! I'm damn sure if I did that I'd be straight off to prison, but those wonderul Americans have just announced that the Arab won't be charged. Even if he was joking about setting fire to his shoes, jokes like that lead to prison for most people. And let's not forget that the moron was smoking in the toilet - which is a criminal offence.

Wonder if I should mention it next time I'm being given the third degree at a US airport by some minimum-wage jobsworth? Actually it won't happen because America has been off my list of places to visit for some years - it's just too much trouble!

Anyway, here's the story -

A Qatari diplomat who sparked a terror alert in the US after he was challenged for apparently smoking a cigarette in the lavatory on a US flight and joking that he was trying to light his shoes will not be charged.

Mr Madadi was on a flight from Reagan airport in Washington to Denver, around 1,200 miles to the west, at 6.45pm local time on Wednesday.

Air marshals on board United Flight 663 wrestled the 27-year-old Qatari to the floor and two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the plane. President Barack Obama was alerted as the fighters escorted the aeroplane, which was carrying 157 passengers and six crew members, to the ground in Denver, where it was surrounded by security services.
Mohamed al-Madadi, the third secretary and vice-consul of the Qatari embassy in Washington, was not charged with any offence, but will be sent home to Qatar, according to a senior US State Department official. Under international protocol, diplomats in foreign country enjoy broad imnmunity from prosecution.

"We fully expect this will be resolved very quickly," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said, adding that the US government was satisfied that the Qatari government is taking the matter seriously.

Officials said the man had gone to the lavatory to smoke. When questioned about smoke emerging from the toilets, he reportedly claimed he had diplomatic immunity and made sarcastic comments that he intended to set fire to his shoe.

The joke was an apparent reference to the 2001 “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, a British citizen who attempted to blow up a transatlantic jet with explosives hidden in his footwear.

The incident came a week after President Obama unveiled new security measures subjecting all inbound passengers to screening methods that use “real-time intelligence” to target potential threats.

The new measures were announced in the wake of the “underwear bomber”, Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of attempting to detonate explosives concealed in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day last year.

The new system replaced the mandatory screening of passengers from a “blacklist” of 14, mainly Muslim, countries.
But initial fears that the incident was a repeat of the attempted “shoe bomber” attack were quashed after it emerged that no
explosives had been found on the aeroplane.

A US security official later acknowledged to the US broadcaster ABC News that “it may have been a massive misunderstanding” because the shoe comment was “sarcastic”.

Mr Madadi, a relatively low-ranking diplomat who is responsible primarily for database management, was on a flight from Reagan airport in Washington to Denver, around 1,200 miles to the west, at 6.45pm local time on Wednesday.

With around 30 minutes of the trip remaining, Mr Madadi went to one of the lavatories on United Airlines flight 663.

One of the flight attendants smelled smoke and alerted an undercover air marshal on board.

The marshal and a colleague then challenged the diplomat, who reportedly “made a joke” about trying to set fire to his shoes, to the alarm of nearby passengers.

Mr Madadi was taken into custody by the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, and was questioned for several hours.

Last night it was reported that Mr Madadi was on his way to an official visit with an imprisoned al-Qaeda sleeper agent, Ali Al-Marri, who is a citizen of Qatar. Al-Marri is serving eight years after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to s
upport terrorism. Consular official frequently visit foreigners held in the US to make sure they are being treated well.

Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon

Almost done with Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon - very different from my other books. It's in the first person, shorter than my thrillers, and with a very distinctive voice. It also has an American hero!

As soon as it's done I'm ploughing straight into the new Spider Shepherd book. It never ends!

