Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Infernal Coalition: Amazement - and Retaliation

Tuesday 9 February 2010

When Alex pulled into his drive after his late return from London, he was puzzled to see that another car had just arrived ahead of him. It was clearly not Susie’s, and she had in any event mentioned ‘a quiet night in, working on a new project’ when he had called her from the railway station car park less than an hour earlier. He came to a halt behind the other car as the driver extinguished its headlights and opened the door. 

“Hello, Alex, I wondered if I’d find you in. Hope it’s not too late?”

To his further surprise, he realised it was Karen Rutherford. Although they had always been good friends and colleagues on political business in East Worcestershire, she had never visited him at home before.

“No, not at all.” By now Susie had opened the front door. “Come on in. You know Susie, don’t you?”

After Holly had enthusiastically introduced herself to Karen before retreating to her basket, and Alex had sorted out a round of drinks, they all sat down. It was evident that Karen was very much on edge.

“I thought I’d come and see you if I could, as soon as I’d got away from that pathetic charade of a meeting.” Alex realised that she was referring to the latest gathering of the constituency executive committee earlier that evening. “I’ve done something that I’m really ashamed of, and you’re probably one of the only people I can share it with.”

“Hang on a minute, though. You must know I’ve resigned.”

“You can say that again. It was one of the very first things that came up tonight. Not a word of thanks from Nicholson for your past service, just some underhand comment about leaving them in the lurch when there’s so much to do. Then he asks me if I’d step into your shoes and become Deputy Chairman Political.”

“That would be right up your street, wouldn’t it?” Susie chipped in.

“Maybe, but I said I wasn’t interested. It’s all part of the rest of it.”

Alex and Susie waited for Karen to continue. She took a deep breath and composed herself.

“Do you remember the question and answer session at the members’ meeting when we chose Martin Darby? Remember how everyone thought how good he was on all ten of the questions, when the others didn’t come across as anywhere near as skilful as him at thinking on their feet?”

The session was well familiar to Alex, if only for the manner in which it had effectively sealed the fate of one of the other candidates, Olwen Williams.

“Yes, I do. What about it?”

“He was primed. Those questions and answers were supposed to be unseen and unrehearsed, but he had full chapter and verse.”

“Primed?” Alex quickly thought back once more to the members’ meeting. It was plausible – but how? “Full chapter and verse? How do you know?”

It was obvious from the look of dismay on Karen’s face that she had a dark confession to make.

“Because it was me. I did the priming. I fed Darby every single question. That’s what I’m really ashamed of, now that this other business has come out.”

The further revelation left Alex and Susie completely lost for words. Karen continued, her composure evidently fully regained after she had unburdened herself of her secret. 

“You know I’ve been trying to get on the candidates’ list myself? I applied once about three years ago. I was turned down and told to get myself some more political experience before trying again. That’s when I first met that horrible man Marcus Haines.”

Alex nodded for Karen to continue.

“He recognised me when he came up for that first meeting, the one when they said they wouldn’t be putting you up to fill the last place.” Karen looked towards Susie and caught her full attention. “Right at the end, when we were all queuing to leave, he took me aside and asked me to go into the clerk’s room and explain to the candidates that they’d all be going through to the last round, and that I should wait there for him.”

“Yes, of course, he was standing on the door collecting in CVs.” Alex remembered the argument he had had with Nicholson before leaving, and did not add that Haines had not wholly discharged his duties.

“When he and Nicholson came in and found us all, he asked me to step outside for a quick chat, and asked me who I thought I liked the most. I said Darby and Kendall. He thanked me for that. Went on to tell me he could be in a position to give me a leg up for next time around, and we exchanged phone numbers. I nearly thought he was going to proposition me.”

“Interesting, but how does this involve Darby and the members’ questions?”

“Well, on the Wednesday night before the final selection meeting, he rang me. He said he’d like me to give Martin Darby a call to run through some possible questions for the meeting. I could just about work out what was going on. I asked him whether it was a good idea to be doing something like that, and he said that surely I’d appreciate it if I was in someone’s final shortlist. There was something sinister about the way he put it – almost as if I could kiss goodbye to any chances of my own to get on the candidates’ list if I didn’t play along.”

“I don’t believe it. Are you sure?” Alex was astounded to hear of yet another twist to the process that had led to the selection of East Worcestershire’s candidate.

“I wish I wasn’t. But I am. I was told to read out all ten questions, make notes on how he answered them, and report back to Haines on how Darby answered. That’s exactly what I did. It was really pathetic of me.”

“Well, isn’t that just great. He makes sure that his fingerprints aren’t anywhere to be seen, so it’s deniable, and your prospects of getting on the approved list are down the drain if you don’t play ball. Welcome to the political class – have a nice day.”

As Alex reached for his pint glass, Susie realised there was something else just as important, if not more so.

“So who fed the questions to Haines?”

Karen was the first to answer.

“Oh God. It could only have been Nicholson. He must have been in on it.” She seemed about to burst into tears as Susie put a comforting arm around her shoulder.
“Right, that does it.” Still holding Karen, Susie turned to Alex.....

* * * * *
So what happened next? What exactly did Susie's retaliation involve? There's only one way to find out. The links to the Amazon and Lulu pages to order a copy of Infernal Coalition are on the right. And if you're in need of a double fix of legal suspense, why not order a copy of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt too?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Infernal Coalition: Disbelief

Wednesday 13 January 2010

“Thank you all for attending this evening’s meeting. Before I explain the procedure that we will be following tonight, can I again confirm that the copies of the candidates’ CVs that you will have found on your chairs will be collected in, once the entire session is over.” 

