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Jan Needle

News

Going on a pig hunt

I've never really been involved in book launches before, but for the new version of Wild Wood we had three. The first was organised by the publisher, Golden Duck, in the Slightly Foxed bookshop in Gloucester Road, London. It is a terrific, lovely old-fashioned bookshop, and even more weirdly is opposite a restaurant called Wildwood. Either a good omen, or (less likely) the opportunity for a breach of copyright action.

It was graced with many literary names, among them Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, and Richard Ingrams, the former and original editor of that mighty organ.

An extraordinary number of people crammed into the basement room, and drank fizzy wine, red and white still wine, and a small barrel of bitter brewed and donated by Greenfield Brewery, of Saddleworth, to commemorate the occasion. It was called Daisy's Special, and went down a treat.

The next one was in West Didsbury, Manchester, at the Albert Bowls and Social Club, where I've been a member for years. I gave a short, nervous reading from the book, Daisy's Special was supped in heroic quantities, and Eliza P Songstress sang a song about the book that she'd composed especially. She's a bit of a genius, and wrote it, complete with tune, about twelve hours after I asked her to. Later she was persuaded to sing another of her songs, this one about telephone sex. A versatile lass!

Finally, we held one in the Uppermill Con Club (where I've never actually met a Conservative, fortunately, given the them of the book), which turned into a bit of a musical riot. Eliza P started off with her song, then Mick Collins of the Hometowners became the unofficial MC and organised a sing and play around. The food table was massive and overflowing, and Tony and Mary Harrall of Greenfield Brewery came and had a pint as well.

Back up the hill at eleven o'clock the fun took on a different turn. Sean and Sadie's two pigs - mother and 'baby' called Sausage and Bacon - had broken out of their sty and were laying waste to the Yorkshire Moors. There an ancient breed called Iron Age apparently, noted only for escaping and biting. It took Sean, me and Dave (plus a handful of shrieking females) to get them ocked up in the barn for the night. And they didn't even buy a book!

So - in the future, more launches. Even more pigs, perhaps. Everybody welcome...


Peer into the murk

Someone told me I ought to tell the waiting world a bit about me. I was unconvinced, but a few drinks helped. Here’s the result. Make of it what you will. She also said I ought to update my Wikipedia entry, but I ain’t never done one. Perhaps I’d better have a look at what it says…


Jan Needle was first published at the age of about seven, during the war in Korea. He started off confused, as his father was the editor of a Labour Party news sheet called the Courier, which he took to be the name of the country. Even then an opportunist, he offered to write his father a novel about the conflict, to be serialised weekly.

The first chapter appeared on the front page, but his delight turned to anger when it transpired that his father had not corrected his spelling, on the grounds that it was extremely funny. Jan refused to write any subsequent chapter, so thus ended his first work.

As he had killed off the hero at the end of the chapter it was a lucky break for the young novelist, and a mistake he rarely repeated.

Although what was known happily in those days as a slum kid, he went to Portsmouth Grammar School after doing quite well in the Eleven Plus and extremely badly in an entrance exam for borderliners. He was allowed in on interview, apparently because the posh teachers found him quite funny. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he tried and failed several times to say "a barrister," which was the answer his parents had told him was the passport to a place.

Finally he blurted out the truth: "I want to be the captain of an oceangoing tug." He felt vaguely humiliated when everybody laughed, but ended up enrolled, at the bottom of the D stream, where he contentedly failed to struggle for three years but was thrust up into the C stream willy-nilly.

Due to take three A-levels – English, French and German – he was asked to leave after two terms in the six form on the grounds that he was unlikely to pass any of them. In those happy days, dumb teenagers didn't need to become crackheads or male prostitutes to live, so Jan joined the Portsmouth Evening News. (Which some people might think is not so different, come to that.)

Quickly realising that writing fiction and calling it fact was but a short step from trying to tell the truth as he saw it, he started writing short stories, and by the time he was 19 had had a few published. He then moved north to Manchester to join the Daily Herald as a reporter, quickly became a subeditor, and found himself where he wanted to be. Usually drunk, rarely sleeping, and vaguely underwashed.

In his mid-20s he decided he had enough of journalism, and became a drama student at Manchester University. He had to take three part-time A-levels at Rochdale College to get in, and discovered that Portsmouth Grammar School's assessment of his abilities had not been far out. He scored E for English, which meant he had to do an extra year before he could move into the honours school. He got a first, which he is not prepared to boast about, because he still thinks it was because the professor was afraid of him.

By the time he graduated, Jan had had two or three radio plays produced, and supplemented his grant by working as a freelance subeditor, mainly on the Daily Mirror. He did shifts and wrote articles for other newspapers, including the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and even the Sunday Times and the Sun. What with that and his fiction writing, he never really found it necessary to get a job again.

While he wrote radio plays, Jan also wrote theatre plays plays, including the first production for the Contact Theatre Company, a wild and modern version of Beaumont and Fletcher's The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Then at the age of 30ish he had the strange idea of retelling The Wind in the Willows from the point of view of the downtrodden denizens of the Wild Wood. Never having written a novel before, he thought it was meant to be easy, so it was. Not so easy to get published though – Methuen threatened to sue him for breach of copyright.

Everybody has their price it seems, and not many years later they accepted a small royalty in exchange for their permission. By this time though, Jan had written several children's books, starting with Albeson and the Germans, following it with My Mate Shofiq, The Size Spies, Rottenteeth and a couple of volumes of short stories.

Although it did quite well when it was published in 1981, Wild Wood suffered from having been published as a kids’ book. Whether or not Kenneth Grahame's original is for children or not, Jan never thought his version was, although many children seemed to love it.

Some years later, when Grahame's copyright expired, a rash of sequels appeared, which given the nature of journalism, were noticed and lauded extravagantly. Note to writers: timing is everything.

By now however, writing was a drug. Always self-indulgent to the point of lunacy, Jan wrote what he liked when he liked, with never a thought to what his publishers and agents might recommend. He had another addiction as well: the sea and boats. Despite these fairly major vices, he has managed to produce about 45 books so far.

In the 1980s, Needle moved seriously into television writing. His favourite piece of work was an eight part series called Truckers, which indulged another of his passions, long-distance lorries. You also wrote episodes for several drama series including The Bill, and worked for a year or so on Brookside.

At the same time he began to write what he called "big dirty thrillers," one of which immediately became a serial on BBC2. HarperCollins vetoed the title Underbelly, which the television people immediately nicked, and Jan later rewrote it as the first of his e-books. It is now called Kicking Off, and is a fierce and brutal looking at the failings and horrors of the British prison system.

The second was a bitter resetting of the Romeo and Juliet "myth" in Northern Ireland, called Other People’s Blood. Then came an examination of another modern story with mythical overtones, Death Order, published by Endeavour Press, which is a political thriller about the Rudolf Hess affair.

Two days after delivering the manuscript of his next book for HarperCollins, Fear of Night and Darkness, Jan was involved in a motorway pile-up which ended his writing for a full eight years. As he had just been asked to do a block of eight episodes of The Bill, it was a financial disaster on top of everything else.

Interspersed with plays and thrillers and children's literature throughout these years Jan also wrote a series of historical naval adventures featuring William Bentley. The first book was called A Fine Boy for Killing, and approached Britain's naval history through a distorted lens. The glib idea of extraordinary heroism and honour is skewered comprehensively. Bentley starred in three more novels, and one day the story will be completed. Road accidents can have a debilitating effect on long sea journeys!

The latest sea books are two novellas, the second of which, Nelson: The Poisoned River starts a proposed series on the life of Nelson, the man who almost single-handedly originated the seagoing hero myth. The first book, The Devil’s Luck, also starts a series, which will eventually lead into the life of William Bentley.

As well as writing, sailing, travelling all over France and Germany, and playing a variety of musical instruments (most quite badly) Jan has also found time to produce five children. They range in age now from 38 to 22. Four boys and a girl called Sadie M’gee, (for which she has never forgiven him).

His parents are both dead, which is a great loss in terms of eccentricity if nothing else. His mother was the longtime cook for Portsmouth Water Company who said her greatest achievement was not her two children, but living with their father for so many years. Jim died at the age of 78 after abusing his body mercilessly on a diet of cakes and bummed cigarettes, both of which he apparently started using at the age of seven. He also smoked a pipe 24/7, sometimes using wood shavings instead of tobacco when he was skint. Which sadly, was very frequently.




A trilogy in four parts!




This morning, sensation seekers, I’m going to talk about love and loneliness. I’ve just finished reading The Lion of Sole Bay – another lost night – and I realized afterwards that that is what Julia Jones’s books ‘for children’ are about. This is the fourth one I’ve read, of a project that started as a trilogy, and the subtext is getting ever clearer.

(Which is not to say, naturally, that I’m right. Anybody, up to and including the author herself, is entitled to disagree. All I’d really like to insist on is that you read them.)

Julia’s child characters, let’s say, sprang originally from her reading of Arthur Ransome. Like me, she must have been sucked, inveigled, seduced into a world that I (although not necessarily she) certainly didn’t fully understand and certainly had no cultural part in. Without wishing to sound in any way threatened by it, it was a world of unthinking wealth and privilege that I could clearly never enter. A little later I went to grammar school, where I was one of only two working class boys. Weird.