Anyway, here are the first two chapters of Bangkok Bob:


She was wearing a lurid Versace silk shirt, had a diamond-studded Rolex watch on her wrist, diamante Gucci sunglasses perched on top of her head and a Louis Vuitton handbag on her lap. She pretty much had all brand name bases covered but she still looked like a fifty-year-old woman with more money than taste. She had brought her large Mercedes to a stop next to a fruit stall and she wound down the passenger side window and waved a ring-encrusted hand at the fruit vendor. I was sitting behind her in a taxi that had only just managed to avoid slamming into her trunk.
The fruit vendor was also in her fifties but had clearly had a much harder life than the woman in the Mercedes. Her face was pockmarked with old acne scars and her stomach bulged against her stained apron as she weighed out mangoes for a young housewife. The fruit vendor pocketed the housewife’s money and waddled over to the car and bent down to listen to the woman, then nodded and hurried back to her stall. The driver tapped out a number on her cell phone and began an animated conversation.
‘Hi-so,’ said my taxi driver, pulling a face. He wound down his window, cleared his throat, and spat a stream of greenish phlegm into the street.
High society.
From a good family. But in Thailand being from a good family didn’t necessarily equate to good manners. The woman in the Mercedes almost certainly wasn’t aware of the dozen or so cars waiting patiently for her to get out of the way. And even if she was aware, she wouldn’t have cared. After all, she had the Mercedes and the diamond-encrusted Rolex and we didn’t so it really didn’t matter that she was holding us up. It was the natural order of things.
There was no point in getting upset. She would move when she was ready, and not before and there was nothing that I or the taxi driver could say or do that would change that. Acceptance was the only option.
The Thais have an expression for it.
Jai yen.
Cool heart.
Don’t worry.
Be happy.
I settled back in my seat and turned to the letters page of the Bangkok Post. A reader in Chiang Mai was complaining about the air quality. The farmers around the city were carrying out their annual field burnings and the mayor had warned the population to stay indoors with their windows closed. A Manchester City fan was bemoaning the fact that a former Prime Minister ousted in a military coup had been allowed to buy his team. A reader in Bangkok was complaining about his erratic cable television service. For many people Thailand was the Land Of Smiles, but the average Bangkok Post reader seemed to spend most of his time complaining about the state of the country.
The fruit vendor hurried over to the Mercedes with a bag of mangoes. She handed them through the window. The woman put her cell phone on the dashboard and then took the mangoes out of the bag one by one, sniffing them and squeezing them to check their ripeness. She rejected one, and the fruit vendor went back to her stall to replace it. The woman picked up her cell phone and resumed her conversation.
I twisted around in my seat. There were now two dozen cars behind us, and a bus. The air was shimmering with exhaust fumes.
Jai yen.
I went back to my paper. A tourist from Norway was complaining of the double pricing for foreigners at the Lumpini Boxing Stadium. Tourists paid up to ten times what locals were charged, she said, and that wasn’t fair. I smiled. Fairness wasn’t a concept that necessarily applied to Thailand, especially where foreigners were concerned.
The fruit vendor returned with a replacement mango. The woman smelled it, squeezed it, then put it into the carrier bag. She opened her Louis Vuitton handbag and took out a Prada purse and handed the vendor a red hundred baht note. The vendor zipped open the bag around her waist, slipped in the banknote and took out the woman’s change. The woman took the change, checked it, put the money into the Prada purse, put the purse into her handbag, placed it on the passenger seat and closed the window. I didn’t see her thank the fruit vendor, but that was par for the course for Thailand. Women who drove expensive imported cars did not generally say ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ at least not to fruit vendors. The window wound up, the woman checked her make-up in her driving mirror, then put the Mercedes into gear.
We were off.
Jai yen.
The taxi moved forward. The Mercedes lady was talking on her cell phone again. She indicated a right turn but then turned left on to Sukhumvit Road, oblivious to the motorcycle that narrowly missed slamming into her offside wing.
The traffic light turned red and the taxi jerked to a halt. There were two policemen sitting in the booth across the road from us. It was getting close to the end of the month which meant that the police were looking for any excuse to pull over motorists and either issue a ticket to meet their quota or collect some tea money to pay their minor wife’s rent. Bangkok’s traffic light system was perfectly capable of being co-ordinated by a multi-million pound computer system but more often than not the police would override it and do the changes manually, using walkie-talkies to liaise with their colleagues down the road. That meant that when a light turned red, you had no idea how long it would stay that way. Your fate lay in the hands of a man in a tight-fitting brown uniform with a gun on his hip.
Jai yen.
I went back to my paper. My taxi driver wound down his window and spat throatily into the street.
Just another day in Paradise.