By the time Alex made it to the meeting, most of the other committee members had already arrived, and it was clearly too late for him to stand any chance of a private word with Nicholson before the formal business began. The civic hall assembly room was not quite up to hosting the full gathering of the executive committee in any degree of comfort, and he could do little more than find a spare seat and bide his time. Nicholson was soon on his feet and clearly basking in his role in the spotlight.

“Once again, Marcus Haines from CCHQ is in attendance. The candidates are waiting in the clerk’s office, and they will each be called in turn to make a short presentation for no more than ten minutes, and then answer questions from the floor, again for no more than ten minutes. When they have all finished, we will have a discussion amongst ourselves, and decide who should be invited to address the membership next week. We are of course obliged to invite at least two of the candidates, and may invite all of them if we so wish.”

While Nicholson was explaining the process, Alex had done an initial speed reading exercise on the CVs with a growing sense of disbelief. Even allowing for his prior research online, it was surely going to be a near impossible task for the executive committee members to study the candidates’ written credentials in any detail, weigh them up, listen to what they each had to say for themselves and think of any pertinent questions, all in a time slot of twenty minutes per candidate, and then draw any meaningful conclusions.

Had he been recruiting even the lowliest paralegal or trainee for his firm, he thought, let alone making a high profile lateral hire, this would have called for a major investment of time and thought, so as not to risk selecting the wrong person and being left to nurse the consequences of a costly mistake. And yet this is how we are being asked to deal with the choice of a potential member of a legislative assembly, for what could be a well cushioned job for life, with powers to tax and regulate those who put the representative there? A choice that the members might never be able to review if the seat remained safe?

“The running order will be Alexandra Holt, Adrian Swan, Olwen Williams, Martin Darby, and finally Janine Kendall. I must explain that earlier today I was contacted by Howard Bailey, who informed me that he had been put through to the final round in Bristol South West, where he will be in competition with one other candidate, and he had therefore decided to withdraw from our own process. I will now invite Alexandra Holt…”

Alex was almost overwhelmed by astonishment. A last minute drop out – and they had still not given Susie the lifeline that was surely hers as of right? What on earth was going on? He raised his hand and would have interrupted Nicholson in mid flow, had he not been beaten to it.

“Mr Chairman, on a point of order.” It was Karen Rutherford, a keen local councillor who was probably twenty years younger than the average age of the executive committee membership, and who was gaining a reputation in the constituency for her fearless enthusiasm on local and national issues. She rose to her feet and raised her voice. “The list of successful applicants stated that Susie Harris was a reserve. This is, of course, Professor Susie Harris, the wife of our Deputy Chairman Political, Alex Harris. May I ask why she has not been invited to this meeting in place of Mr Bailey?”

Alex could barely hide his admiration for the force of the intervention, knowing that the questioner would only have been able to formulate it within moments after hearing the unexpected announcement. He gave Nicholson a piercing stare, awaiting an explanation. But Nicholson was oblivious to this as he nodded to Haines, who cleared his throat and waited for near silence to return.

“Mr Chairman, and members, the association rules make it clear that the extending of an invitation to a reserve in circumstances of this nature is discretionary, not mandatory. He or she has no automatic right to be fully shortlisted if a chosen candidate withdraws from the process.”

“Who exercised the discretion, then?” Rutherford was clearly not minded to give up easily. As Nicholson raised both hands and tried to wave her back into her seat, making it plain that he wanted closure, Haines pressed on in blissful ignorance of the gesture.

“I am informed that the selection sub-committee met earlier today and exercised their discretion against fully shortlisting Ms Harris, after a casting vote.”

“A casting vote?” Alex could contain himself no longer. He stood up, locked eyes with Nicholson and waited for an answer. So they had been deadlocked? And the chairman himself had put the knife in? “Would you mind explaining why?”

“The subject is closed.” Nicholson struck the table with a nearby water jug as if to distract attention from his pompous turn of phrase, having visibly reddened. “I’ll speak to you afterwards if you wish, Alex, but we must move on. Time is short.”

It was obvious to Alex that there was no point in protesting any further. The door had clearly banged shut on Susie’s short lived political career for once and for all, without any chance of it being reopened again after it had briefly come ajar. Alex gave Nicholson one final baleful glare before sitting down and turning to the first page in the stapled set of candidates’ CVs, as the first aspiring successor to Sir Walter Hough MP made her entrance.....
* * * * *
To follow: Amazement - and Retaliation.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Douglas Carswell - The End of Politics: A Review

“On the day the wall came down/The Ship of Fools had finally run aground…” Pink Floyd, A Great Day For Freedom (The Division Bell).

“Who can give them back their lives/And all those wasted years?/All those precious wasted years - Who will pay?” Rush, Heresy (Roll The Bones).

In the dying days of the last Labour government, Douglas Carswell MP invited his blog readers to suggest a subject for him to raise at Prime Minister’s Questions. To my pleasant surprise, he chose my question about ruling out UK participation in Greek bailouts. The PM fudged the answer, no doubt in the full knowledge that the political class would in due course contrive indirect UK participation whether the electorate liked it or not. Which just about said it all, so far as the attitude of Big Government towards the public at large is concerned.

It is therefore only right and proper that I return the favour with a review of “The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy”.

The first seven chapters cover “The End”. It is a fair portrayal of how and why our current political system is rotten to the core. To recall a phrase from the sixties, The Man in Whitehall still thinks he knows best. We are given many examples of how government grows by stealth, how it has to be seen to be doing something (think of projects like HS2, or NHSIT – beware of accidental transpositions with that one), and how it deliberately debauches the currency with quantitative easing and aims to inflate the ever growing debt away. Bad luck on savers and foreign travel lovers if your private pension turns out to be of Zimbabwean purchasing power and your holiday pound drops to parity with the Vietnamese Dong.

