Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looking after Granddad.

My granddad, now long gone, was called Joe. When I was but a nipper of about six I was helping him clean out a cupboard when I spotted a small tin cracker box stuck away at the back. I dug the rusting container out from under several old magazines and presented it to him. He accepted it with an expression that puzzled me. I asked him what was wrong. His thick fingers worked their way under the rim of the lid and with much grunting and heaving he managed to open the box. Inside were coins from several foreign lands and perhaps six medals circa the second world war.
As a kid of six I was impressed by the fact that my Granddad had been a soldier and had been off to far flung corners of the world to fight our enemies. As a kid of six I was a complete and utter dumb ass who, knowing nothing of the real world, had formed the idea that all these medals were somehow cool. Joe had other ideas.
He picked a coin from the box, turning it over in his hand. It was a large bronze coin which was, I think, from Egypt.
'My mate (name withheld) gave me this.' he mumbled softly, 'He was dead in a ditch the day after. It's all I've got to remember him. It's all anybody's bloody got!'
He went through the rest of the contents, picking out each item and then almost throwing it back in. My young eyes flicked back and forth between the old tin and the old man. To me the two didn't seem to fit together, a box of military honours worthy of pride, and a derisive sneer on an old man's white whiskered face.
It turns out that Joe had 'seen a few things' to put it euphemistically and as far as he was concerned they were things that he'd much rather forget.
It's sadness upon sadness when we're forced to bury not just our friends but also our memory of them.
I am also ex military although thankfully I have been for the most part spared from 'seeing a few things'. I do however understand the need for remembrance. I see our elders solemnly marching shoulder to shoulder with medals abreast and I appreciate their sacrifice and inwardly I thank them for it, but is there a need for pride?
Isn't military pride just the shiny suit that sorrow wears when it steps out for the day?
There's a difference between war and violence. I have no problem with violence so long as it's personal. The urge to give battle to my enemies looms large within me. It's a part of every human being's deepest nature and I find that acceptable. We feel insulted, we feel anger, we retaliate.
War is different because there's no anger. It's a cold and considered act. A soldier is asked to kill a stranger and is dehumanised by it. If you're in a brawl in a pub and you knock the bastard out you don't then trot off and rape his family, whereas in war that kind of disgrace is all part of the show.
So am I anti war? Absolutely.
My granddad was damaged goods, and although he did the best he could to hide it, in a small tin box at the back of a cupboard, he wasn't the man that he would have been if the government of the day hadn't asked him to go out and gun people down.
I think that the lesson here, despite my tedious ramblings above, is to try to see our elders as little tin boxes. I'm not suggesting that we stuff them into cupboards. What I'm saying is that they understand the realities of life in a way that the young do not and so we have to open the box and share their experiences so that we don't keep repeating the same stupid mistakes.
At the end of WWII the Americans began filming inside German concentration camps. Why? Because as one general remarked, 'If we don't record this shit now, in fifty years time no-one will believe it ever happened.' Which tends to imply of course that it could all happen again, and just in case anyone thinks that I'm picking on the Germans, I'm not. You don't have to look very far to see countries, my own included, that have done a whole lot worse and on the same scale, and no amount of apology or excuses will ever justify their actions. We shouldn't ever be proud of our atrocities, but we should always remember them.

Looking after Granddad - overview.

Looking after Granddad is all about how our experiences change us and how those changes affect others. It is the only tale that I've written thus far that has a monster in it, although who or what the monster is, and what it represents, I will leave up to you. The story is at least two thirds flashback, which serves to explain why the main protagonist behaves the way he does.


Leo McDonald -  A formerly good man, made bad by his experiences, who lives in a nursing home for the elderly. Leo is the living proof that we are all capable of despicable acts when the situation demands. The real problem arises when dementia sets in and Leo thinks that he's back there.

Billy Giles - A young man who is slowly paving his own personal road to hell with his good intentions. He's another good man made bad by his experiences, primarily at the hands of the aforementioned Leo McDonald.

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.

Looking after Granddad is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Swing.