Also weird in hindsight is the fact that the other boys were almost entirely the sons of naval officers, and therefore spoke an English which I had to emulate asap or get mocked to death – but it was never a problem. Like the world of John Walker, the Blackett girls, Dick and Dorothea, they just were. Different but the same. Ransome’s lot had boats, I had the Sea Scouts. My school compatriots spoke like something off the BBC, but I learned ’em how to sail. Any bullying I suffered came from the older boys, and a couple of the teachers.

Julia’s characters live in a different world again. Some of them are dirt poor, without the benefit of what our Government so pathetically and offensively insists on calling ‘hard-working’ parents. Some of them, indeed, are in care, some of them have health problems, some of them have mums and dads (or not) who are on the verge of going under.


The best sort of trilogy. Roll on Part Five!
But she involves them in situations that are the backbone of the Ransome books. They interact, essentially, with each other. Adults range from the bizarre to the extraneous, but the children are on their own. If not duffers won’t drown. But by God (to quote another favourite author) – no man is an island.

Julia’s key characters, unlike Ransome’s, have extremely subtle needs. Above all things they know (whether in words or not) that they need love, and Ms Jones understands from the bottom of her soul that love is help. She turns the story screw to make that need grow greater all the time. Not in a melodramatic way at all, however. Julia’s stories tend to make me actually cry.

The construct of The Lion of Sole Bay is extraordinary, but achingly simple. A boy called Luke, whom we know of old, is left to have a longed-for holiday alone with his father Bill while his extended and fragmented family go off abroad for their own ‘trip of a lifetime.’ Bill lives on an old fishing boat, and works in the local boatyard, where on the night he’s due to meet Luke, he actually meets a little girl called Angela. She is an emotional outcast, hanging on to a gang of older boys, with whom she manages to accidentally pull a propped-up boat down on to Bill, which comes very close to killing him.

The gang run off, but Angela stays. She is one of the school’s hopeless ones; friendless, apparently feckless, probably on the spectrum, a heavily-bullied dimwit, always in trouble, much despised. She is terrified of the police, but when she knows that they are coming, she stays with Bill, and cradles him, and dares to hold his hand.

She has to run at last, of course. But learns later that Bill, now in intensive care, mistook her for an angel. Angela, known derogatorily as Ants (the other kids like to publicly pull her pants down to check for the insects that must be crawling in them because she is incapable of being still) has found her name at last, a name that she has subconsciously ached for, an identity that can feed her soul. Angel.

Ants and Luke, however, are not the only damaged ones in this story. Alongside Bill’s boat, for some time, has lain a Dutch motor barge called Dree Vrouwen (Three Women) manned (irony) by a mad fascistic politician called Elsevier, her mentally ill follower Hendrike, and Hendrike’s thirteen year old daughter Helen. These three women have come across the North Sea to liberate the figurehead of a Dutch warship involved in the Battle of Sole Bay, in 1672. It is now the proud sign of a roadside pub at the head of the creek, but to Elsevier it is the material exemplar of an ancient crime.

Her own planned crime – in her eyes, the reversal of an ancient wrong – can only be carried out on a certain tide. And Elsevier, although mad, is a great general (she thinks), and completely ruthless. She controls Hendrike with herbal potions, fungi, and illegal drugs. She controls Helen through blackmail (Helen loves her mother and must protect her). And she carries a gun. A November the Fifth party will be the perfect cover for the heist.

Luke, Angel, Helen are thus thrown together – to hate and mistrust each other roundly. Bill lies in hospital, while other adults are helpless and disbelieving. The North Sea, and the late autumn gales, are waiting hungrily. I’m telling you, they will be horrible.

As well as the sea, Julia Jones understands the horror of the human condition, and how utterly cruel life can be. But she also understands redemption, inside out and backwards. And she is an absolute master (mistress? Ask Elsevier) of dramatic tension. Some scenes are more thriller than children’s story. But to categorise this book as either misses several points.

The children and the adults in this novel, this trilogy-plus, all need love. Their loneliness is awe-inspiring. With calmness and power, without a jot of sentimentality, Julia Jones gives it to them. All hail.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lion-Sole-Strong-Winds-Series/dp/1899262180

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lion-Sole-Strong-Winds-ebook/dp/B00FNUN414/ref=kinw_dp_ke


Getting into bed with Toad

First things first - a progess report on my amazing Christmas pudding diet. Over the festives, I lost about two pounds. I will say no more, except that Gemma, my son Dave's lovely girlfriend, went down to Tesco's after Boxing Day and restocked for the coming months. This time they were only 76p each. Deflation! She bought eight of them. By summer, I will have eaten myself into invisibility. 'Appen.

Now down to business. Julia Jones, who among her myriad talents is a publisher, has accepted my first and most beloved book, Wild Wood, onto her list, Golden Duck. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Wild Wood is my version of Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece The Wind in the Willows, in which Toad, Badger, Rat et al are the villains, and the 'evil rustics' are in reality the downtrodden poor, more sinned against than sinning. Hence her decision to schedule it for May Day.

cover

When I say villains I'm talking baloney, naturally. Toad and Co are just like you and me - overfed, over fond of picnics and good vino, and just a teensy-weensy bit smug. Hardworking, they'd be called by Tory Central Office, and not in need of benefits (know what I mean?). While those scroungers who live in the Wild Wood, when you think about it, don't actually do anything.

Except hang about on street corners after dark and be menacing. Or grunt and rustle in the shadows to frighten a chap like Moley, who's a little bit unworldly, don't you know? Street corners? That's the measure of them! They don't even aspire to a street to hang around the corner of.

So Wild Wood, alarmingly, is the story of a revolution. Less alarmingly, it's the story of a revolution squidged. Of hopes and aspirations dashed, of justice and social progress blighted. Of the failure, as ever, of England to become the New Jerusalem.

cover

It is a complex narrative, which has already been the subject of at least one doctoral thesis, but rather than lay it out in grisly detail, I'll give you a snapshot. Let Baxter Ferret, the narrator, hold the stage. He has just blundered into an early meeting of a revolutionary cadre that will morph into the Wild Wood Volunteers. They are, indeed, deep in the snowbound wood, at the general shop of Wilson, the retired sea rat. A smart, ambitious young weasel called O.B. is talking.

'It's the latest thing that's worst,' he said. 'It's the way Toad's throwing away his money now. It's the motor car craze. Do you know how many machines that reckless animal has destroyed in the last few months? Well, do you?'

I didn't, neither did I speak. For try as I might, Toad's latest fad - which others found so terrible, apparently - I could only think of in terms of sheer envy.

Unlike his fellows, Baxter already knows and loves machinery. He drives a lorry for his farmer boss - a state of the art 1908 Throgmorton Squeezer - and ends up, through a disastrous accident, actually working for the hated amphibian. Ensnared by Toad, ensnared by his solidarity with the workers - whose leader Boddington Stoat, 'yellow and peculiarly bitter,' ensnares his kind and lovely little sister Dolly.

cover

The scene is set for tragedy. Rat's beloved country river seems destined to run with blood. And Baxter can only watch aghast as the opposing factions take arms to enact their rural Armageddon.

Kenneth Grahame was once the secretary of the Bank of England, and was shot at by an Irish terrorist, so the lunacy of Wild Wood isn't so off the wall as it might seem. The late great Willie Rushton's illustrations - his son Toby gave me and Julia personal permission to use them as we wished - also tread delicately along an inexpressible line of wonder. As Willie once said: 'Where would we be without a sense of humour?' (And answered, 'Germany!')

My son Matti (matti.gardner@gmail.com) designed the cover, and was the techie man as usual, but Julia and I helped with lots of tinkering. It's gone through a couple of phases so far, and may yet be modified. Please feel free to comment.

And if you want to know absolutely EVERYTHING about Grahame and his book, read Annie Gauger's The Annotated Wind in the Willows. Fablous, it is. Published by www.wwnorton.com


THE WORLD'S BEST DIET

The original, on AE is at http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/gawd-elp-us-one-and-all-by-jan-needle.html


I wonder if it's the same for Father Christmas. You know what I mean - the speeding up of time. When I
was a lad a day was like a week, a day at school more like a term. And as I got older, time began to run amok.

This afternoon I was struggling to finish off a novella about Nelson before travelling down to Leicestershire for a pre-Christmas jolly with the rellies. Only about two thousand words to go, and the deadline seemed more than possible. It's got to be done before I leave here, because the village that we're heading for has no broadband to send it off from. Politicians' promises. Aren't they a hoot?

The day had been bitty, certainly - but handleable. (Do you like that word: it's not copyrighted). Endeavour Press told me yesterday that Other People's Blood would be going up today (that is, Nov 11) for free until the weekend. I dutifully spent lots of the next few hours twooting and faceboogeringabout and all the other modern jollities.