The political class are portrayed as knowing full well what they are doing, probably only wanting to be sure they see their time out before the consequences of their actions catch up. It is perhaps not surprising that one commentator has already suggested that in days gone by, someone from within who exposed the true nature of how we are overtaxed, overregulated, overgoverned, badly governed and governed by the wrong people (EU bureaucrats, the opinion forming elite etc) would probably have been burned at the stake.

So where are we to find hope? The second half, “The Birth”, suggests that the digital revolution will render the Big Government model obsolete, as choice displaces top down prescription. “A cultural revolution is coming that will unseat the constructivist elite”, it is suggested, where taxpayers decide to buy less prescribed government services, make more of their own decisions and keep more of their own money for this purpose, all aided by technology. Hmm. Without wishing to drift too deeply into a debate as to what state services are truly essential, we may wonder how much those taxpayers would voluntarily spend on some of the great functions of government that have emerged and then snowballed since the end of World War II. The health and safety industry? The discrimination industry? The financing of ambulance chasing claims handlers? The food and drink division of the nanny state?

It probably leads to a key issue not really addressed in the book, namely what if the political class refused to accept that the days of Big Government were over, that their system was wrecking not just wealth but lives too, and that they should give up and get out of the way, pausing only to start lowering taxes and deregulating. Would there be a soft landing or a crash, and how bad would any crash be? And would there be danger of a similar scenario from the two sets of rock lyrics with which I opened, whereby the initial euphoria at the collapse of East European communism quickly gave way to deep resentment at their former rulers after all those wasted years? Who would be burned at the stake (or even Ceausescued) then?

Hopefully the author’s conclusion, that our best days lie ahead and that we will be healthier, wealthier and happier in several generations’ time after Big Government has been laid to rest, will be borne out without too much of a crash. And perhaps the current Western political class would be spared the fate of many a former dictator, as long as they submitted to a course of Sackcloth, Ashes and Penance. Which provides me in conclusion with a neat way of promoting my own recent book, a political/legal suspense novel that probably has about as much underlying respect for the political class as The End Of Politics, expressed largely through the perception of an “ordinary person candidate” believing that the invitation to help clean up politics in the wake of the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal was meaningful and sincere…

Oh yes, before I forget. A resounding five stars for “The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy”.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Infernal Coalition: Despair

...Alex turned to his computer screen and called up the Seats and Candidates page of Conservative Home. He found the link to the A-List at the head of a list of constituencies and began his investigation.

Almost an hour later, he found himself in possession of far more information about the six shortlisted applicants than he could ever have expected to trace, but none the wiser as to how Susie could have found herself excluded in comparison to them all. He saved the summary that he had been typing and printed it off.

Howard Bailey. Small business owner, Bristol. Runner up, Bristol South East, 2005. In final six for one safe seat last year, and Bristol South West this year – still ongoing? Has written a number of articles about deregulation for small businesses.

Martin Darby. A-Lister. PR & marketing consultant, London. In final six for one marginal late last year and two safe seats in 2007. Appears close to a couple of Shadow Cabinet members.

Adrian Swan. Councillor and teacher at independent school in Coventry. No sign of him in any other shortlists. Known Eurosceptic contributor to ConHome discussion threads. Another ordinary people candidate? 

Alexandra Holt. A-Lister. Barrister (matrimonial law), London. In final six in three safe seats since 2006. Vociferous for reform of family courts.

Janine Kendall. Management consultant, Hertford. Might be same as Jan Kendall who fought a safe Inner London Labour seat in 2005. No sign of shortlisting this time around.

Olwen Williams. Farmer, Shropshire. Stood in hopeless South Wales mining seat in 2006 by-election. In final six for a safe seat earlier this year.

Six candidates, he thought. None of them a household name, and not a local connection to proclaim between them. Bailey and Swan could probably make it to the constituency via the motorways in a couple of hours if they put their foot down, but that’s as far as it goes.

What a farce. Do those three women really have anything that Susie doesn’t? Was this call for new blood candidates nothing more than window dressing?

By now it was almost 2.30 and Alex was in no frame of mind to revert to client work. Picking up his briefcase, he waved a goodbye to Sawdon who was on the phone, told the other partner Geoff Stokes he was leaving early, and made his way downstairs to the car park. At least he could be sure of sharing the bad news with Susie before anyone might break it to her first. His promise to respond to Bob Gill later that afternoon on his prospects of suing CCK TelSol was long forgotten.

To his surprise, Susie was already home, sitting in the study at the computer. It was obvious that she had been upset and angry for some time, and most unusually she was struggling for words as well as fighting back tears. Alex’s consoling hug could not have prepared him for what she finally said.

“What a tactless, two-faced, arrogant bastard.”


“Nicholson.” She could hold back the tears no longer as she waved her hand towards the screen and hurried out of the study. “Just read that.”

Alex did so and found himself looking at a circular email that had evidently been sent to almost two hundred addressees.

‘Dear Applicant

The selection process for the new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in East Worcestershire has now led to the drawing up of a shortlist of six applicants, to be submitted to the constituency’s executive committee in the immediate future.

Regrettably we were unable on this occasion to include you on this shortlist and will not therefore be taking your application any further.

I wish you well in your further applications.

Yours faithfully

Olivia Phillips
Organising Secretary
For and on behalf of Ashley Nicholson
Chairman, East Worcestershire Conservative Association.’ 

A wave of disbelief came over Alex as he opened his briefcase and extracted the copy email he had received from Nicholson earlier that day. He read the line ‘Reserve: Susan Harris’ again. And again. As Susie came back into the study, the tears almost gone but her anger no less obvious, he passed it over.