Ying is a stunner. A little over five feet tall with waist-length glossy black high and cheekbones you could cut steel plate with, a trim waist and breasts that are, frankly, spectacular.
Whoa, hoss.
Stop right there.
I’m married and old enough to be her father.
And I’m her boss, hoss.
She looked over her shoulder and flashed her perfect white teeth at me as I walked into the shop.
My shop.
Dao-Nok Antiques. It’s sort of a pun on my name. Dao-Nok is Thai for turtle-bird and my name’s Turtledove. I’m not sure if anyone else gets it but it makes me smile.
Ying was carefully rolling bubble-wrap around a wooden Chinese screen that we were shipping to Belgium. ‘Good morning Khun Bob,’ she said.
Khun. It means mister, but it’s also a sign of respect. She respects me because I’m older than her and because I’m her boss.
‘You are late,’ she added, still smiling.
Not much respect there. But she wasn’t being critical, she was just stating a fact. I was normally in the shop by nine and it was now nine-thirty.
‘There was a mango queue,’ I said.
‘I see,’ she said, even though she didn’t.
‘All the way down Soi Thonglor.’
‘I told them you wouldn’t be long.’
‘I see,’ I said, even though I didn’t.
‘They’re waiting, in your office.’
I frowned. ‘And they would be…?’
‘An American couple. They need your help.’
There was a coffee maker by the cash register and I poured myself a cup and took it upstairs. The door to my office was open and my two visitors looked up, smiling hesitantly. He was a big man run to fat, in his mid to late forties. His wife was half his size with wispy blonde hair and probably five years younger. He pushed himself up out of his chair and offered me his hand. It was a big hand, almost square with the fingernails neatly-clipped, but it had no strength in it when we shook. ‘Jonathon Clare,’ he said in a mid-West Accent ‘This is my wife Isabelle.’
‘Nice to meet you, Mr Clare,’ I said. Mrs Clare smiled and offered me her hand. It was a child’s hand, milk-white skin with delicate fingers as brittle as porcelain. ‘Mrs Clare,’ I said, shaking her hand as carefully as possible. I went and sat behind my desk and flashed them a reassuring smile. ‘So how can I help you?’ I asked.
‘Matt Richards at the embassy said that you might be able to find our son,’ said Mr Clare, dropping back into his chair. It creaked under his weight.
I nodded. Matt Richards was an attaché at the US Embassy. He was an acquaintance rather than a friend, someone I bumped into from time to time on the cocktail party circuit. He was an affable enough guy but hard to get close to. I kind of figured he was a spook, CIA or maybe DEA. Whatever, he was cagey enough never to let his guard down with me and I never really cared enough to do any serious probing. It wasn’t the first time he’d sent along people who needed help that the embassy couldn’t – or wouldn’t - provide.
I picked up a pen and reached for a yellow legal pad. There were a whole host of questions that I’d need answering, but from experience I’d found that it was often better just to let them get it off their chests as quickly as possible. ‘I’m listening,’ I said.
Mr Clare looked across at his wife and she nodded at him with raised eyebrows. He was twice her size but I got the feeling that she was the one who ruled the roost in the Clare household. ‘We’re Mormons,’ he said, slowly. ‘From Salt Lake City. Utah. I’m telling you that because I want you to know that John Junior is a God-fearing boy who has honoured his mother and mother since the day he was born. He’s not a boy to go wandering off without telling us where he’s going and what he’s doing.’
Mr Clare reached inside his suit jacket and slid a colour photograph across the desk. I picked it up. It was a graduation photograph, John Junior grinning at the camera with an all-American smile, his wheat-coloured hair sticking out from under a mortarboard, his blue eyes gleaming with triumph, a diploma in his hand.
‘Second in his class,’ said Mr Clare proudly. ‘Scholarships all the way. A man couldn’t ask for a better son.’
‘The apple of our eye,’ said Mrs Clare, nodding in agreement.
‘How old is he?’ I asked.