It was even worth the social mediation (another new word?) for that book, in some modern weirdo way. I mean, I'm really fond of it, it makes me sort of cry, so I want it to be read. The fact the bastards were getting it for nothing meant...well, how should a writer take that, in these troubled times? Just a pity it'll be back to £2.99 by the time you lot get to know!

So the day was bitty, my back was aching from too much round-shouldery at the keyboard, but everything was - oh, bloody hell! Oh, holy smoke! (And here comes my favourite Chaucer quote): O womb, o belly, o stinking cod!

I've got a blog to do!

But surely not? It cannot be a month since the last one. That nice American tennis player used to put it rather well, remember: You must be....................JOKING!

I looked at my lickle diary. Sure enough, the pages had gone brown. Spontaneous combustion. It's nearly next year, dammit! And here I sit, with Horatio in extremis up the Rio San Juan, almost literally (beyond figuratively!) without a paddle.

And there sensation seekers, he'll have to sit until I've titillated my fan base. Or wrote this blog, at least. What shall I write about? That's the big shock, as they say on Tyneside.

Ah - a public service announcement. I'll help people on their way through the festive misery. My Christmas gift to a waiting, hungry world.

Oh no, not hungry. That would spoil it.

Fact is, that earlier this week I invented a brilliant, fantastic diet. Not any old diet, but one which will reduce fat gits like me to shadders of their former selves, and it's TOPICAL as well. And immensely cheap. Even that Osborne bastard will approve.


Here's the secret. Last year I noticed that on the day after Boxing Day, Tesco sell off their surplus Christmas puddings for a quid apiece. And Tesco puds, whatever I may think of Tesco morals, are bloody fabulous. I bought the lot, from Tesco Chew Valley Road, Greenfield, Oldham. Seven puddings, seven pounds.

They last forever, believe me. Sugar is a preservative. Brandy is a preservative. And for your hundred pennies, you get both, in GREAT PROFUSION.

Last Monday - two days ago - having nothing to hand for luncheon, I opened one of these darlings - unheated, straight out of the cellophane - and allowed myself a little mouthful. And then another. And then (cont p94). Reader, I ate that bleeding pudding whole. Seven million calories or thereabouts. And it was wonderful.

But here's where the dieting comes in. I hadn't had a bite since the night before (I'm not a breakfast man), and I didn't have another bite until about thirty hours later. AND I WASN'T EVEN HUNGRY!

So now I've cracked it. I shall write it up as a diet book (367 pages I'm told is best), with a picture of a domestic goddess with a pot of coke (double wordplay, note, and for the lawyers I mean Coca Cola naturally), and sell it for eighteen guineas. It will fly off the shelves.

And in three weeks time, of course, I can toddle down to Tesco (not necessarily in Greenfield, I'm told they have them all over) - and load up on more one pound puddings till me heart's content. Like I said, even for Santa Claus himself time waits for no man. Or something.

And a very merry Christmas, and Gord bless us, one and all.


PS If any of you do read OPB, whether free or paid for, please put in a little crit on Amazon. Slag it off, by all means, but I'm told the number of reviews is what turns Joe Punter on, viz Reb's latest post. Never mind the quality, feel the width...I'm not the only one who's mad.



Other People’s Blood
http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite.And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite.And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite.And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite.And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite.And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Playing catch up

Things move too fast for me sometimes in the digital age. In the past week or so I've had one new book out with Endeavour Press - Other People's Blood - http://amzn.to/1fUBZRX - written it up for Hufpo - http://huff.to/17QkU6o - brought out a new edition of my thriller Kicking Off - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG - and got halfway through a new book about Nelson as a young captain in the West Indies (as yet untitled).

And I've only just got round to updating this blog. Bad, bad man.

Other People's Blood is the most topical, because its publication coincided to within 24 hours with a Panorama special investigation into British Army 'death squads' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. My book treats the death squads, which were heavily denied throughout the Troubles and beyond, as a given. The public suspected they existed, and many British journalists were certain of it. Some indeed, under the hammer of the Official Secrets Act, were actually told. And also told that they could not write about them. Such is Britain's idea of an open society.

In the book they are the wallpaper, so to speak. It is the story of a wildly sexy Protestant girl called Jessica, whose father is a business man with deep and murky connections to the British government. He is supposed to be a member of another secret organisation believed to have existed in the Province under the name of the Brotherhood. A sort of Freemasons for the very rich and powerful. Protestant, of course.

Jessica is also engaged to a Brit, called Martin Parr. He swans around Belfast and beyond on some sort of undercover business which he never specifies, not even to Jessica. Who, frankly, does not care. She's at University in Manchester, where she has systematically screwed, and screwed up, half the department, including lecturers. Jessica is a thoroughly modern woman - and by English middle class standards pretty well beyond the pale. (Which is ironic, because within The Pale was where the Protestants lurked historically, and beyond it were the Catholics).

It is a young Catholic called Rory that Jessica meets and falls in love with, however. Properly in love, like she's never loved before. And Rory is reputed to have connections with the Provies, the gunmen, the murderers. Whether it is true or not does not matter, of course. Once the ball is rolling, pushed and accelerated by both politics and jealousy, the love affair is doomed. It is like Romeo and Juliet on crack cocaine.

Of all my thrillers so far I think it's my favourite. And it won't even cost you three quid! Sadly, it costs several of the protagonists their lives.


Off to sea once more...

wagstaffe
Say what you like about t'internet, it gets me off my arse. Only a few weeks ago I was contacted by an ebook publisher I'd never heard of - well you wouldn't have, would you? - and asked if I might like to let them publish a book or two. They'd read my stuff (some, not all - I've written so much over the years) and wanted to know if they could do my historical naval series. This is a run of four books featuring a man called William Bentley, who is more or less everything the usual fictional naval heroes aren't. He's brave all right, but in the first book, A Fine Boy for Killing, he's a trainee sadist and an absolute bastard. Throughout the series he grows, but life doesn't get any more romantic, and even the woman he falls in love with is an archetypal eighteenth century economic prostitute. As was Emma Hart, of course, the penniless Wirral girl who finally made it to being Lady Hamilton.

And died a destitute alcoholic in a Calais gutter.

So no, I said, I'm in the process of getting them ready to be ebooks myself, or rather my son Matti Gardner is. No worries, they cried - write us a novella in the same era. We love novellas, and they can cross fertilise each other.

It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so I got off me arse (see above). I wrote the book, The Devil's Luck http://amzn.to/18tE1So in double-quick time, and now, before your very eyes, it's out on Amazon at £2.99. The publisher, Endeavour Press, have now asked for a series based around the life of Nelson - a subject I've been steeped in since I was a kid in Portsmouth. I'm starting soon!

Endeavour also did Death Order http://amzn.to/16FZ1GU which I wrote about in my last blog - see below. By one of those remarkable coincidences, the Rudolf Hess mystery, which has been dormant for a few years, burst back into public view at exactly the same time, with stories in the Huffington Post, the Independent, and even the Daily Mail. The book has been selling like the proverbial hot cakes - and at £2.99 is actually cheaper than most hot cakes a baker sells these days.

It has had fantastic reviews, as well, and is now getting them on Amazon, as you can see by clicking on the link above. And the great Hess mystery just goes on getting more and more mysterious. I ain't complaining!

The Devil's Luck, though, is something or a new departure for me. It's set about twenty years earlier than A Fine Boy for Killing (which I'm hoping will be out in a couple of weeks) and only one of the characters appears in the later book. That is Daniel Swift, who is the captain of the Welfare in A Fine Boy, and an utter brute. In the new book, though, he is a young lieutenant, and his character is neither fully lost nor fully formed. I can hardly wait to see how he develops.

The hero is a younger sailor called Charlie Raven. He falls foul of Captain Hector Maxwell, who considers him to be a coward, and decides to break him. It's a fast-moving story, featuring a chase by open boats across the English Channel. 'From Ushant to Scilly is Thirty Five Leagues.' And it's hell.

Thank God the sailing season's almost over so that I can work without regret! Please God keep the piles at bay...


Don't mention the war




I have always been a fascinated observer of how people in power lie and cheat, and how rationality bleeds away from the most dangerous and difficult human problems. We all know that war has no winners, we all know that wars will never end. Thanks to the wonders of ebookery, I’ve been able to revisit my thriller set in wartime and beyond. It's called Death Orders.

The mystery at the heart of it has been around for a long, long time, and it will not go away. It is about an event so bizarre that the truth will never, obviously, be known. That’s the beauty of the history animal. You don’t have study philosophy very long to hit the sixty four thousand dollar question. What is truth?

Consider this. My book, Death Orders, which will hit the cyber world in the next couple of weeks via Endeavour Press, is about the supposed death of a man who supposedly flew to England in a Messerschmitt in 1941, was possibly not the man he was claimed to be, possibly died in the basement of the Carlton Club at the hands of the secret services, and possibly ended up – the last survivor of all the imprisoned war criminals – incarcerated in Spandau Jail, Berlin.

His name – someone’s name – was Rudolf Hess, and from Spandau his body was sped to hospital after he had hanged himself at the age of 91, from a window frame in a garden hut which was much too low to do the job, shortly after ordering his lunch and a fresh supply of toilet paper. Within hours the wooden hut was gone, burnt to the ground by the British who were in charge of the jail that day. Within weeks, the prison itself had been demolished.