“I don’t understand. Why would you get a standard form brush off when I’ve just had this?”

Susie read it and shook her head in complete confusion when she reached the incongruous line that appeared to suggest that her new found ambitions had not been completely dashed.
“I can’t make it out either. I can’t work out whether it was an afterthought or something that was supposed to have been edited out...”

* * * * *
Previously posted: Hope. To follow: Disbelief, and Amazement - and Retaliation.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Infernal Coalition: Hope

Wednesday 2 December 2009

.....Hearing the phone replaced, Alex banished Gill and his dispute from his mind. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, when he would have had to disappoint a client for telling him what he needed to know rather than what he wanted to hear. Susie came into the kitchen and threw her arms around him.

“I’m on the approved list! They’ve even said I’m free to apply for any other Midlands seat!”

“That’s great. I’m really proud of you.” They chatted on for a few more minutes before it sunk in with Alex that their intentions need not remain secret any longer. “I suppose I’d better ring Ashley Nicholson and tell him there’s going to be a local candidate in the running.”

“And put your differences aside too?”
Susie’s question was as perceptive as ever. She had always suspected that the local party chairman, a lifelong resident of the county, had not been entirely pleased when Alex had become an officer in the association barely a year after they had moved from the Birmingham suburbs to a rural setting in the constituency. Although no other committee member had come forward to express any interest in taking on the role of Deputy Chairman Political ahead of Alex, Susie had long gained the impression that there was a needless element of factional strife between Nicholson’s closest allies and everyone else.

For his own part, Alex was aware that Nicholson had made a colossal amount of money from training and consultancy work in the fields of environmental health and hygiene, taking full advantage of the ever expanding consequences of European Union membership. Alex’s staunch belief that the UK would be better off out of the EU left him with little time or respect for those who profited from the European project at the expense of those burdened by its regulations.
“Up to a point, I guess. The day I become a Europhile will be the day hell freezes over.” Alex paused. “Of course, if you’re elected to Parliament, I’d better remember that a closed mouth gathers no foot.”

“That sounds just like Denis Thatcher.” Susie let the comment, laden with implication as she had intended, hang in the air as she headed upstairs. Having found the chairman’s number, Alex picked up the phone and made the call, and was soon through the inevitable opening round of small talk.

“OK, Ashley, that wasn’t why I rang. The reason for my call is to let you know that Susie has just been accepted onto the approved list of prospective Parliamentary candidates, and she’s put in her application to be shortlisted for East Worcestershire. “

“Has she now? That’s very interesting. I can’t think that there’s any other local candidate likely to apply.”

Nicholson did not expand. Alex noted with a brief touch of curiosity that he had expressed no obvious enthusiasm on hearing the news.
“So I think it’s only right and proper that I stand down as Deputy Chairman Political on a temporary basis after Friday’s meeting, until the selection procedure is over. Presumably there’s no problem then if we put the word around that Susie’s applying?”

“I think that you can leave that to me. You’ll have heard that CCHQ are sending a rep along to the meeting on Friday, to give us the complete low down on how the process works. One of the tasks we’ll be faced with then is forming a selection sub-committee of six. You’re welcome to come along to the meeting, but clearly you can’t properly be on the sub-committee, and it’s probably a good idea if you do stand down as DCP afterwards. Only temporarily, of course.”

“Not a problem.” There was something in Nicholson’s tone of voice that left Alex feeling patronised, but he let it ride. They soon finished their discussion.

“How did he take it?” Susie had returned, holding an Ordnance Survey map.

“Difficult to tell. Same as ever with him, of course. Still, I’d find it hard to believe that the local executive won’t give you their full support. Let’s hope he falls into line. They surely wouldn’t want a complete nobody ahead of a local. And most of the real stars from the A-List would surely have been selected for vacant seats by now.”

Susie spread the map out across the kitchen table. She was well aware of the party hierarchy’s decision to create an A-List, an elite group of preferred candidates whose entry into Parliament was considered to be particularly desirable, and how badly this had gone down with ordinary members once it had been uncovered. The recent call, in the face of the expenses scandal, for a new type of candidate to come forward had been a welcome contrast. 

“Right then, let’s start going over these towns and villages. We know the area and the local issues far better than London A-Listers who make the same pitch to every constituency they apply for....."

* * * * *

To follow: Despair, Disbelief, and Amazement - and Retaliation.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Now Available: Infernal Coalition

"Bloody hell."

"What's wrong?"

"The Warthog's had a change of mind. He's standing down."

It was only natural that the unexpected decision of Sir Walter Hough MP to retire from the House of Commons at the 2010 General Election, and to vacate the safe East Worcestershire seat he had held for 35 years, would lead to a great deal of interest from potential successors. Including Professor Susie Harris, inspired by the rallying call for ordinary voters to come forward as Tory candidates and help clean up politics in the aftermath of the expenses scandal.

But was her initial welcome only skin deep? And how far would her new found political interest be affected by a client of her solicitor husband Alex trying simultaneously to defraud his firm?