I have always loved stage magicians. Granted, some of them are pretty crap, delivering age old tricks that have long ago lost their mystery and been relegated to the 'every fucker knows that one' shelf of the local joke shop. These 'illusionists' resort to bright colours and flamboyance to spin out their delivery, in the hope of bullshitting the audience into believing that they're watching something new. It's like seeing your granny with a makeover - I've got no time for them.
But occasionally someone stands out - delivering a stunningly simple but utterly baffling illusion that makes you believe for a fleeting moment that the only possible solution is magic. I love these guys.
I particularly like the close up stuff, where there's no room for error. I used to work in a factory where one of the supervisors was a former stage magician who specialised in close up card illusions. After twenty something years in the trade he lost his nerve and had to retire. They may look all cool and debonair up there but believe me they're sweating bullets all the way through. He'd been ten years off the stage but occasionally he'd pick the card deck up off the canteen table during lunch break and go to work on us. I'm no expert, but I never managed to figure any of it out. There were cards disappearing all over the place and he could shuffle the deck and deal out any poker hand that you asked for straight off the top. By the time we'd been delivered back into the real world my tea had gone cold - now, to coin a catch phrase - 'that's magic!'
So how the hell do they learn how to do these things? Well according to my aforementioned friend the key to it is simply practice. Day after day, hour after hour, heart breakingly tedious, to the point of obsession - practice.
Obsession is a juicy word in my phrase book. It makes me wonder - how far is someone actually prepared to go to get another round of applause?
It's pretty much common knowledge that the only reason the old stage magicians used white doves for their animal magic was because they were all identical - so you could crush one poor bird to death to squeeze it into a secret compartment and then pull another one from up your arse and the audience thought it was the same bird that had just 'disappeared'. I'm fairly sure that they don't do that kind of thing any more, but if they do I hope that if mister magic ever gets to heaven all those nice white doves are there waiting to do an Alfred Hitchcock on his sad ass.
Now let's imagine that this very same magician, to whom killing harmless creatures for our entertainment is merely a part of the job, decides to expand his trade a little. What else would he be prepared to dispatch if he thought he could get completely away with it?

The Swing overview.

The Swing is primarily built around a negotiation between the two main characters who are attempting to agree a price on a piece of magical memorabilia. The story line develops as each man tries to gain the upper hand, with each protagonist offering more information about why they want the object and how they came to be there. There is of course more going on than meets the eye, and each revelation and twist in the tale pushes the stakes higher and higher.


Edgar Henry - a man on a mission. He's an obsessive collector of magical props who will stop at nothing to know their macabre secrets. He tries to be good, he really does, but certain traits run in Edgar's family. Traits that are best kept as secret as the props that he so avidly collects. 

Paul Jenkins - He has something that Edgar Henry wants and he's determined to get the best possible price for it. He's an okay sort of guy and he does have a wife and four kids to support but he asks for more then Edgar can possibly afford and he doesn't realise how far Edgar is willing to go to get what he wants.

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.

The Swing is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Monday, April 8, 2013

What the butler saw.

When I was a lad it was unusual to go anywhere. Most people lived and worked within a two mile radius, and even a trip to the nearest town was regarded as a subject worthy of conversation. Summer holidays rarely lasted more than a week and were usually spent at the nearest coastal town or fishing port, and even then it was only ever once a year.
If we were lucky we may get the odd organised day trip, which for the women and children meant sitting on a dim and dismal beach eating ice-cream or fish and chips while the khaki coloured ice cold waves of the North Sea washed the feeling from their toes, while for the men, it inevitably meant having somewhere new to get drunk.
When the day was done everyone would be packed, sweating and intoxicated, back onto a coach for the return trip, which is where the fun would finally begin. For there is nothing more entertaining than stuffing your face with candy floss while fights break out between large pissed up blokes in the narrow aisle of a coach as it ploughs along the central lane of a busy motorway at sixty miles an hour.
Fucking bliss!
There was perhaps one saving grace to the whole grubby affair. One shining light in the mire of debauchery that was the local working men's club day trip. And if there was, it was the penny arcade.
Flashing lights and ringing bells, rock 'n' roll music and money on display everywhere, ready and waiting to be won by the next lucky punter. It was another world. The land of promise. An alien landscape of copper coloured fountains and silvery waterfalls. Anything and everything there for the taking and all up for grabs for a penny a pitch.
While the kids stuffed the 'one armed bandits' with their parents hard earned cash in the hope of striking it big and investing in a lump of candy floss the size of a Magellanic cloud, the men would invariably find other ways to spend their penny. Hence we discover - the Mutoscope...

It was a simple enough device. You put a penny into the slot and turn a small handle (in the early models) while watching all your wildest fantasies being played out through a small shrouded screen. All the advertising around the device promised 'foreign' films, with suggestive titles such as 'what the butler saw', which implied limited censorship and thus lovely, yummy porn. Of course she's going to take off all of her clothes and cavort around naked for your personal viewing pleasure. There she goes now. First the dressing gown. Then the nightdress. Come on, come on (there's smoke coming off the rapidly rotating little handle). Now her stockings are coming off. You've got a headache because you're jamming your eager face up against the metal shroud. Okay, here we go. It's bra time. She reaches slowly up behind her. She's going to do it. She really is... Oops! Your penny ran out!
Your hands fly up and down your body searching your pockets desperately for another coin while your distorted face remains wedged into the shroud. You seek. You find. You insert the coin with sweaty fumbling fingers. The handle turns... and it's an entirely different movie. WTF!
Never mind. It's only a penny.
These machines were a ubiquitous part of any tourist town. Why? Because they made a great deal of money and no-one ever saw anything indecent.

