My first novel

I wrote my first novel, Beneath Gray Skies, about 12 years ago, back in the days of George W. Bush, where I described a Disunited States of America – a world where the Civil War was never fought, and a wire fence stretched across the plains and the prairies, dividing the Confederate States of America from the United States.

In this universe the Confederacy, where slavery still existed in the 1920s, was ruled by a hereditary dynasty, but Jefferson Davis III faced problems as the leader of a pariah state, despised and ignored by the rest of the world.

Enter a young German politician who needs help staging a coup in his own country to put his National Socialist party in power. The CSA has raw materials and manpower, the Germans have technology as yet unavailable to the South. Deal struck.

“Alternative history at its finest”

Amazon review
The Bismarck airship here is a fictional hybrid of the German Hindenburg and the British R100

Along the way, a British agent, described by a reviewer as “a 1920s James Bond”, attempts to stop the giant Zeppelin Bismarck from delivering its priceless historic cargo and the Nazi leaders to the Confederacy. Real historical characters and fictional characters mingle, plot and counter-plot, and struggle to determine the future of their nations.

“If author was any more of a flaming liberal with a political agenda, conservatives could hold a raffle to burn him in effigy and sell enough tickets to pay off the national debt!”

My favourite Amazon review of any of my books!

And yes, there are political messages in here. I’m against slavery, racial prejudice and hatred, and autocratic bullies who seize power, and I hope I make this clear in the story. Of course, if you like these things, you probably won’t like this book. But in any case, I set out to write a ripping yarn, not a sermon, and I think I succeeded.

Special offer

But if you do, somehow it seems appropriate at this time for me to promote the book. I am therefore making it available for £1 as an ebook on Kindle or Epub (almost everything else). Available here (Amazon may mark down the price when they know that I am making it available cheaply, but for now…).

Payment by PayPal or credit/debit card (through SendOwl and Stripe):

  • Kindle (see here for how to “sideload”):
  • EPUB (iPads, Kobos, Nooks, etc.):

And if you prefer a “real” book…

It’s also available in paperback – from Amazon, or can be ordered through bookshop.org, that way you keep your money out of Jeff Bezos’ pocket, and you also help to keep local bookshops alive.

What have I been up to?

It’s been a long time since I posted, but I’ve been busy. Not only writing, but I re-discovered an old pastime – making up model aircraft kits.

I last did this nearly 50 years ago with Airfix kits in plastic bags. Lots of glue over everything, paints (which you didn’t always use) were Humbrol enamel in little tinlets that dried up and needed cleaning. and the transfers (decals) were few, and pretty hit and miss. The kits themselves were quite crude. You might get a pilot as part of your kit, and there might be something for him to sit on. Engines? Invisible.

Now, all kits come in boxes, and are much more expensive. Many come from Poland or Czechoslovakia, or even Russia. The quality and detail are incredible. Every dial on the instrument panels is moulded. Not only does the pilot have a seat to sit on which is more than just a moulded blob – but they have seat belts (even more important if the seat is to be left unfilled), and the cockpit, even at 1/72 scale, is a masterpiece of miniature engineering demanding exquisite hand/eye coordination to assemble and paint. Paints are acrylic, airbrushed for large areas, and varnishes are applied before and after the decals (many of them, often 2mm or 3mm square) go on.

Then there is weathering, and also aftermarket parts – resin or photo-etched metal. So it’s a far cry from the days when you built a Spitfire in an afternoon.

But it’s a great lockdown hobby. You need all your concentration, there are always new things to learn, and it keeps you busy for a long time. I guess knitting, or indeed, any handicraft, will give you the same result, but I happen to like aircraft, and that’s what I am doing right now.

Since June, this is what I have built:

DH Vampire (Revell 1/72)

Photo in b/w to hide the terrible mistakes    A very early British jet fighter, constructed at least partially out of wood!

Mikoyan-Gurevich 17 (MiG-17 “Fresco”) (Airfix 1/72)

   

Though there were Vietnamese markings for the MiG, I didn’t feel my painting skills were up to the task of doing that camouflage, so it went in as a Soviet fighter, sprayed from an aerosol.