Infernal Coalition. A legal/political suspense. Available via Kindle Direct and Lulu (links on the right). Read the Prologue above.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Nice Morning Drive (not forgetting the afternoon)

Wednesday 5 September
The journey to Las Vegas from Palm Springs may have been in a black Mustang rather than a Red Barchetta, but the grateful anticipation was still partly attributable to Neil Peart. My holiday reading for this flydrive in Arizona and California had included Far And Away, the latest collection of travelogues from the Rush lyricist and drummer, and the two day adjournment from the driving in San Diego had coincided with his recollection of the Amboy Crater and nearby ghost town on Route 66. An ideal point of interest after the initial drive through the Joshua Tree National Park, so it appeared.
A week previously, the temperature had hit 108 as the Mustang – or should that be the horse with no name? - had taken us through the deserts of south east Arizona. The old Wild West town of Tombstone and its well preserved period saloons, notably Big Nose Kate’s and the welcome beer and sandwiches, brought back some distant memories from fifteen years earlier, while the real gem had to be the Apache Trail, somehow managing to combine a deserted mining town, a mini Grand Canyon and the excellent Superstition Saloon on the valley floor all into one. It certainly felt good to be out of the rain of another washed out English summer.
Palm Springs had been uplifting in many ways, with two coming to mind above all. The first, the aerial tramway whose destination was the near tundra summit of the Mt San Jacinto Park. The second, Marilyn Monroe’s skirt, preserved in Seven Year Itch fashion in the form of the 26 foot tall statue that had formerly been in residence in Chicago and was now gracing the square opposite Starbucks. No, this is one place where a “sheltering from the rain” excuse is always going to fall on stony ground.
But back to the road. First up, a stretch due east out of the town on the 111, past the hideouts of the seriously rich, their well watered green lawns defying the desert. Shortly followed by a cruise down Interstate 10, foregoing the privilege of a pilgrimage to nearby Mecca (that’s Mecca, CA, population 8,577), in search of the southern Joshua Tree NP entrance.
It took a while to find the first outcrop of Joshua Tree cacti from this direction, even though there were many other by now familiar species of cactus amid the rocks. Anyone not familiar with the Cholla (“Choy-a”) would be in for a nasty surprise if tempted by their soft cuddly toy appearance to go closer than common sense dictated. Let’s just say that “the thorn is quicker than the thigh” is considered to be an entirely well founded warning. The Joshua Trees themselves, towering twelve feet high with the outstretched arms that led to their Biblical name, are a real sight, all the more so for their rarity.
A brief stop in Twentynine Palms suggested that this small town on the northern border of the park ought to be commemorated just as much for the Mexican food at Edchadas as for Robert Plant’s song from Fate of Nations. Feeling the heat of its desert heart, and with the horse straining against its bridle in pursuit of the Mother Road, an hour’s charge northbound up what was on that day effectively a private drive soon reached a T-junction where the ghost town of Amboy lay.
The Amboy Crater itself might have justified a walk to the rim, were it not for the heat and the deceptive distance ahead – what seemed like a couple of hundred yards could easily have become a mile before it was too late to turn back – so Roy’s Garage, a near deserted classic filling station half a mile eastbound, was clearly a better bet. To say nothing of the abandoned motel next door. And with skins having turned well red by now, we were looking at a motel bed, where the story it told of the motel that thrived made us sad (OK, guess the rest). Just as sad as would have been the case if the group of German bikers, gathered round the gas pumps and obliviously smoking alongside their machines, had accelerated the demise of Roy’s with a discarded butt. It was indeed time to butt out rather than butt in on them.
Contrarian as it may be to really let rip along Route 66 eastbound, this was just what the beast wanted. A drive just as exhilarating as the Seligman to Kingman stretch two years previously from which I still nursed fond memories. Wind in my hair, shifting and drifting, mechanical music, adrenalin surge…
Hang on, what was that about adrenalin surge? Around 10 miles before Route 66 ran out, there were the unmistakeable signs of a storm brewing to the north. And not just thunderclouds. An ever increasing number of lightning bolts coming down on our left and – a little scarily – ahead. Not that there was any point in turning back, of course, when Las Vegas beckoned with no other civilisation in striking (sic) distance and when stopping to let it pass (no shelter, just wide open desert) may well have been just as risky. With the odds and effect of a lightning strike on the car pushed into a distant mental recess for quiet reflection, the choice of flooring it may have been a bit reckless, but…
And suddenly it had passed, the lightning bolts receding into the distance as a brief stretch of Interstate 40 gave way to the roller coaster of Highway 95, whose lumps and bumps amid a crawling queue on the single lane out of California gave way to a spanking new 3 lane race track as the border into Nevada was crossed. There’s a message here somewhere.
The time had come to let the horse run free, because the desert had turned to a sea of neon light, air conditioning and the tidal wave of human hearts prevailing over heads in the casinos. Leaving one final thought. If only driving in the UK could bring even a fraction of the pleasure it gives in the USA.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Coming Soon: Sackcloth Ashes & Penance - a new legal/political suspense novel

I am going to make a bold claim for Sackcloth, Ashes & Penance, which I anticipate publishing via Kindle Direct and Lulu in the immediate future. Unless I am very much mistaken, I believe that it will be the first novel to be set against the actual events of the 2010 UK General Election and what preceded it and followed it. Remember Bigotgate, I Agree With Nick, a hung Parliament, a coalition and a short lived cabinet career? And what about a quest for candidates that began with an A-List and moved onto a call for ordinary people to come forward, in the face of the Great Parliamentary Expenses Scandal?

Not that I am abandoning the legal suspense thriller genre altogether. As Professor Susie Harris discovers a political calling, solicitor Alex Harris finds out the hard way that his new commercial client’s claim is nothing more than an elaborate scam. And that he himself is the intended victim. And little by little, as they both fight back, their predicaments converge – and collide.

Interested? Check out the Prologue above. The cover and the back cover text are on the right.

(Update, May 2014: I have now retitled the book Infernal Coalition after a minor revision.)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Rush - Clockwork Angels: A Review from the UK

It will go without saying that I was eagerly awaiting Clockwork Angels. Thirty two years a Rush follower, with Moving Pictures probably my all time favourite album, and I could hardly have said anything different.