‘Twenty one,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Twenty two next month,’ added his wife.
Mr Clare handed me a sheet of paper. ‘We have a photocopy of John Junior’s passport. We also told him to photocopy all his important documents. You can never be too careful.’
‘Indeed,’ I said.
‘We’ve already got his birthday present,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘A digital camera. State of the art.’
Mrs Clare reached over and held her husband’s hand. He smiled at her with tight lips.
‘And he’s in Thailand?’ I asked.
‘He came two months ago,’ said Mr Clare. ‘He wanted to take some time off before joining me in the family business. Janitorial supplies. Cleaning equipment. We’re one of the biggest in the state. There’s barely a hospital or school in Utah that doesn’t have our soap in its dispensers.’
I decided it was time to cut to the chase before I got the complete Clare family history. ‘And when was the last time you heard from John Junior?’ I asked.
‘Three weeks ago,’ said Mr Clare. ‘He phoned us every week. And wrote. Letters. Postcards.’
‘Do you have the letters?’
Mr Clare nodded and looked across at his wife. She clicked open a small black handbag and handed me half a dozen airmail envelopes. I put them down next to the photograph.
‘And since the phone call, you haven’t heard from him?’
The Clares shook their heads. ‘Not a word,’ said the father.
‘What sort of visa did he come on?’ I asked.
‘He was a tourist, but he said he was going to get a job teaching English,’ said Mr Clare.
I sat back in my chair. ‘I thought you said he was just taking a break before joining you in the family firm.’
‘He changed his mind. He said he’d fallen in love with the place.’
‘With the place? Or with someone?’
Mr Clare frowned. ‘What are getting at?’
‘He might have met a girl. Or a boy.’
‘Our son is not gay, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare, icily.
‘I met he could have teamed up with a guy he’d met. Maybe gone up country, trekking with the hill tribes. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in the jungle. Maybe he met a girl. Thailand is full of beautiful women.’
‘Our son is a virgin,’ Mrs Clare said. ‘He is a virgin and will be on his wedding day. He has promised us that.’
I tried not to smile but I figured that any red blooded twenty-two year old male would have a hard time clinging on to his virginity in Thailand.
‘I am serious, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘Our son believes in the bible as the word of our Lord. Besides, if he had met a girl, he would have told us. Our son tells us everything.’
‘How many children do you have?’ I asked.
‘Six,’ said Mr Clare. ‘Three girls. Three boys. John Juniors is the oldest.’
‘And has he been in touch with any of his siblings?’
Mr Clare’s brow furrowed. ‘I told you, he hasn’t been in touch since the last phone call.’
‘You said you hadn’t heard from him. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been in contact with his brothers and sisters.’
‘They would have told us,’ said Mr Clare. He folded his arms and sat back in his chair and glared at me as daring me to contradict him.
I doodled on the notepad. ‘How was your last conversation with John Junior?’ I asked.
His glare darkened. ‘Now what are you suggesting?’
I kept looking at the pad. The doodle was turning into an angel with spreading wings. ‘John Junior came out here on a holiday, then he calls you to say he wants to work here. He’s your eldest boy and you were expecting him to work in the family firm, so it must have come as a shock.’
‘A surprise, yes.’
‘So did you argue with him?’
‘We had an exchange of views.’
‘And you weren’t happy about his career change?’
Mr Clare tutted. ‘He wanted to throw away his education to live in the Third World, in a country which hasn’t even opened itself up to the Lord.’
‘It’s a Buddhist country, but there are Christians here. And churches.’
‘That’s not the point,’ said Mr Clare. ‘I didn’t want him throwing away the opportunities he had worked for.’
‘So you did argue?’
‘I don’t like what you’re suggesting,’ said Mr Clare. ‘You’re making it sound as if I chased him away. I didn’t, Mr Turtledove. We discussed his plans, and we agreed that he should give it a go. If he wanted to be a teacher, that was up to him. But yes, I made my feelings clear on the subject, of course I did.’