After he had been buried, and the scientific possibilities of DNA came marching ever closer, Prisoner Number Seven was exhumed, cremated, and scattered at sea. In the jail he had refused for more than twenty years to meet his beloved wife and son, and had claimed many times – not least when the fighter plane had crashed in Scotland – that he was not Rudolf Hess. No DNA was ever taken, and key papers about the affair remain top secret, long after the normal term.

All that is not in doubt about this story is that a man flew to England from Germany via Denmark and a man is definitely dead. Some think he came to broker peace. Some think Hitler put him up to it. Some think Winston Churchill was in it up to the elbows, some think the Royal Family were implicated, some are certain Joseph Stalin had a hand.

Uncle Joe, in fact, said this: ‘There are lots of things that happen, even here in Russia, which our secret service does not necessarily tell me about.’

And Joe, except in very peculiar ways, was not noted for his sense of humour.

Churchill said this: ‘There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.’

I don't believe much in conspiracy theories, but when I took my first bite at this cherry, under the title of The Butcher’s Bill, HarperCollins offered twenty thousand pounds to anyone who could prove its thesis was untrue. Several conspiracy nuts tried very hard, but the cash was safe, although not having Mr Murdoch behind me now I sure as hell won’t take that risk again. But the book is so full of fascinating, wild, sexy, awful happenings, that to rewrite it a bit, and be asked by Endeavour if they could republish it, has been a joy and a delight.

I don’t know exactly which of its elements are facts or lies or lunacies – no one does. But I do know that some of the most screamingly improbable things in it are verifiably completely accurate. If you love history as much as I do, that is more than enough, believe me.

Hats off to Endeavour for letting me fly this kite once more. Let’s hope it has more success than the man in that Me110. Rudolf Hess? Alfred Horn? Or pick a name out of the bran tub.

And twenty grand aside, the bet remains. Prove to me it didn’t happen like I tell it and I’ll be your friend for life.

Probably even buy you a pint…



www.endeavourpress.com
You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter. No pub date yet, but very soon.



And if anyone still thinks governments play straight with us, or ever have, or ever will, try Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/09/le-carre-snowden-fiction-truth


ALMOST THERE, SENSATION SEEKERS!

wagstaffe

RIGHT - the new version of my (highly acclaimed, I'm happy to say) thriller Kicking Off will be up on Kindle next week to replace the one already available for £1.88. And if you click this link you can read or download a novella-length digest to get the juices flowing - plus some of the fantastic things the press have said about it.

Kicking Off is the first in a series featuring hard-bitten investigative journalist Andrew Forbes and his much more civilised (and beautiful!) Scots 'assistant' Rosanna Nixon. The second book, The Bonus Boys, will go up on Kindle in few weeks time. Slightly less in yer face than Kicking Off, it's still quite rare meat. Forbes and Rosanna (known as The Mouse by some misguided people) get very near to death. Rosanna, in fact, actually feels the blade... Click here for a couple of opening chapters.



wagstaffe
As well as doing ebooks, Jan also publishes with McBooks, in America, and Walker Books in Britain and America

His ebook imprint Skinback Books:

http://amzn.to/Hkb6oR
http://www.facebook.com/skinbackbooks



A Game of Soldiers Youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC6J9p2-Yqw
A Game of Soldiers (novel)
http://amzn.to/HpECNH


Kicking Off
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0077VORDG

Killing Time at Catterick
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00784YA6Q

Young Adult and children:
Silver and Blood – Return to Treasure Island
http://amzn.to/wYlt7I


My Mate Shofiq
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0078W05XU

Albeson and the Germans
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0078W057G


Comedy and crime...

Have you ever featured in an advent calendar? I have! A couple of days ago I got an email from novelist Barry Hutchison which contained a link to his website Christmas special. This was how he introduced it:


WAGSTAFFE THE WIND-UP BOY by Jan Needle was one of those books that really had an impact on me when I first read it. I discovered the book when I was nine years old. This was the same year I decided I wanted to be an author, and I honestly think the two things are directly connected.

To nine-year-old me, this story of a robotic boy who can pee through his finger was just the bee's knees. I borrowed it from the library during a visit with my class, and every week one or two of us would be chosen to stand up and talk about the book they had taken home that week.

Being a shy, retiring sort (I was, honest!) I always avoided teacherly eye contact at that point, terrified of being chosen to go up and talk in front of the class. The week I borrowed this book, I volunteered to speak. I was so bursting with excitement about the story that I wanted to share it with everyone in the class. And now I'm sharing it with you, too.

Darker than Dahl, but side-splittingly funny, there's a lot in this little book to appeal to all ages. Buy it, read it, and then stand up and tell the world how much fun the story is. You can also find out a lot more info on it at the author's website.

Don't forget - on Christmas Eve I'll be sending out a free 13th Horseman Christmas story to all my newsletter subscribers. Want to get your hands on it? Sign up below.

Barry's website describes him as the 'King of Apocalyptic Comedy. Allegedly.' It's a good site, with a newsletter (I've signed up to) and I'll be trying out his books asap. 'Darkly funny horror' appears to be his bag. Suits me. The link to the site, and advent calendar, is http://www.barryhutchison.com/2012/12/book-advent-calendar-day-6/ There are more words about Waggie, and a picture of Roy Bentley's terrific cover.

TALKING OF DARKLY FUNNY HORROR STORIES, I'm happy to say the legal department of Amazon has binned one of the more unpleasant pseudo reviews of Killing Time at Catterick (see post below this one). It's libellous, dishonest, not far off illiterate, and orchestrated by ARRSE, the unofficial Army website. Pity really. I'd have expected more from the average soldier.


One last thing, for crime lovers. Check this out:


NOIR Magazine
@Noir_Magazine
First-of-its kind multimedia tablet magazine for mystery, thriller & true crime genres in all mediums. *launches 12.15.12 Read more here: ‪http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2020491455/noir-magazine …‬
Los Angeles · noirmagazine.com


C'est la guerre

I hoped the life of an author would be an interesting one when I sort of gave up on my schooling and spent all my days dreaming and scribbling. Now the intrepid squaddies who make up the literary critic wing of ARRSE, the unofficial website of the British Army, are making it all seem worthwhile by trying to bankrupt me.

It started earlier this month when the denizens of ARRSE (Arsenicks? Arseholes?) decided to turn their critical attention to my book Killing Time at Catterick. Now it’s not an easy book, I will admit, and certainly not a pleasant one. I wrote it after being approached by some ex-soldiers to put down their story, warts and all. Not ideal soldiers, by any means, and all of them left not too long after finishing their training. They had all loved some of it, hated some of it, and been absolutely convinced they had been conned into joining in the first place.

I’m friends with all three of them still, and they haven’t changed their opinion. They are particularly amused, in a cynical way, at the latest government idea to axe many thousand squaddies and replace them with part-timers. Sort of underpaid and over there. It will save money, certainly. Can you think of any other benefits? Answers on a postcard to a Mr Hammond at the Ministry of Defence, please.

After a time, the book went up on Amazon, as a Kindle. I only charge £1.87 for it, and any profits that might accrue go to the squaddies. It was also serialized, for free, by openDemocracy, under the title The Skinback Fusiliers, by Unknown Soldier. OpenDemocracy was bad enough – a trendy leftie organization, the soldiers seemed to insist, and it wasn’t helped by several mentions in the Guardian as well. Bloody hell – a communist rag if ever there was one!

Then, a few weeks ago, the ‘book club’ in ARRSE decided to try and have a concentrated go at it. A review appeared out of nowhere by someone who called himself Abner Brown. Not a fan, I think. He wrote:

I managed to read the first few paragraphs and skimmed through a few more. It was an effort. Off the top of my head I can't think of anything I have read that is so badly written and poorly researched. In fairness, I remember a lot of drunken thuggery, overt racism, drug abuse and random criminality in the army. Some of the line regiments that recruited from the urban badlands in the late 80s and early 90s had real problems. I knew soldiers who did go 'paki bashing' and 'grad bashing' and 'queer bashing'. They were living in their own little Clockwork Orange world, and either grew out of it or were kicked out of the army. A lot of the really serious violence was soldier on soldier and didn't involve civilians. Anybody who served in a line regiment at that time probably has a few horror stories about the exploits of drunken thugs.

I really doubt if there is open racism in the army today - it just doesn't ring true. I also suspect that with better retention and 100% recruiting, the army can be a lot more choosy about who it employs. That said, there was a fool of a Scots Guardsman in the papers recently who sounded like a character in the Skinback Fusiliers.

My main problem with this book (apart from the fact that it is appallingly written and woefully tedious) is that the characters don't remind me of any squaddy I ever met. A good book on the subject will take you right back to the barracks - fucking hell that's _____ or, that's just like the bar at ______.....The Skinback Fusiliers didn't succeed in capturing any of the barracks or NAAFI atmosphere, and the soldiers behaviour, dialogue and attitudes are entirely unconvincing. The author comes across as a naive Meeja Studies undergraduate with a SWP membership card in his pocket. The 'novel' (or what I read of it) is crass and boring. His research probably consisted of buying drinks for a few lads who PVRd from Catterick and searching the archives of Guardian Online.