Highlights from first few plays? Tricky one. It’s the perennial problem of only being able to find the time to listen to a new album on the road. The overall quality stood out a mile, a well thought out blend of traditional and modern. One particular passage of fast driving rock from “Headlong Flight” reminded me of By Tor And The Snow Dog – and that’s a 37 year old song. “Caravan” was familiar as a new song first played on the previous UK tour.

But what of the report that this was a concept album? No way to work this out when behind the wheel of my car. I had to find the time for a throwback to days gone by, when I would make a serious effort to sit down with the lyrics and the CD player and avoid all other distractions (save for the Chilean chardonnay)…

And then it suddenly all fell into place. The independent free thinking central character who has been brought up to believe (BU2B) in the received wisdom of the Watchmaker makes his mind up to leave his village behind and see it for himself. He evidently finds Chronos Square and the Clockwork Angels not entirely to his liking – yes, I was recalling 2112 by now, a definite echo of the Temples of Syrinx.

So off he goes on his further travels after the Anarchist’s rhetorical question “What do you lack?” The passing encounter with the travelling circus is partly related through a gem of a ballad in the form of “Halo Effect”, a prelude to the harder sound of the following triplet “Seven Cities Of Gold”, “The Wreckers” and the By-Tor echo of “Headlong Flight”. Back off the travels to the philosophical “Wish Them Well” – if only it was that easy to address personal demons that way – and a return home to tend the garden (literally) in the final song. A distinctly happier ending than 2112 – no threat of the Clockwork Angels announcing that they had assumed control here – but certainly not one that detracts from the overall force and quality of the album. The UK tour next May will be eagerly awaited.

And the most noteworthy lyric from Neil Peart this time around? Close call, but I’d give that prize to a line from The Anarchist: “A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage.”

Rush – Clockwork Angels. An overwhelming five stars.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Orangeberry Summer Splash: Guest Post - Bob Mitchley

Today I am delighted to be hosting a Ford 99 post from Bob Mitchley, author of "Interview with a Prankster": -

'Martha: “Most of Zeke’s character flaws stem from his father’s side, how, when he was only two years old, his dad would lock him out of the house during the day, putting him in the fenced-in area of the backyard. Zeke had to scrounge for food in the garbage can and go to the bathroom in the garage. Poor kid. I wanted to help. So after the accident happened with his dad, I assumed mothership control over little Zeke.

“What a boy! All boy! I remember this one escapade. Zeke happened on a crippled bird, nursed it back to health, and then took it out of its cage, tying a fishing line around its one leg and setting it free. On the other end was Zeke holding a fishing rod and reel. The bird flew, but wasn’t totally free. He let the bird fly out a ways and then reeled it back. Back and forth this went for a while, until the bird got so tired it couldn’t fly anymore. Finally, he let the bird rest a short time and then once more let it fly, right up into a high tree limb, where it became entangled. Zeke pulled on the line ’til it snapped, leaving the bird there to die. Bird on a line was what he called it. Poor little thing flapped itself silly trying to get free.'

As the author summarises IWAP: "Have you ever felt like this overwhelmed with condemnation? Or maybe you're angry at yourself and the world, not even knowing the root cause or how to deal with it all. In Bob Mitchley's collection of shocking short stories, Interview with a Prankster and Other Shock Stories, you'll discover a man who learned to deal with his own demons the only way he knew how."

Monday, 13 August 2012

Orangeberry Summer Splash: Due Praise

For my Guest Post: We Fancy Books

"It all started with John Locke. Not the philosopher, nor the Lost character. The American author who had almost single handedly turned the world of fiction writing on its head, by taking advantage of yet another way in which the internet had transformed people’s lives for the better. E-publishing....."

For my Book Feature (scroll down): Peace from Pieces

"Injustice. Treachery. Sabotage. Called upon to defend an acrimonious libel action on behalf of an important newspaper client, newly appointed law firm partner Alex Harris never once expected to find his efforts impeded by wanton disregard for ethics and blatant self interest that crossed all boundaries. Not only on the part of his opponents, but also those he should have been able to trust implicitly and without question..."

For my Ford 99: Mommy Adventures

"To have described Thursday 11th March as simply One Of Those Days for solicitor Alex Harris would have been a woeful understatement.

With his newspaper clients’ libel trial only days away, he realises just how dirty a fight his opponents intend to contest, as they pull a last minute rabbit out of the hat in the form of printed apologies to past libel victims that Bill Holroyd, the editor, had been compelled to publish in days gone by. Apologies that are now to feature in the documents bundle that will be placed before the judge and jury, in the hope of poisoning their minds against the editor, regardless of the fact that he was then in charge of a downmarket tabloid, not the same newspaper that is now on trial.

Thinking on his feet, Alex finds a counter-measure to demonstrate that whenever Holroyd decided in his past editorial role to stand firm against a libel allegation and go to trial, he was never defeated. Little did Alex know that this would not be the last dirty trick…"

For my Author Interview: Bunny's Review.

How did you know you should become an author? Creativity with words has always fascinated me. Ever since childhood I have parodied song lyrics, and this developed into general satire in student days when classics, law and Private Eye all came together. Having moved through experiments in travel writing and scambaiting (see below), I dusted off the plot for my long forgotten novel ‘Hatred, Ridicule & Contempt’ when the e-publishing boom took off.

Who are your favorite authors of all time? Robert Goddard. Bill Bryson. Tom Clancy. Michael Crichton. Glenn Cooper.

Who or what inspired you to become an author? A major unforeseen professional affront.