Mrs Clare patted her husband on the shoulder. ‘Teaching is noble occupation, and we told him so,’ she said. ‘We suggested that if he wanted to teach, he should come back to Utah. He said he wanted to teach in Thailand, for a while at least, and we gave him our blessing. We have also taught our children to follow their own path, but to use the Lord as their guide.’
‘When he said goodbye, he said he loved us and that he’d call again in a week,’ said Mr Clare. ‘That was the last we heard from him.’
I looked down at the doodle again. I’d drawn horns on the angel and I flipped over the page before the Clares could see what I’d done. ‘Do you have an address for him?’
‘He was staying at a hotel in Sukhumvit Road but when we spoke he told us that he was checking out and moving into an apartment. He said he’d write to us with the address.’
I asked him for the address of the hotel and wrote it down.
‘We’ve already been there,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘So have the police. He checked out, just as he said he did.’
‘You’ve spoken to the police?’
Mr Clare shook his head. ‘The embassy said they’d spoken to them. And checked all the hospitals.’
‘Did he tell you where he was going to be teaching?’
‘A small school, not far from his new apartment,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Did John Junior have any teaching qualifications?’ I asked.
Mrs Clare shook her head. ‘Not specifically,’ she said. ‘But he did help tutor at a local school some weekends.’
‘Did he mention anyone he’d met here? Any friends?’
‘No one specifically,’ said Mr Clare.
‘Do you think you can find our son, Mr Turtledove?’ asked Mrs Clare, her hands fiddling in her lap.
‘I’ll do my best,’ I said, and I meant it.
She looked at me earnestly, hoping for more information and I smiled as reassuringly as I could. I wanted to tell her that doing my best was all I could promise, that whether or not I found him would be as much down to luck and fate as to the amount of effort I put into it. I wanted to explain what it was like in Thailand, but there was no easy way to put it into words and if I did try to explain then they’d think that I was a few cards short of a full deck. When a crime takes place in the West, more often than not it’s solved by meat and potatoes police work. The police gather evidence, speak to witnesses, identify a suspect and, hopefully, arrest him. In Thailand, the police generally have a pretty good idea of who has committed a crime and then they work backwards to get the evidence to convict him. Or if the perpetrator has enough money or connections to buy himself out of trouble, then they look for evidence to convict someone else. The end result is the same, but the approach is totally different. What I really wanted to tell Mr and Mrs Clare that the best way of finding where John Junior had gone would be to find out where he was and if that sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland, then welcome to Thailand. But I didn’t. I just kept on smiling reassuringly.
‘Do you think we should stay in Bangkok?’ asked Mr Clare.
I shrugged. ‘That’s up to you. But I can’t offer any guarantees of how long it could take. I might be lucky and find him after a couple of phone calls. Or I might still be looking for him in two months.’
‘It’s just that my cousin Jeb is minding the shop, and when the good Lord was handing out business acumen, Jeb was standing at the back of the queue playing with his Gameboy.’ He held up his hands. ‘Not that money’s an issue, it’s not. But Mr Richards said there wasn’t much that Mrs Clare and I could do ourselves, not being able to speak the language and all.’
I nodded sympathetically. ‘He’s probably right. You’d only be a day away if you were back in Utah. As soon as I found anything, I’d call you.’
‘God bless you, Mr Turtledove,’ said Mrs Clare, and she reached over and patted the back of my hand. She looked into my eyes with such intensity that for a moment I believed that a blessing from her might actually count for something.