Fair enough, I suppose, although he did seem a bit confused – complaining about the things I wrote about then saying they did happen, of course, but maybe not so bad. And also admitting that he’d hardly read the book. But the site moderator (I assume), saw no such flaws. Abner’s review, in fact, was a beacon and a rallying call. He commented:

Outstanding review Abner I agree entirely. Would you do me a favour and pop along to Amazon and post your views?….I would urge others to go on Amazon and review this rather nasty anti-soldier book…. Please leave polite reviews and lets not treat Jan Needle with the same vitriol he reserves for us. He deserves to have his trash called trash, but as with Open Democracy we can be sure liberal Guardianistas will regard his drivel as gospel. I would urge all ARRSERS to go on Amazon and say exactly how representative of army life they believe Needle's fiction to be.

Well, red rag to a bull. Never mind the quality, feel the width. Despite at least one half-decent earlier review on the ARRSE site itself, the lads rushed to Amazon and posted their (polite, non-vitriolic) pieces. Comments ranged from ‘so badly written’ the writer didn’t finish chapter three, to the suggestion (actually a libel) that the fact the book was nominated for the Orwell Prize was a downright lie because it didn’t make it to the short list. Although there are several other five star reviews already, its rating dropped to three. Job done.

Does it matter? I guess in the scheme of things, not at all. The soldiers think I’m anti them because I say things that I’m told by serving soldiers are true, and we all know how hard it is to be criticized. I’m not anti soldier at all, I’m anti the way we treat them and force/expect them to treat others. Sadly, it’s not just Abner’s one fool of a Scots Guardsman, is it? Five Marines are facing trial on murder charges at the moment, and the stories about squaddies and brutalised civilian detainees, from Baha Mousa onwards, are straining ever more powerfully at the restraints imposed by the Government. Soldiers are banned from certain towns in Cyprus, and the horrible scandal of unexplained deaths among recruits at Deep Cut almost certainly has not run its course.

The level of rape and sexual assault is little short of horrifying. too. According to the Guardian, one rape or sexual assault is reported by a member of the armed forces every week, and in two and a half years there have been 53 reported rapes and 86 reported sex assaults in the three forces. Only 16 of 56 men court martialed were convicted. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2012/oct/29/rape-military-shocking-truth

And what of drunks in streets? What of the homeless? The proportion of ex-servicemen among them is scandalous. Private Eye reported recently that 67 per cent of servicemen drink to ‘hazardous’ levels, and 13 per cent have ‘serious alcohol misuse problems.’ But don’t take their word for it, read Mark Frankland’s amazing book Afterwards – also based on the words of real soldiers, but much more directly than my volume – which I reviewed in IEBR. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#label/cally+white/13a68ce4ea9e04bf If ARRSE ever gets hold of this one, God knows what they’ll write. It’s extraordinary.

One good footnote. The ARRSERS got it down to two stars with their campaign, but it’s crept its way up to three again. It started at five. If the ARRSERS read this, I guess it’ll plunge again…c’est a guerre!


HANG A HOODIE

My monthly blog for Authors Electric (http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk/)linked the problems of writing big violent thrillers with the problems of living in a big violent age. My starting point was Chris Grayling and Theresa May jumping on the traditional Tory law'n'order bandwagon at the annual conference. Their wonderfully quaint idea of solving Britain's crime problems is to allow householders to visit disproportionate violence on anyone who breaks (or even wanders) into their house, coupled with the idea that anyone transgressed against can choose the punishment to be visited on the perp. Neat, eh? Bloodbath follows...

It did spark a lively debate on the blogspot, though, which ranged through the problems of Amazon star ratings among other things. My book Killing Time at Catterick is coming under pretty sustained attack from people who don't think anyone should criticise 'our boys' with a series of fairly sub-literate comments, which have brought the overall ratings down with a bang.

Among the 'reverse comments' was this from John A.A.Logan, author of The Survival of Thomas Ford a dark, bleak and compulsive 'noir' thriller set in Scotland. He wrote:

I've seen the barrage on Amazon for Killing Time at Catterick.
I think it's just the same controversy you've faced down before. The group who disagree strongly with the book have found it first.
That powerful reaction is a sign that the book is strong medicine.
I know you just found out about the barrage this week too, and it will have been a shock.
But give this a month, or a year, time for others to find the book?
It could end up being a very interesting Amazon page indeed, as this almost "taboo" subject (especially in a time of active military deployment) is debated perhaps.
And you, after all, are still Jan-No-Stranger-To-Controversy-Needle!
You must expect these adventures...

The point about active military deployment is particularly poignant in a week when another five British servicemen have been accused of murder. But as I responded to Mr Logan:

Well, I knew I was cruising for a bruising with that one [Killing Time at Catterick]. Even my main source made me promise I'd never reveal his name in case any of his former comrades wanted to engage in literary discussions about it! And the reaction on the 'squaddies website' AARSE when it was originally serialised on OpenDemocracy (and in the comments section after every episode) was amazing. Paintstripper with added nitric acid.

The Kindle star system is a bit painful sometimes, though, because the sound of axes being ground is probably invisible to people looking for a book to read. (Do I mean inaudible? Discuss.)

Another of my books has also suffered recently from negative reviews on Kindle, with a three star and a two star review offsetting the five star it got at first. Then, yesterday, this appeared, to lift my self confidence back off the floor:

By Neil Sydenham
Amazon Verified Purchase
When trying to evaluate a book, I'm not sure that's it's a very good approach to criticise it for not being what it doesn't set out to be. Nor does it help much to draw distinctions of value between prequels, sequels and re-presentations set in another century and in another society. Andrew Motion's sequel to Treasure Island does not compete with Silver and Blood: it is a different sort of book for a different purpose. In the same way William Horwood's sequel to Wind in the Willows is utterly different from and doesn't compete with Jan Needle's Wild Wood, his brilliantly retold and wickedly funny version of The Wind in the Willows from the Weasels' point of view, which also involves a searing comment on Edwardian society and thus, inevitably, our own. Stevenson was writing an adventure story for boys. That it has so many depths and insights, such ambiguous characters, such profound questions of conduct and morality is because he was a great writer and simply could not write at one level only. Such books have to be revisited. Needle has recreated Silver in all his doubtful glory and heightened both his evil and his saving magnanimity and that to me is a wonderful thing. He's seen and dramatised the grasping greed and hypocrisy of Livesey and Trelawney in a way which Victorian social restraints prevented Stevenson from doing, though he understands them perfectly well, and that's a perceptive comment in an age when at last such revelations about the ruling classes are possible. He's turned Jim from being a surprised, wide-eyed pawn in the game into a cynical, observant modern teenager. He's taken violence away from the romanticism of chasing up the ratlines with cutlasses drawn and turned it into the sordid business of AK7s and death both indiscriminate and bloody. In short, Needle has written a book for our times, a new and realistic look at a great classic, a comment on a whole genre and also a book with all the narrative drive of the great RLS himself.

That reviewer gave it five stars, and also mentioned my not dissimilarly inspired version of the Wind in the Willows, Wild Wood, which I hope to get up on Amazon before too much longer. But I’ll quote the two-star review as well:

By Mr. C. R. Simmonds
Amazon Verified Purchase
A bit of a pastiche on the original "Treasure Island" - this book lacked "bite" and had a rather feeble ending as if the author had grown tired of the theme. Go back and read the original if you want action, suspense and excitement! This book spoils the original dream......

It’s easy to see where this is coming from, and I sympathise with it, as well. Some people just can’t bear to see their favourite classics messed about with. But in my defence I was only using Treasure Island as an inspiration (I think it’s possibly the best novel ever written). Stevenson knew damn well that he was writing about a moral cesspit, but the book has come down as a children’s classic.

A classic it truly is, and by all means reread the original - I often do. But think of John Silver with a 9mm automatic in his hand, and a Jimmy Savile cigar in his mouth. I doubt if that was the original dream. If so, let’s spoil it…


Trumpet blowing for beginners

silver and blood
No one ever got anywhere by not blowing their own trumpet, my old dad used to say (and it certainly didn't get him anywhere. He was more a clarinet man). But on returning from a week in sunny southern France I found this on the Authors Electric blog, on the subject of Arthur Ransome, Robert Stevenson, and the business of mining writers of the past to bring something interesting to the present. It's by my old mucker Dennis Hamley, and I haven't asked him if I can use it. The other writer he cites is Julia Jones, who owns Arthur Ransome's last boat, Peter Duck. There a link to the left to her outfit, Golden Duck Publishing. And her books are magic, believe me!