In 'What the butler saw' I wanted to expand on the theme a little. What if for example, the punter got to see the entire film? What if that film contained material so profoundly offensive that the machine was taken and locked away somewhere deep and dark so that no-one could ever see it again? Then what if... Well, you get the idea.

What the butler saw - overview.

This is a narrative tale following the exploits of a museum curator called Harry who is drafted in to catalogue various unusual objects which have been unearthed after the discovery of a hidden room. Amongst the rediscovered treasures is a Mutoscope, and Harry, the thorough and diligent worker that he is, soon realises that if he's going to do the job properly he's going to have to know what the machine is showing. What he discovers leads him into the dark heart of one of the most infamous serial killers of all time.


Harry. An all round good man. He's clever, hardworking and diligent, and it doesn't end there because there's a whole new side of him just waiting to be discovered. After all, it's not until we're pushed beyond our limits that we find out who we really are...

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.

What the butler saw is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Home from home.

This is, in part at least, based on a true story. 'Absurd!' I hear you cry, but no, not at all. Pull up a sandbag and gather around...

When I was fourteen years old I had a school friend, who's real name shall remain a secret. Let's call him William.
William's parents had some spare money which they used to buy a holiday home on the Isles of Scilly, off the South West tip of England. They found a nice house for a fair price, although it did need a bit of tender loving care to bring it up to the standard to which they were accustomed.
Being practical people they were able to do a lot of the work themselves, and so, at the next available opportunity, they made a start.
Some of the floor boards in the old house were a little loose and so William's father decided to pull a few up to see if the substructure was sound. Underneath the dry and warped old planks they discovered, to their great delight, another floor, approximately six inches below the first.
This floor was different however... it was made of glass.
It should be understood that at the time this happened there was a bit of a rush on for character houses in which old and original features had been preserved alongside modern enhancements - a sort of steam punk retro-modernism, if such a thing exists, so it's no real surprise then that William's parents decided to rip up the entire wooden floor in favour of showing off the glass one.
But first it needed a bit of a polish...
William's mother set herself to the task with great vigour, scrubbing away decades worth of grime and dust and then polishing up the thick glass surface until it shone like new. Only she didn't get to the shiny part of the plan, because she suddenly began screaming hysterically.
Father and children ran to her rescue to see her ashen face staring downward. They all looked. They all saw. They all ran away.
Underneath the glass, and staring right back at them, were several of the house's previous occupants. All long dead and in various stages of decay, they had obviously loved the house so much that it was their idea of heaven and so they'd been buried there.
Apparently this is not an unusual practice in the Scilly Isles. There are several graveyards sporting glass topped graves so that visiting relatives can chat away to great grandad Albert while he gently moulders away to dust.
Now I'm not in the business of criticising the customs of another culture regardless of how close it is to my own (a matter of a perhaps two hundred miles from my town of birth geographically), but I think in this case a little forewarning by the realestate agent, who surely knew about the other occupants, wouldn't have gone amiss.
Shortly thereafter William's family put the house up for sale, and at something of a financial loss it seems.
This is a tasty story in itself but of course I couldn't let it rest there, so I've taken the idea and embellished it somewhat with a story entitled 'Home from Home'.

Home from home - outline.

This is a straight forward narrative following the story line development of a single character called Maria who inherits an old house. An old, creepy house that is, to everyone but her. She falls in love with its ramshackle appearance and its rampant, neglected gardens, much to the disappointment of her partner and children who want nothing to do with it. The house itself however, has an agenda of its own and is more than capable of deciding who lives there... and who dies there.


Maria. A property developer with a driving ambition - to make lots of cold hard cash. She starts out as a bit of a bitch but softens as the tale progresses, by which time it's far too late. I tried to sympathise with her, I really did. It's just not something I'm good at. Still, all is not lost...

Rob. Maria's long suffering partner and father of her children. He spends most of his time being dragged along in her wake but in the end he finally puts his foot down, albeit in the wrong place.

The twins. Two lovely kids, even if they are a bit cheesy. Initially put off by the state of the place, the house wins them over in the end. Shame.