‘I would say one thing, just to put your minds at rest,’ I said. ‘If anything really bad had happened, the police would probably know about it and Matt would have been informed. And if he’d been robbed, his credit card would have been used, here or elsewhere in the world. If it had been theft, they wouldn’t have thrown the card away.’
‘You’re saying you don’t think that he’s dead, that’s what you’re saying?’ said Mrs Clare.
I nodded and looked into her eyes and tried to make it look as if my opinion might actually count for something.
Her husband was leaning forward, his eyes narrowing as if he had the start of a headache. He looked like a man who had something on his mind.
‘Is there something else, Mr Clare? Something worrying you?’
He looked over at his wife and she flashed him a quick, uncomfortable smile. Yes, there was something else, something that was painful that they didn’t want to talk about.
‘We read something in the paper, about a fire,’ said Mr Clare. ‘In a nightclub.’
‘John Junior wouldn’t be in a nightclub,’ said his wife, quickly.
Too quickly.
The nightclub they were talking about was the Kube. Two hundred and eighteen people had died. A lot had been foreigners. Most of the bodies still hadn’t been identified.
I nodded and tried to look reassuring. ‘That was last week,’ I said.
‘We wondered…’ said Mr Clare. ‘We thought…’ He shuddered and Mrs Clare reached over to hold his hand.
‘John Junior doesn’t go to nightclubs,’ said Mrs Clare. ‘He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t like the music.’
‘If…’ said Mr Clare, but then he winced as if he didn’t want to finish the sentence. I tried an even more reassuring smile to see if that would help. To my surprise, it did. ‘If John Junior was by any chance involved… in the fire.’ He rubbed his face with both hands. ‘Would they tell us? Would they even know? They said that the bodies..’ He shuddered.
Burnt beyond recognition. That’s what they’d said.
The more salacious Thai newspapers had run pictures of the aftermath of the fire and it wasn’t pretty. I could see why the Clares wouldn’t want to talk about the possibility of their son being among the dead.
‘I really don’t think that’s likely,’ I said, and I meant it.
‘But they haven’t identified all the bodies,’ said Mr Clare, happier to talk about it now that I’d downplayed it as a possibility. ‘And there were a lot of foreigners. More than fifty they said in the Tribune.’
‘That’s true. But there are other considerations.’
‘Considerations?’ echoed Mrs Clare.
‘If John Junior had been living in Bangkok and had been in the nightclub, his friends would have noticed. Or the people he lived with. Or the people he worked with. Some one would have realised that he wasn’t around.’
‘That’s what I said,’ said Mr Clare, nodding. He patted his wife’s hand. ‘That’s exactly what I said.’ He flashed a tight smile at me as if to thank me for the reassurance. ‘But you will check, right?’
‘Of course I will.’
‘And how much do you charge?’ asked Mr Clare.
‘That’s difficult to say,’ I said. ‘I’m not a private detective, I don’t charge by the hour.’
‘You sell antiques, Mr Richards said,’ said Mrs Clare.
‘That’s my main business, but I’ve been here for almost fifteen years so I have a fair idea of how the place works. I’ll ask around and I can try a few leads that the police wouldn’t necessarily think of.’
‘He said you used to be a police officer.’
‘In another life,’ I said.
‘In the States?’
I smiled thinly. ‘It’s not something I talk about, much.’
Hardly at all, in fact. Too many bad memories.
‘I understand,’ said Mr Clare. ‘Mr Richards said you were a good man. And reliable.’
‘That was nice of him,’ I said, though I figured what Matt Richards was really doing was getting the Clares out of his hair as quickly as possible. ‘I’ll start by making a few calls, see if I can find out where he was planning to live and work, and take it from there. I’d expect you to cover any expenses, and then when I’ve finished I’ll let you know how much work I’ve done and you can pay me what you think that’s worth.’
‘That’s a strange way of doing business, Mr Turtledove.’
‘It’s a strange country, Mr Clare. But things have a way of working out for the best here.’