Here's part of what Dennis wrote on Authors Electric

I was in Blackwell's in Oxford the other day and saw a book there which I knew I had to buy. Arthur Ransome's Long-lost Study of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Kirsty Nichol Findlay, an academic from New Zealand who is obviously crackers about both of them, and published by the Boydell Press. How the study was lost and how it was found are both extraordinary stories on their own account. It wasn't Ransome who did the losing. He was disillusioned with its progress, his publisher was suddenly very lukewarm and also he was just preparing to go to Russia, partly as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, more pressingly to get away from Ivy, his wife, because they were driving each other mad. So he cut his losses and left it to Ivy to post. That was a mistake. Though going to Russia wasn't. Because here he found himself both as writer and sailor and here he met Evgenia, Trotsky's secretary, married her and they had long and lovely lives together.

Even though he never finished the book, the draft we have is still a delight. Ransome felt a great affinity for the older writer. And we can see the fruits of this in the great Swallows and Amazons series. The children's imaginative world is fired by Stevenson - and especially Treasure Island. It's a sort of royal line. The great storytelling tradition. Scott (thought I've never really been able to get on with him and besides, the narrative line started long, long before), Stevenson, Ransome.

I often think about tradition in literature. As writers, we're all in one, whether we like it or not. We're all influenced by other writers. We can't help it, however original and unique we set out to be. And when I look at Authors Electric, I see the successors in the Stevenson-Ransome sequence. I certainly rate Ransome, the summit of my early reading experience, as an influence. I can't sail, more's the pity (I can barely even swim), but for narrative flow and mastery of the plain style he has been my most important mentor. But there are two of our number who are strongly in the line of descent.

First, Jan. A sailor, like Ransome, and, like me, a devourer of his books in childhood. And a writer who, in Silver and Blood, has the measure of Stevenson's achievement in Treasure Island. It's not a sequel, nor just an update. More a homage, to both its writer and its main character, Long John Silver, who is not just a hard-hearted, treacherous pirate but a person of deep contradictions, huge subtlety, complex, appealing even in the act of evil, a constant riddling puzzle, almost a rougher version of Hamlet without the self-questioning. Jan nearly had a fit when I said I thought Moonfleet was the better book. I'm beginning to think I may have been wrong.

a ravelled flag

And then there's Julia. Her Strong Winds trilogy - The Salt-Stained Book, A Ravelled Flag and Ghosting Home are unashamed in showing their debt to Arthur Ransome. Ransome's characters are constant role models for Julia's. The imaginative worlds of Ransome and Stevenson are always there, under the surface - but these books are set in harsher times The crises are not make-believe or advanced forms of play. They are real, hard, stark and dangerous: they can kill. I've recently read them and now I'm reading them again to review (for Armadillo this time, not IEBR).

So here are two writers who understand and acknowledge their debts. I think we all should. It's good sometimes to pause and ask, not what we will write next, not how we will sell what we've just written, but WHO we are as writers. How do we fit in to the scheme of things? Where are our literary antecedents, our influences? Where are the springs and sources of our imagination? It's a good exercise just to stand and stare for a few moments!

Arthur Ransome: what a man. Jan, have you ever thought how his life parallels that of our dear old friend Jim Riordan. Like AR, Jim spent crucial years in Russia which shaped both their lives, like AR he married (in the end) a Russian woman. Like AR he wrote a lot of unforgettable books for children. How about doing a comparative literary study together?


Virtually bonkers

Does the internet make you mad? Discuss. I seem to spend so much time these days trying to find my way around the electronic world, I end up doing practically nothing. I'm about three quarters of the way through a huge and meaty thriller, and I have put pen to paper (so to speak) for so long I'll have to read it all again to make sure where I'm up to. Likewise Facebook and Twitter and various blogs I read. I'm off to France in a few days time, and the book was meant to be finished.

On the up side, I've heard some fantastic music. And made some of my own. Which I, at least, enjoyed!

Till later, then.


Spreading it around a bit

Two friends of mine have written novels which I think are well worth sharing with you. The first is called No Place for Dinosaurs, a police procedural thriller written by an ex Detective Inspector from the North called John Morrison. It is unlike any other book in the ‘genre’ I’ve ever read. It reeks of authenticity, and shows the police up in a new light entirely. Today I’m giving you the first chapter, and exhorting you buy it from Amazon. For the cynics out there, I don’t have any financial interest in either of these books.

The second one, which also goes up on Amazon today, is short, punchy, and uncategorisable, written by a woman who calls herself Margaret McCann. In this age of Fifty Shades of Grey it won’t perhaps be as shocking as it would have been not long ago, which is a pity in a way. It’s about a young art student called only ‘J’ (the title of the book) who gets involved with a man called Chef, and ends up as a strangely willing sex slave. It’s truly weird, deeply felt, and very strangely pitched. Neither me nor ‘Margaret’ – who is in fact a well known and widely respected painter and photographer – is absolutely certain what it ‘means,’ but I’m happy to have published it on my Skinback Books imprint. Like many other fine volumes, it has done the rounds of ‘mainstream’ publishers and agents. Many of them praised it to the skies. None of them was brave enough to take it on.

As well as putting up ‘tasters’ for these books, I’ve written about them on my Authors Electric monthly blog. I might put up more extracts here soon. But they’re both cheap, and they’re both deeply kick-ass. Here are some links:

Extracts from the two books
My blogs at Author's Electric
The Facebook page for Skinback Books
My Facebook page


Reaction, reaction

silver and blood

Lots of lovely things being said about Silver and Blood now - and lots of plaudits for the cover, done by Matti Gardner, working on a photograph by Alex Marrs - alexjohnmarrs@hotmail.co.uk. Next. they'll be working up a cover for my follow up to Kicking Off, which is to be called They Came By Night - another big horror thriller featuring Rosanna (The Mouse) Nixon and Andrew Forbes.

The confusion over another of my 'nasties' continues apace. It was originally on Amazon under the title The Skinback Fusiliers, which I had to change for various reasons, and is now there as Killing Time at Catterick. Unfortunately Amazon doesn't find such concepts easy, so the wonderful reviews it had gathered didn't get transferred, and the first one under the new title was by an extremely disgruntled ex soldier (he said) who thought it wasn't nice about 'our boys.' I agree with him, but then, it wasn't meant to be. And they certainly weren't the targets. The way the government treats our armed forces is a horrendous scandal. Die for your country - and we'll kick you onto the scrap heap. It was nominated for the Orwell Prize, however, and it's got at least one better review now. A long job, though...

Incidentally, a couple of months back I asked here and on Facebook for comments on my proposed title for the thriller that became Kicking Off. I originally planned to call it Panopticon, but the feedback wasn't all that good, so I went with Kicking Off. Then three weeks ago in the Guardian there was a review of a new novel. I'm not sure of its genre, but it was called - you've guessed it - Panopticon! Hope it does well for them...

Now, here's the review of Silver and Blood. It's in the online reviewing mag (or whatever you call online phenomena) the IEBR, run by Cally Phillips, the novelist and playwright.


Silver and Blood by Jan Needle
Posted by Julia Jones on June 26, 2012

“He’d risked Jim’s life, and saved it, and replaced his dead father in the secret spaces of his heart.”

Jan Needle’s Silver and Blood: Return to Treasure Island is more than a return, it is a re-imagining – a re-imagining that gives the main characters an emotional credibility which is significantly different both from Stevenson’s original and from Andrew Motion’s recent novel Silver: Return to Treasure Island.

Needle’s earlier writing for children – Albeson and the Germans, My Mate Shofiq, The Bully (all now available on Kindle) – is strongest in its depiction of naïve, confused, adolescent boys, often with harassed, inadequate, single mothers. Silver and Blood is a new book, action-packed and twenty-first century, but is instantly distinguished by this same understanding and empathy for the young hero. Jim Parker has lost his father; he and his mother are failing in business. He’s worried and he’s bored. This makes him easy prey for the first sinister visitor to the Crown and Cushion pub. “Jim guessed the captain was a murderer from the moment that he saw him in the weird and scar-faced flesh. He guessed he was a murderer, but he never thought he’d try to kill his mother and smash up their lives as well. Otherwise he might have done it differently.”

Unsurprisingly Jim is soon way out of his depth and Needle pulls off a masterstroke by introducing his version of Long John Silver into the confused and violent scenes that follow the captain’s death. This is much earlier than the character appears in Treasure Island itself. He has no name at this point, merely “a low voice, warm and friendly.” He wears a suit and tie and has “a broad tanned face, not like a criminal at all” – which merely goes to show how little poor Jim knows about wickedness at this stage.

Jim’s not stupid, however, and is sufficiently alert to sense that the Doctor and Clive Tregarron (the Squire Trelawny figure) may not be as straightforward as they seem. Casting doubt on the integrity of the professional-class characters is another of Needle’s welcome re-thinkings of the original. There is little that is straightforward in this fast-paced adventure: dead men return to life and the blind regain their sight. Double-crossers are themselves double-crossed. There is plenty of action (drugs, guns, treasure and speedboats), one especially good new character (the ship’s engineer) and some evocative descriptions of the island. Mum would have loved it, thinks Jim in his initial innocence, and later it reminds him of an iconic scene from Swallows and Amazons. “Real life was different though. Behind him he heard grunts and panting and the odd swearword.”

Jim has so much to deal with – fear, lies, pain and diarrhoea. It’s not surprising that his early encounter with Long John Golding’s reassuring, masculine strength has filled an emotional void that not all Golding’s subsequent betrayals can finally erase. This imaginative subtlety makes Silver and Blood an adventure story to be enjoyed by older children and adults alike.