Greedyguts. The resident pet. A firm and faithful friend ...if he likes you that is.

Here's a link to the digital version from Smashwords.
Home from home is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version, Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Saturday, March 30, 2013


The definition of a crone: 'a withered, witchlike old woman'.(Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary).

Penelope Darlin, the romantically challenged proprietor of the Lilac Grange nursing home, is regularly murdering her elderly residents in the name of profit. Next on her to do list is ninety one year old Catherine Scrivens, but Catherine is aware of Ms. Darlin's business model and determined not to go down without a fight she recruits two accomplices who are hell bent on getting to Penelope before Penelope gets to them.
Meanwhile Linda Hawthorne, a Grange staff member, inherits 'Mac Lir's gate', a strange and ancient artefact with the power to transport her to the Wildwood - a place of Celtic myth and legend. Intrigued by Mac Lir's gate Linda begins to experiment with its power and inadvertently releases the Black Dog, a vicious and predatory creature who wants the gate and who will do anything necessary to possess it.
When the paths of these characters clash the fates of two worlds are up for grabs.
In Crones there is romance, tragedy and comedy, ably assisted by Banshees, talking animals, Celtic spirits, murder in the tool shed and three delightful old ladies with a dark and bloody secret... and a zombie.

Crones is the third tale in the Luddensley Chronicles, a set of dark fiction stories that share a common geographical setting, that of Luddensley village and Neerthorpe town. Crones is slightly unusual in that all of the main characters are female, and  the most memorable of these (in my opinion), are also geriatrics.
It's not easy depicting elderly women as action heroes, after all most of the heroes we are accustomed to have all their own teeth, and hips that don't creak when they walk, but there's a lot to be said for grim determination and no-one gets to live to ninety one without having the will to do so. It is that will to live that is put to the test in this tale.
I like old folks - I really do. I remember once finding myself in the local community centre sharing a room with perhaps fifteen elderly residents who were gathered for a cheap lunch and a good old chin wag. It occurred to me that if I added all of their approximate ages together, (all were between sixty five and seventy), the result would amount to something in the region of a thousand years.
I'll say that again - A thousand years, of life experience in the same room. Different names, different places. Heartbreak, achievement, joy, loss, knowledge and skill. If they could be somehow combined into one person they could rule the world, and yet the only thing that the young folk were asking them was if their sandwiches were okay.
In Crones I wanted to give something back, to let the oldies have another crack of the whip. Those familiar with the 1985 movie 'Cocoon' will remember seeing formerly decrepit people suddenly invigorated after swimming in a pool with alien artifacts. The issue for me was that having regained the energy of youth they immediately went out and started making all the same mistakes that young folk make. Not a chance. They may possibly do the same things - but they'd do them a whole lot better!
Crones follows a different line because the idea that old people have to be given youth in order to be of value is itself a puerile perspective. In my world the elderly stay elderly and despite painfully arthritic joints, lack of teeth and poor bladder control, when it comes to the scrum they get up and fight just like they always have.

Main characters.

Penelope Darlin. One of the most self centred, neurotic and fundamentally nasty characters I've ever created. She's the owner of the Lilac Grange nursing home and she runs it like a holocaust campaign. As far as dear Penelope is concerned the residents are merely commodities and when they've lost their value they're shipped out... in boxes. Penelope is in a world entirely her own but in the end she's going to have to find room for someone else or die trying.

Linda Hawthorne. A grange staff member who's about to go to hell and back after inheriting an ornate box with magical properties. She's all alone, save for a few close friends, and fighting to save the world. The real pity is that the world doesn't even know that it's happening. Nevertheless our Linda just keeps on giving.

Catherine Scrivens. A ninety one year old lady who still has plenty of life in her and who is determined to keep it for as long as possible. Her late husband was a military man and she herself was something of an adventurer. She's a tough old bird who, as the tale progresses, will learn just how tough she really is.

Doris Walsh. Hard and strong, Doris has been a worker all of her life. She's stoic and pragmatic and she takes no shit. If something has to be done you can rely on her to be the first in line to do it.

Gloria Brooke. A lady with more secrets than the CIA, Gloria should never be underestimated. She appears somewhat dimwitted but then again you can never be sure with Gloria. Her morality is significantly more flexible than a rubber pole dancer and she's capable of anything, just ask her about the funnel and the jelly beans!

Cat. He's... well... a cat. But he's also a great deal more, and when he's on your team things become a whole lot easier to handle. On the other hand, maybe that's just the cat's perspective. Everyone else either sees him as a pain in the arse, or not at all. Not that he cares either way.

Crones is available worldwide in all digital formats and in print.