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Offering Free Advice

It’s a funny old job, being a writer. I can’t think of any other profession where complete strangers will write in asking for help and advice and expect to get it for nothing.

The internet is to blame of course – the fact that we have websites and Facebook pages means that getting in touch is now a simple matter of knocking out an email, it’s easy to do and doesn’t cost anything.

In the old days of snail mail, contacting an author meant writing a letter, getting a stamp and posting it, and I guess most people couldn’t be bothered. Now, like most authors, I get emails every day.

It’s great to get emails telling me how much pleasure my books have given, or asking when the new one is out (though that info, like the answers to most questions I get, is on my website).

But what I find strange is the fact that so many complete strangers write in asking for advice, or even worse asking me to read their work.

Say your golf swing isn’t great, do you email Tiger Woods and ask him what you should do? Your chicken soup doesn’t taste as good as it should, do you send some to Gordon Ramsay and ask him if it needs more salt? You didn’t understand the plot of Avatar – do you email James Cameron for an explanation? Of course not. And if you’re feeling unwell, do you email a doctor you’ve never met for advice? No, you visit your GP.

So why do wannabe writers expect professional writers to offer free advice and help? It’s a complete mystery to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to offer advice but I do that on my website where there are pages and pages of advice on writing and getting published. Yet it doesn't seem to be enough for some people.

A few years back I got an email from a woman who wanted me to read her novel and give her notes on it. I said sure, but it would take me a week and my fee would be £2,000. She wrote back saying she was a single mother (sadly it wasn’t JK Rowling!) and couldn’t afford it. Why one earth would she expect me to work for free? Do you think if I’d asked her to come and clean my house for free she would have done?

I guess people don’t appreciate how hard it is to be a writer and how much work is involved. As we speak I am trying to write one book (Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon), waiting to edit another (Midnight – the new Jack Nightingale book) and plotting a third (the new Spider Shepherd book, which I have to finish by September). Plus I have half a dozen books that I want to read. Plus I am helping my daughter revise for her SATs. So when an email from a complete stranger drops into my inbox asking for help, what am I supposed to do? Drop everything and help someone I have never met? But if I ignore the email then I’m accused of rudeness or of being unapproachable.

The worst sort of emails are from people I have never met asking me to read their work. Why would I want to do that? What possible advantage is there to me in spending seven or eight hours reading a book written by an amateur? I barely have enough time to read the books that I want to read – why would I drop everything to read the work of a complete stranger? My time is too valuable to waste on reading something which is almost certainly rubbish. I know that sounds harsh but I’m afraid it’s true. My publisher Hodder and Stoughton has stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts because there were so few decent ones being sent in. They could read a thousand manuscripts and not find one worth publishing. So statistically there is very little chance of me being sent a book that has any merit at all.

I really don’t get why people think that writers would read their work. If they wrote a song would they send it to David Bowie and ask him for his opinion (and help)? If they painted a picture, would they send it to Damien Hirst for advice on their brushwork? Of course not. Yet I am constantly being asked to read a just-written novel. I always say no and I think every other writer would do the same. Why? For a start, life is too short and I don’t have enough time to read the books that I want to read. But the main reason refusing is because if it contained a good idea I would probably use it myself. I just would. That’s my nature. So I would then be accused of plagiarism and rather than risk that it’s just better not to read anyone’s unpublished work. And I do say that clearly on my website!

I understand that people starting their writing careers need advice. But I don’t understand why they think that other writers should offer help and advice for free. Is there any other profession where people work for no payment? I am in the process of having covers designed for some of my unpublished books – do I expect to get that for free? No, I pay. And when I have work done on my websites, I pay. I also pay my plumber, my builder and my decorator. No one does anything for me for free. So why do complete strangers ask me for advice and expect me to do it for free? Do they think that my time and experience has no value?