“He was John Golding. Yes.”

Here's the link, which will lead you to other reviews. It's a good and useful site, and I've done a couple of reviews on it myself. All reviewers are professional writers.

For anyone who doesn't know it, Authors Electric is a good site, too. A daily blog by about thirty professionals (including me).


Five Go Mad in the Falklands

a game of soldiers

Back in l982, our dear leader Margaret Thatcher was in deadly trouble. She was considered to be a harsh and grating shopkeeper with a vicious streak, who was heading for oblivion at the next election. Then some nasty little fascist nutter called General Galtieri in Argentina decided - also for reasons of electoral unpopularity - to invade the Falkland Islands, to which his country had a claim. Like everybody's claim to the islands it was legally dubious, and could only ever hope to be settled through legal processes. Neither Galtieri nor Thatcher were interested in such nonsense, obviously - they were politicians. There was kudos, and votes, to be won.

Much to the astonishment of the British - who had, however, just removed their naval presence from the area - the Argentinians were serious. They sent a small but determined force across the water, and quickly captured the place. Much to the astonishment of the world, and her own advisers, Maggie sent a task force 8,000 miles to get them back. Militarily, it was as near insane as makes no odds. To put it at its bleakest, if one of Argentina's submarines had sunk the ocean liner Canberra that was carrying our troops (we had no troop ships, naturally - SO expensive!) the fallout would have been beyond belief. In the event, in the weeks of fighting, many soldiers and sailors were killed and maimed. More than nine hundred from both countries. Borges said: 'It was like two bald men fighting over a comb.' And now the islands are still British, although Maggie never held the promised referendum, and now Argentina is making belligerent noises once more, because the legal issues are still unresolved. Progress, eh?

I wrote a play about it at the time. A three part serial for Thames TV, which they decided would be best placed in their schools programming. It was called A Game of Soldiers, and the Government were horrified. It told the story of three Falklands kids who find a badly injured young Argentine conscript hiding in a sheep shelter and decide to kill him. Not because they are evil nasty little beasts, but because of the reason the task force went all those miles - it was a patriotic duty.

The government, in the person of Defence Minister John Stanley, were determined that it should not be shown. Pressure was put on ITV to pull it from the schedules, and all sorts of knocking stories went the rounds. At one stage it was described as being 'Five Go Mad on the Falkland Islands' in the hope that ridicule would do the trick. It did not. The government were told, politely, to go to hell. Brian Cowgill, for Thames, agreed in the end to have a voiced announcement before it was shown, pointing out it was a work of fiction. Possibly one of the neatest mickie-takes against a government in broadcasting history. 'Please note - this play is fiction.' Oooh - vicious...

One wonders if broadcasters would have been able to resist similar pressure these days. Unhappily, I quite seriously doubt it. There won't be another Falklands war anyway - both countries have run their navies down to the point where it could be neither fought, nor defended. Eight thousand miles is a hell of a long way to row.

Anyway, the serial was shown, to critical acclaim, and was even nominated for a Bafta. It didn't win it - that honour went to the least cutting edge contender of the year, Tony Hart's drawing programme. Standing up to governments can only go so far! But Collins asked me to write it as a novel, which was extremely successful, and then as a play to be performed for schools. With typical publishers' timing, they took it out of print, after twenty plus years, not long before the thirtieth anniversary of the war. On a news programme six months ago I saw tatty copies of the novel still being used in London classrooms, which is when we decided to redo it as a 99p ebook for Skinback Books

And if you want to see a bit of the original TV serial, someone's put an episode on YouTube

silver and blood

My other most recent offering through Skinback is Silver and Blood, my modern take on Stevenson's miraculous Treasure Island, which clashed most egregiously with Sir Andrew Motion's sequel, called just Silver. I haven't read his yet, but I'm getting great feedback on mine.

It's a reimagining of the story for the 21st century, without parrots, wooden legs, and upper-class good guys pitched against the lowlife scum. Stevenson was shining a light on the accepted moralities of his time, and inviting people to work out what was really going on. Is Doctor Livesey, a Scot, really that much of a hero, for example? He boasts that he served with Butcher Cumberland,for instance - and Cumberland was known then as the brutal scourge of Scots. And Squire Trelawney, a pillar of his community, chose to search for stolen treasure that he had no right to, with a ship and crew that an honest man would have run a mile from.

Many of the people in my version are also pretty 'challenging' from a moral point of view. And like Stevenson, I like a bit of blood and guts. Throw away the flintlocks - try an AK47!

The covers for both books were done from photographs by a friend of mine called Alex Marrs alexjohnmarrs@hotmail.co.uk, and designed by my son Matti Gardner matti@gramatticus.com

Silver and Blood available here.

All Skinback Books are here.


UP AND RUNNING

kicking off

Exploding jails are not the only excitement on the horizon. After much pain and headscratching,I've finally got Skinback Books up on the road. The first six titles are available on Kindle, with some of them also on Smashwords for people with different devices. But none of them will set you back a pound...

Four of the books are mine - two new, two reprints - and two are by my friend Barry Purchese, double Bafta award winning TV playwright who's now pitched himself into prose. Very shortly 'J' by Margaret McCann will hit the virtual streets as well. That one, I promise you,is a real eye-popper.

The Unique Selling Point is their price. My first one is more than 115.000 words long. And it's up on Kindle for 99p. As are all the others, and as will new books in the future be.

The idea is not to make a fortune, but to try and make a dent. Publishing in this country is deeply in the doodah, and things are getting worse. The big boys are as greedy as they are short-sighted, and the way they treat even long-established authors is terrible. This is not a personal bleat - quite frankly I'm at the stage now where I just want books out there, I don't look to them for fame and fortune. Suck 'em and see - and if you don't like the taste, you've spent less than a half a bus fare.

Here's a thumbnail sketch of what Kicking Off is all about.

When the cauldron of hatred that is Britain’s prisons last boiled over, it cost the country untold millions to put the lid back on. Then, there were fifty thousand banged up inside – now it’s almost double that. And trouble, as the Arab spring has shown, can spread like wildfire once it's started. And race beyond control.

Critic Cally Phillips, on indieebookreview, said: "Jan Needle’s new novel offers a unique perspective on the social ills of our country and an uncomfortable insight into the powderkeg that is our prison system. From the first memorable image to the last page, the style is relentlessly tough and the complex plot will keep you gripped and guessing – and thanking your lucky stars that this is fiction. Or at least hoping that it never becomes fact."

The spark that explodes the jails this time is the naked ambition of a politician gifted with the task of solving the crisis that's flared up in our bleak Victorian fortress prisons. A playboy millionaire has been betrayed by the highest in the land, while an American gangster is set to be sprung by a squad of hitmen who will stop at nothing. Mix in a Glasgow hardman thirsting for revenge, and a governor who is more humane than the Prison Service can stand or stomach – and the cauldron of violence and hatred can only overflow - to spread across the land like cancer.


My second book, Killing Time at Catterick, was published last year as The Skinback Fusiliers, and has been put up for the Orwell Prize. It's a warts and all look at the way the British Army treats some of the young men it sucks in with dreams of glory (or perhaps a wage packet.)

My second two are My Mate Shofiq, which was runner up for the Guardian Award and Albeson and the Germans, which is exciting, realistic and reckoned by kids to be very funny.

Barry's books are designed for adults, but appeal to younger readers too. Grass Roots is the story - from the life - of an idealistic father who sets up a football team for the kids who don't get chosen. All goes well until they begin to get successful. Then the punch-ups start...

Summertime Blues is set in the era of teds and paper nylon skirts, and dreams of stardom and the sexual revolution. It's truly bittersweet.


Here's a taster for KICKING OFF. It's the prologue. The full story is violent, sexy, and moves like a rocket. There will be a sequel.


A TRAGEDY FORETOLD


FROM: XXXXXXX
TO: XXXXXX. SECURITY CODING R+EI. (All restrictions)


Look, we’re in the shit. You know it, I know it, everyone with half a brain knows it, even OGL knows it. I’ve seen prisons in Ukraine more civilised than some of ours, I’ve met Guantanamo Bay warders with a greater grasp of human rights. More to the point, it’s going to blow, and I’d say very soon.

Brief rundown: Career criminals, the mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics. Gangsters, Yardies, Serbs, Albanians, Roma, Asians, and good old fashioned crims. Thugs, murderers, rapists, paedophiles, gunmen, terrorists. POA men completely disaffected, private sector worse. Worse paid, worse treated, worse pissed off. The madrasa problem, too, Stone Agers spreading like the plague. Rumour has it that some of ‘our’ God-botherers are jealous of the mullahs now, and one’s even converting. He says he’s lonely on a Friday afternoon.

It’s not just our friends on the other side of the House who’ve ignored the problem, no point in claiming that. We’ve also seen the cities burning, we also know what could cook up this summer. The police, the Mets particularly, have gone insane, and OGL looks more and more like a badger in the crosshairs. The numbers just go up and up, the pressure valve is lifting by the day. Who said prison works? What sort of raving lunatic? What happens when we hit the hundred thousand? How long does the lid stay on?