How did you celebrate the sale of your first book? Took my wife out for a pub lunch.

Favourite music? All time favourite for over 30 years and still going, Rush. In general, British and American rock, 60s to 80s, but my mind is not closed to modern musicians of any type who write their own material and can perform it live without lip synching or other deceit.....

Not forgetting Pandora for the Twitter Blast.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Alliterative Duals: another Orangeberry Summer Splash feature

"Lamenting libel law losers launch lifeline. Partners' petty politics prove paranoid" - Hatred Ridicule & Contempt.

The challenge to summarise a book in 20 words or fewer is not unusual. But I would venture to suggest that the Alliterative Dual - a variation on this challenge to do so in two sentences using alternative alliteration - is entirely original. It might, of course, be entirely pointless too. But I will gladly take the risk in support of the worthy cause that goes by the name of the Orangeberry Summer Splash. Especially as some fellow participants have already provided encouragement and summaries of their own: -

"Gregarious girly girl gives gratitude, giggles, galpal gifts. Fashions funny focus for family, friends, future." Kim Dalferes, I Was In Love With A Short Man Once.

"Travel to transcend turmoil, techniques to transform thinking. Affirmations abound, abundantly authentic!" Keri Nola, A Year On Your Path To Growth.

"Mighty Magnus manages mishaps magnificently. Seemingly saves something, sometime." Jonathan Gould, Magnus Opum.

"Colorful characters careen carelessly, cheering coming century." Dawn Deanna Wilson, Ten Thousand New Years' Eves.

And another Pandora tribute from Kim to finish: "Orangeberry offers outstanding out-of-the-ordinary opportunities. Witty writers wistfully word-smithing wonderful works."

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Another Lulu Discount for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt

...until Friday 10th August. Just click here for the link. Just what we need when the Orangeberry Summer Splash is in full flow.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Orangeberry Summer Splash: Author Interview with Marilyn Holdsworth

Today I am delighted to be hosting an interview with Marilyn Holdsworth, author of Pegasus, her featured work for the Orangeberry Summer Splash.

If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future?
The future.

If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would you choose?
Robert Redford, Warren Buffett, Prince William, Stephen Hawking, J. K. Rowling.

If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you want with you?
Toilet paper, sunglasses and books.

What is one book everyone should read?
The King James Bible.

If you were a superhero what would your name be?
The Bionic Woman.

If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
Mind Reading.

If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?
Winston Churchill.

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Blueberry muffin.

Night owl, or early bird?
Early bird.

One food you would never eat?

Pet Peeves?
High taxes, lack of consistency in women's sizes of clothes.

Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.
You will be entertained, while learning something new.

Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?
I am finalizing my new novel, Making Wishes. I am writing another.

What inspired you to want to become a writer?
It was a childhood dream.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Being able to hold my legacy in my hand.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?
Black Beauty

What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?
Don't show your work to anyone until it is finished.

If you could be one of the Greek Gods, which would it be and why?
Zeus. He was the boss.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Southern California.

What is your favorite Quote?
The block of granite that is an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong... Thomas Carlyle.

Who are your favorite authors of all time?
Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irving Stone.

Favorite Food?

If you were a bird, which one would you be?
A seagull, like Jonathan.

What do you do in your free time?
Work in the garden and read.

If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Author

What's your favorite season/weather?

Favorite places to travel?
New Zealand, Ireland, Portugal.

Favorite music?
Piano sonatas.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

More Haikus for the Orangeberry Summer Splash

Continuing from where I left off before: -

Gean Penny, The Lonely Chair The Story: -

Patches fill its cloth
Stories shared between those left
Lonely for Grandpa

PG Forte, Scent of the Roses: -

Scout's homeward bound
To a quirky little town
Where mysteries abound

Rebekah Webb, The Life And Times Of Car Johnson: -

Loser tries to make it big
Makes it odd instead
Cow fetus tea parties rock

Michelle Delisle, Winging It! (Angel In Training): -

Angel wings
Out of reach
For a little bit longer

Caddy Rowland, Gastien Part 1: The Cost Of The Dream: -
Dark drama
When Gastien arrives in Paris
To fulfill his dreams

Lynne Cantwell, Fissured: The Pipe Woman Chronicles #2: -

Jaguar comes between
Naomi, Joseph, Shannon
And Charlie gets fracked.

And finally a tribute for Pandora Poikilos from Kim Dalferes: -

Haiku fun
The Summer Splash comes
Waves of talent and Pandora bliss!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Orangeberry Summer Splash - in Haikus

How would I go about summing up Hatred Ridicule & Contempt in a Haiku? Like this: -

Libel action trial
Lawyer partnership turmoil
Who will win and lose?

How tempting, then, to take this a step further for the Orangeberry Summer Splash and invite fellow authors to write their own. Here are the first six: -

Donna Brown, Double Take Tales: -

Three tales with a twist
And a glimmer of bright hope
All have a message

Darlene Jones, Embattled: -

Burqas and beaches
Mysteries and miracles
Two lives. Two lovers

Keri Nola, A Year On Your Path To Growth: -

A year of growing
Authentically each step
Empower yourself

Marie-Anne Mancio, Whorticulture: -

Antebellum life
Choose friend, lover, whore, or wife
Whose lie is biggest?

Gean Penny, Bobby Jay: -

Patches fill its cloth
Stories shared between those left
Lonely for Grandpa

And finally for now, Kim Dalferes, I Was In Love With A Short Man Once: -

Crazy Southern Irish gal
Grows up to become?
Heartfelt smiles and fun.

More to follow, no doubt!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Lulu Discount for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt

Not far behind my recent price reduction for the paperback version of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt in its own right, thanks to a formatting change, Lulu are offering a further discount up to and including this Friday for anyone visiting their site and using the code SILVERUK .