So what sparked this train of thought? The following email just arrived -

Hi Stephen,

How are you doing? I wrote to you once before, late last year I think. I was really glad that you wrote back to be honest. It gave me a bit of a push to get my novel done. It's still a long way off but I finally have a plot I'm happy with and characters that I want to develop further. So, thanks for that! I went through a bit of a slump, where I temporarily lost all interest but I'm over it now.

The main reason I decided to get in touch again was that I needed a little more advice. How do you go about linking multiple plots. In your Dan Shepherd books, especially Soft Target and Dead Men (which I read last week and loved, halfway through Live Fire at the moment), you seem to have a good knack for juggling several plots. Can you offer any tips or advice on how you do it? My novel has two main plots and I'm having trouble linking them effectively.

Any tips you can offer would be greatly appreciated. By the way, are you okay with me getting in touch again if I need any more advice?

Have a great Easter and I can't wait for the next Spider novel!


So, how am I supposed to react? John’s question is every easy to ask but very difficult to answer. It would be like me asking a plasterer how he gets a smooth finish on his wall. The simple answer is that you do it for ten years and you get better and better. The more complex answer would be to try to teach someone to do it and I don’t know where you’d start. Or it would be like asking Lewis Hamilton how to go fast around corners. Maybe he could explain it to an amateur but to be honest the answer it that the ability comes from thousands of hours behind the wheel.

John’s email is chatty and says nice things about my work, so I feel I owe him a reply, but it’s such a hard question to answer. And where’s the benefit to me in spending the hour or so it would take to explain it if it’s only going to be read by him? So, I thought I’d reply through my blog so at least others can read it and it stays there for all time.

So how do you go about linking multiple plots? You write lots of books, John. A lot of books. I didn’t start using multiple plots really until The Vets, my fifth book. And even then it was really one main plot with several sub plots. You have to be able to work with one plot before you can start playing with several. You have to walk before you can run. If you’re going to paint ceilings for a living, you don’t start with the Sistine Chapel.

You don’t write multiple plots for the sake of it. You write them because they are good, strong plots and because there is some connection. You can’t take two plots and force them together. If you are doing that then you have two different books. John says he has two plots and is having trouble linking them effectively. That’s like saying you are painting a picture of a farm scene and are having trouble fitting in the tiger. If the two plots aren’t connected then they shouldn’t be in the same book.

You don’t start with two separate plots and try to link them. You start with the ending where the two plots collide and you work backwards from there. You have to know where you are going before you start.

As to how you write different plot threads, I always follow one thread until it gets boring, then switch to another plot in the middle of something exciting, then leave that when it gets boring. Hopefully that means that the reader is constantly driven forward by the story.

Okay, that’s enough free advice - I have work to do. This posting is more than 1,600 words which would have been four pages of my novel. See how much time this has cost me?

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Worst Amazon Review Ever!

I've just had the following one-star review posted on by a Mr R. J. Harbinson of Northern Ireland.

Total Rubbish, 1 April 2010

This review is from: Nightfall: v. 1 (Paperback)

This is the worst book I have ever read. As a fan of Mr Leather I was surprised to read of occult, witches, soul takers, satanists etc... Not his usual style and totally unbelievable. I have a rule that once started I always finish a book boy did I ever regret reading this rubbish. It has nothing to commend it.

If you're wondering how many of my books this 'fan' has reviewed, I have to tell you that the answer is none. Zero. The worst book he has ever read is the only one of mine that he has ever reviewed.

Sadly I have had to expel Mr R. J. Harbinson from my fan club and have asked him to return his membership card. And I have issued instructions to all booksellers in Northern Ireland that he is not to be allowed to buy any of my books in future....