Junkers Ju-87 (“Stuka”) (Airfix 1/72)

A famous (or infamous) plane – quite a lot of delicate parts – air brakes, slats, etc. And a rather complex dazzle/splinter camo scheme. My first try at masking and at spray painting. A few pieces got lost – some broke and had to be scratch-built.  Even so, I was quite pleased with the result. Ground crew once again from Zvezda.

Beriev Be-6 (“Madge”) (Playfix 1/72)

A brute of a thing. An East German kit from 1986, picked up for very little money on eBay. I wanted to make a fantasy colour scheme, and I ended up with a Republic of Scotland Air Force model, complete with tartan fin flashes and the like. Along the way I scratchbuilt three crew areas, including making an instrument panel and fitting resin aftermarket seats, and designing and printing my own decals. I documented the process on my SmugMug page here.

Gloster Javelin (Mister Craft 1/72)

  

One of my favourite jet fighters – but a rather horrible kit to make (Polish, and dirt cheap). It also joined the Scottish Air Force. There was less need for scratch-building, but I added a couple of resin bang seats, and had to make my own decals again. Rather a nice camo scheme, though I say it myself. Again, the process was documented on SmugMug.

Republic P-47M Thunderbolt (Revell 1/72)

 

Made out of the box, with a few photo-etched parts here and there (mainly invisible), scratch-built seat belts and with quite a lot of work on the painting. Basically, quite pleased with this. All decals went on fine, and the carpet monster went hungry. The b/w photo is my model in front of a stock photo of a USAAF airfield. More photos here.

And for my next trick…

Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu Type 11 (“Rex”) (Tamiya 1/48)

My first Tamiya for a very long time, and my first 1/48 ever. Wish me luck.

 

Fracture – REVIEW


Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938
by Philipp Blom

A slightly sideways look at history between 1918 and 1939 – taking in some of the principal social and political events of that time. Blom seems to be one of those historians who sees this period as a time of relative calm in the Second European Thirty Years’ War (1914-1945), given the conflicts in most Continental European countries.

I learned a lot, for example, about the political violence in Austria post-1918, and about this history of Italy, particularly the influence of d’Annunzio’s style and tactics had on Benito Mussolini’s rise to power. The social structure of Prohibition, and the pernicious racism in the USA which ironically coexisted with the rise of African-American culture in the form of jazz also play a part in the story, as does the decadence of the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood and Sally Bowles.

However, the conclusion may seem particularly shocking to many, especially those right-wing libertarians who worship the god of Mammon. Blom pours scorn on what he sees as the myth of the neoliberal free market, which he blames for many of today’s ills and insecurity, and which he dismisses, saying “the gospel of the free market is just as ideological as fascism or communism. The belief in the seemingly unideological power of the market has helped only a small minority, creating for the rest a world in which hundreds of millions of people live less well and more precariously than their parents.”

He builds a convincing case for this view in the previous chapters, and to me, there is much to be said for it. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the book is worth reading, whether or not it agrees with your views, if only for the stories it tells.

View all my reviews

The Secret of the League – Ernest Bramah – REVIEW

I’ve held off political writing on this blog for a while, but this post is an exception, as a result of the book that I read recently.

The Secret of the League – The Story of a Social War – is a 1907 novel about a Britain in the late 1910s (no world war takes place in this world). A Labour government has been elected, and the government and Cabinet, former union leaders and shop stewards, are out of their depth.

Bramah is best known for his stories of a blind detective, Max Carrados, which I have enjoyed reading, and his Orientalist Kai Lung stories, which I find pretentious and tedious. This book is more like the former than the latter, and though the style is slightly dated, it wears better than many others of the same vintage. The basic plot could be written today, however, with a few modifications to bring it up to date.

The socialist leaders are depicted mockingly, and Bramah makes them slavishly repeat all the clichés of the Left at that time (in dialect at times). They institute a welfare state which goes beyond anything that ever actually existed, and pay for it with ever-increasing taxes on the “bourgeoisie” and the upper classes (the House of Lords has, of course, been abolished). Interestingly enough, Bramah describes the Laffer curve, some seventy years before it became part of the economic vocabulary.

To counter the excesses of the socialists, a League of Unity is set up, fronted by a once-popular politician, which works behind the scenes to prepare for a spectacular act of civil disobedience (it’s all described in Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I won’t tell you here, because the book is well enough crafted to leave you in suspense).