Interesting to note that they are referring to "Olympic savings of epic proportions" either in oblivion to the petty activities of the O-word censorship police, or have decided that they could not care less about them?

The general Lulu link is here - the specific link to Hatred Ridicule & Contempt is here and on the right. Keep a look out for the Orangeberry Summer Splash too.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hatred Ridicule & Contempt: the Ford 99 Test

So what exactly, in the world of novel writing, is a Ford 99? The answer, a test for a new book devised by novelist Ford Madox Ford – read page 99 and let that be the guide to whether you wish to read more.

The Orangeberry Summer Splash has taken this a step further, inviting its author entrants to dissect page 99 of their books in pursuit of a positive answer to the question. Very ingenious. Here goes.
To have described Thursday 11th March as simply One Of Those Days for solicitor Alex Harris would have been a woeful understatement.
With his newspaper clients’ libel trial only days away, he realises just how dirty a fight his opponents intend to contest, as they pull a last minute rabbit out of the hat in the form of printed apologies to past libel victims that Bill Holroyd, the editor, had been compelled to publish in days gone by. Apologies that are now to feature in the documents bundle that will be placed before the judge and jury, in the hope of poisoning their minds against the editor, regardless of the fact that he was then in charge of a downmarket tabloid, not the same newspaper that is now on trial.
Thinking on his feet, Alex finds a counter-measure to demonstrate that whenever Holroyd decided in his past editorial role to stand firm against a libel allegation and go to trial, he was never defeated. Little did Alex know that this would not be the last dirty trick…
But the clients’ problems and Alex’s fightback on their behalf almost pale into insignificance alongside a sudden escalation of his firm’s internal political struggle. Breaking into his working day, by way of direct response to his defiance of a recent personal affront, a decision from the Management Committee to spark off a formal process that will put his status and his livelihood on the line. And all because of what?
Just at the wrong moment, in comes Stewart Robbins, Alex’s head of department, for a private word, evidently knowing about the Management Committee’s intentions and looking to play the part of some kind of honest broker. If ever a man was in the wrong place at the wrong time…
Page 99 is where what had been a steady build up of tension in Alex’s working life becomes a virtual torrent. There is no turning back. From this point onwards, it is evident that neither the libel trial nor the partnership conflict stand any chance of striking a happy medium and reaching an outcome where everyone involved can make a concession or two, resolve the disputes and feel that they have achieved something. They will both move remorselessly towards an outcome where there can only be one winner. And one loser.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Orangeberry Summer Splash: Check This Out

As a participant, it's understandable - and indeed only right and proper - that I should provide some well deserved publicity for the Orangeberry Summer Splash.

In the words of Pandora Poikilos, who is putting all of the hard work into organising the promotion: -

"As Orangeberry Book Tours reaches its 100th book tour, I will be organising a special mini book tour marathon, Orangeberry Summer Splash from 1st August to 31st August. The goal is to get 100 authors and 100 book blogs to participate in this campaign that is set to raise awareness for all participating authors and books."

Great idea. Check it out here.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Air Passenger Duty: A Fair Tax On Flying?

Time for a break from writing about writing. One particularly iniquitous stealth tax in the UK is Air Passenger Duty, the levy on passengers flying from a UK airport. What was once an irritating fleabite has become a festering wound for already hard pressed travellers, riddled with anomalies that hit flights to Caribbean islands – and in turn their tourist revenue - harder than flights to the USA. And the pretence that it was a necessary weapon in the fight against climate change (what, when a jet still takes off on schedule regardless of whether it is nearly full or nearly empty?) has long given way to the admission that it is a revenue raising measure, pure and simple, alongside other so-called sin taxes.

So I was only too pleased to follow the suggestion from A Fair Tax On Flying, to complete their standard form email for despatch to my local MP by way of protest. In the space for additional comments, I mentioned the Caribbean anomaly, and the fact that if long haul flyers hopped over to Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt for the bulk of their onward journey, their very understandable personal saving on APD would cause major damage to the UK aviation industry. (The latter point is not surprisingly recognised by the Dutch, who charge no APD.)

I suppose that I should not have expected anything more than a standard form response to a standard form email, but this one from my local MP (whose name I will withhold) really took the biscuit: -

“Thank you for contacting me about Air Passenger Duty.

“The Government inherited the highest structural budget deficit of any major economy in the world and the highest deficit in our peacetime history. The UK is paying over £120 million every day on debt interest payments alone. APD makes an important contribution to reducing the nation’s deficit and this must be taken into account.

“Last year the Government launched a consultation on APD to improve the fairness and efficiency of the system. Ministers recognise the importance of the aviation industry which is why the Budget in 2011 announced APD would be frozen for 2011-2 and the rise would take place this April instead. I do of course recognise the impact this tax has on the cost of family holidays, especially at a time when household spending is being stretched.

“To ensure fairness, Ministers have closed a loophole so that from April 2013, business jet passengers will also have to pay this tax.

“The reduction in the deficit, combined with the low interest rates this Government has secured, means that the UK is saving £36 billion in debt interest payments compared to our predecessors.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

In other words, the four paragraphs of any substance comprised (a) a plain admission that APD is a revenue raising measure, oblivious to the collateral damage it causes (b) a plea for credit for not doing wrong (via another increase) just yet (c) the citation of a loophole closure that has no impact on the burden of the average leisure traveller (d) a sweeping general plea for credit for deficit reduction. No recognition of the underlying iniquity of APD. And not a word of response to my specific issues.

I suppose I should at least be thankful that I was not reminded that we’re all in this together.