All right, the purpose of this note. For Christ’s sake keep it underneath your hat, but at the risk of sounding cynical, I think this is your chance. Sycophantic maybe, but I think it’s you we need, XXXXXX, you personally – that combination of brain and ruthlessness might be our only hope. OGL thinks so, too, he just needs a bit of prodding in the right direction. Think hard, be brilliant, don’t overplay your hand. Because, my friend, somebody’s got to get a grip. Let it be us, okay? I’m laying down the poison for you now.

PS Try and keep it in your pocket. Your dick, I mean. Believe you me, it doesn’t help.





FROM: XXXXXX.
TO: XXXXXXX.


OGL? R+EI? Internal memos? Dick? Are you mad? Redaction may not ever be enough.



FROM: XXXXXXX.
TO: XXXXXX


Very possibly. But greater love hath no man – or woman either – than to give a lethal weapon to a friend. Be prepared. It’s going to happen soon.



Buried in it

Up to my eyes in work,as always. I'm trying to evolve a whole new series of shortish books ranging over a whole lot of areas that interest me. Mainly adventurous, but probably a little dark. Most of all, having done a version of Bram Stoker's Dracula a couple of years ago that continues to attract letters and emails from all over the place (it's published by Walker Books), I want to work up the play that developed out of it into a different sort of Dracula altogether. The drama is published by Collins Educational, and is getting more and more productions. It sets the whole story in the present day, in a mental hospital, and raises the possibility that there is far more madness to the story than Stoker even dreamed of. Most recently been performed in Scotland by Firefly Arts of Livingston, Midlothian (I failed to get to see it, unfortunately) and now selected for the National Festival of Youth Theatre in Glenrothes in July. It's a book that's always fascinated me, and continues to grip. Fangs in the neck have got nothing on it!


looking forward

can't be long until the white stuff goes and the sun comes out, can it? i want to sail a boat.


now the sun is shining

yes yes it is, which makes keeping up with the unimportant things of life even more difficult. a man needs to be in a boat, not flogging himself to death with deathless prose. i keep getting letters from people as far apart as texas and germany (whichever is the bigger, i wonder?) urging me to write another william bentley book, and to be sure i'd dearly love to. but my sea books tend to be a bit unpleasant in genre fiction terms, so they don't exactly make me rich. william is young and handsome, to be sure, but his beloved is a whore, and his eyes are too wide open to british brutality to sit comfortably with hornblower and all the other overprivileged gits(!)who used to sail the seven seas. most pirates were ex-naval men, incidentally. have you ever wondered why? nelson's beloved was a whore, incidentally, and when he died he left her care to the english nation. she died penniless in a calais gutter. says it all, doesn't it?

my naval heroism lately has gone no further than failing to get across the channel with the dunkirk veterans. a sad story, but a good night out, and i wrote the outline of a novel on the train back up north from ramsgate. and my mate who did go threw up over the side of his little ship because he'd been drinking pimms for breakfast. wow.


Onwards ever onwards

Having survived a long bout of pneumonia, we're back in business. been hellish cold up here - perhaps i should have listened to my mother, who kept saying there was always a place for me back at home on the south coast. too late now, mum, but thanks anyway.

i've just written a profile for author hotline. i used to visit schools a lot until i had a big car crash and was out of it for a few years, but i'm doing more again now. i went to a few schools and colleges last year and had a really good time. so did the kids, i think...
the hotline goes national in march, and you can access me/it on authorhotline.com.

i'm also available to be seen and contemplated (i hope) on contactanauthor.co.uk.

my visits to schools tend to be fun, apart from anything else. and i LOVE school dinners!


noo year noos

Some of the things that have been said about Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, by local author Jan Needle. Yes – you may have heard him play tin whistle at the Cross Keys or the Con Club. If you’ve got children – this will keep them quiet!

Original, clever and touching. Western Morning News
Left me gasping for breath like a naughty schoolboy. Weekend Review.
The book I’ve always been waiting for. I love it. Carl Grose, KneehighTheatre.
This book is so funny it will kill you. If it doesn’t, I will. Siri L.Killer
Grim, ghastly, gruesome – a children’s dream! Daily Mirror
Don’t let your grannie read it. Northern Echo
A kids’ book to die for. My children could not read it fast enough. Morning Argus.
Reluctant readers? They’ll eat this one for dinner. The Standard.
Wagstaffe the winning weirdo. South London Press
This is the most disgusting book I have ever read. Please buy it – we need the money. Jan’s mum.
The book that put the ex in dyslexia for Toby, aged nine. Parade
Grown-ups might hate it. I promise you, children will not. Today.
Makes Roald Dahl look polite. London Pride.
Made my whole class shriek with laughter. Chris Shaw, Pallion School, Sunderland.

Originally published by Andre Deutsch and Lions, now repackaged as a classy paperback by Back to Front, and available from bookshops, Amazon, and direct from www.back-to-front.com – who will give a discount and free post and packing anywhere in Britain.
Isbn 1-904529-41-0


working for a living

ages since i had time to write on this, and now i've spent half an hour updating and pressed the wrong bleeding button. no time to do it all again, as i'm meant to be working for a living. in fact the last couple of months have been a hard round of sailing, sinking my canal boat, fighting the insurance company, who seemed to think that accidents are nothing to do with them. exhausted by all that, i was forced to go to germany, austria and slovakia, to test the beer and food.

revelation. the germans and austrians have got it made when i comes to eating a drinking. i put on several pounds (minus several kilos, because they're bigger i believe)and can now hardly reach my keyboard.

all well. an die arbeit. tchuess!


news news

Such a humiliation for a hard-working nurse. Now read on...


august

And now the poor girl is being read about on the Plinth in Trafalgar Square! Julie McCarthy, mother, arts co-ordinator, canal boat operator, is doing her bit for Waggie and Sadie M'Gee - at an admittedly ungodly hour of the morning. The plinth is the sort of idea that would have driven Waggie mad. A golden opportunity for bringing his magic catapult into play, at the very least.

Still, it'll bring a bit of northern culture to the deep sarf, won't it? In his second adventure - Wagstaffe and the Life of Crime - our hero actually goes to London, and being Wagstaffe, goes by tandem, with his friend Hugh N'Dell providing the back-up pedal power. They use the M1, of course - and outrun the police cars that pursue them.

Although, to be fair, Waggie is a little knackered when they reach the Smoke.

Put the finishing touches to the latest novel a couple of days ago. It's to be called Silver and Blood, and it's a fast-moving thriller for the sort of readers who love Anthony Horowitz. My son Wilf, for one. He once wrote to the great man, and told him he thought his books were fantastic.

"My dad also writes children's books," he added - "but his are crap!"

Painful business being a norfer, I can tell you...

My cut down version of Moby Dick is now out in a smaller, paperback format, in Britain and America. Keep getting lovely letters from the USA about it, and so far, nothing from nearer home.

It's a lovely thing, though. Illustrated by the great Patrick Benson, published by Walker Books,at less than a tenner.Isbn 978-1-4063-1744-2

Buy some for Lulu!


More on Waggie

Sadie M'Gee, the unfortunate nurse who cooked and ate Wagstaffe's heart after his accident, is apparently being hounded by the press.

Reporters have been ringing her at work to ask for comments on her "cannibalism." Pretty embarrassing for someone who works in the A&E department where Wagstaffe was put together after being squashed flat by a lorry.

Sadie, 29, who is a real nurse in Oldham Royal Hospital, blames her father. (That's me, incidentally.) She wonders if she'll ever live down the shame and become a matron?

A picture is circulating now of her in her uniform, with her father. Weirdly, she is still smiling.

jan and sadie

She even plans to go to Waterstones in the Spindles Precinct in Oldham on Saturday July 4 - either to buy a copy or (more likely) to cause a scene.

And it serves him right.

If you miss the signing session, you can get the snazzy new paperback in other ways.

Order directly by going to back-to-front.com and buying online, or by going to Amazon or into your local bookshop and providing the ISBN, which is 1-904529-41-0. Books bought on the Back to Front website have a discount and are free of P&P.


News of a flattened boy

splat
Wagstaffe, the unfortunate boy who was squashed flat by a lorry just because he threw an egg at the windscreen, rides again!

Now with clockwork guts, he has been appearing in a theatre in the south of England and horrifying parents with his filthy habits and bad behaviour.

Many children have tried to commit their parents to old people's homes, according to the national press (Sunday Sport).

More permanently, the original book of his adventures, Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, has been reprinted, and is now available.

If you order it from the publishers, Back to Front, you get free postage, and a discount! Makes sense to Wagstaffe, but then he's a "manky little rat."

Here are the details:
Order directly by going to back-to-front.com and buying online, or by going to Amazon or into your local bookshop and providing the ISBN, which is 1-904529-41-0. Books bought on the Back to Front website have a discount and are free of P&P.


New website

Here's the new janneedle.com. designed and built by matti gardner. Hopefully it looks good and is easy to use.

Not all sections are up-to-date yet, but they will be soon.