Suffice it to say that it is a revolt by the middle- and upper classes to overthrow a fanatical (if superficially well-meaning) government which is driving the country to destruction. Violence does arise, but as a response to the violence of the supporters of the government side, rather than being instigated by the revolters. Eventually the government is brought to its knees, having shot itself in the foot, with its Achilles heel being the handouts that the electorate have come to expect. (how many below-the-waist metaphors can I cram into one sentence?)

Though it may appear that the tenor of the book is anti-socialist, it transpires at the end that Bramah’s sympathies lie with the anti-populists, as the League of Unity offers places in the new government and there is sympathy for the ultimate goals of the socialist government, but not for their methods.

I discovered some disturbing parallels between the book and our current political state in the UK (I am writing this in the middle of the prorogation crisis just triggered by Boris Johnson). I would recommend that you read this story – a free download as an ebook from Project Gutenberg – and then add your comments here.

Hell’s Empire – John Linwood Grant (ed) – REVIEW

Sorry about the silence recently. Some of it has been an enforced silence (minor surgery with subsequent complications) and some has been connected with things I am not allowed to talk about (no, I haven’t joined MI6 or MI6 or GCHQ, but there are secrets which must remain hidden for the nonce*).

Anyway, I recently bought a copy of Hell’s Empire, an anthology of weird/horror tales around a common theme.

Imagine Them – the demons of Hades, the Empire of the Damned, the Dukes and Earls of Hell, commanding legions of the damned to battle against the heartland of the Empire on which the sun never sets. Martini-Henrys and Maxims bark and chatter against fanged, clawed horrors that rip off heads and splay intestines in obscene eldritch patterns. Continue reading “Hell’s Empire – John Linwood Grant (ed) – REVIEW”

The Bloody Steps

BloodyfrontOn June 17, 1839, the body of Christina Collins, who had been raped and murdered by the crew of the canal barge on which she was travelling from Liverpool, was carried up “The Bloody Steps” in Rugeley, Staffordshire.
Several decades later, the famous consulting detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, was called to Rugeley to investigate the alleged sighting of Miss Collins’ ghost by the wife of the Rector of the local church. What he discovered was much darker and more sinister than any ghost.
BloodybackToday, June 17, 2019, being 180 years after the discovery of Collins’ body, the story of Sherlock Holmes’ Rugeley investigations is officially published and available for sale. The story has been edited by Hugh Ashton, widely regarded as one of the most accomplished narrators of the exploits of the celebrated sleuth.

Currentl;y available in paperback from Amazon or contact me for information about ordering a signed copy.

For more on the story of the Steps, see this page. It describes the murdered woman as already married and on her way to meet her husband, while I had always believed her to be meeting her intended husband. But of course, I may well be mistaken.

A Study of Fear

Yes, I’ve conflated the titles of two Sherlock Holmes novellas here (“conflated” – did I really write that word?).

I confess to not having read The Valley of Fear for a long time, and it’s been some time since I read A Study in Scarlet. There are some real similarities, though. Both involve a murder of a particularly unusual kind, and both involve a flashback sequence to an American past.

What is really striking about the central portion of both books is the attitude of Conan Doyle to American society.

Continue reading “A Study of Fear”

Invasion 1940, Derek Robinson – REVIEW

My introduction to alternative history was Philip K.Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which I read when I was about 20. I hesitate to call it my favourite, though.That prize goes to Len Deighton’s SS-GB, which combines an interesting alternative timeline where the Nazi invasion of Britain takes place with a detective/espionage thriller. Since Len Deighton has also written some pretty good popular historical books on related subjects (e.g., Fighter and Blitzkrieg), I took his ideas as being fairly accurate.

And now here comes Derek Robinson, whose books I also enjoy, who enjoys getting to the heart of matters – at least as he sees them – which he has done in novels such as A Piece of Cake and Damned Good Show, in which he explores the myths that have grown up around the historical episodes he is writing about. So Invasion 1940 is there to prove to the reader that the Battle of Britain, though important, had very little to do with stopping Operation Sealion (the planned Nazi invasion of Britain).

Continue reading “Invasion 1940, Derek Robinson – REVIEW”