Hunting Shakespeare

My idea of rewriting the life of the sainted Bard has already met a few glitches. The Kindle, at 99p, looks fine, and the paperback, costing a hardly extortionate £4.25, looks even better. But on the Amazon page, I failed to point out it is a comedy – featuring Will Shakespeare as a lowly junior reporter on Ye Globe!

I’ve already had some letters saying that he was not like that at all! Judging from his later writing he was not a hapless drunken hack, but the greatest playwright of all time, despite the odd fact that he couldn’t even spell his own name.

I called Anne Hathaway Anne Hathadose as well, which didn’t help at all. Some people thought it bordered on the rude, though God knows how they would have survived Elizabeth England. Hathaway, Hathadose, Shagsper, Shaksper, Shaxpur, who gave a flying fart?

I could say that the pace of modern publishing is no great help, but I doubt that it would get me off the hook. When I recall that my first book – Albeson and the Germans – did not fall into my hot little hands until a year or more after Andre Deutsch bought it, and ‘Shakespeare – the Truth’ was turned around in three to four weeks from finishing typing to having it in paperback and in Kindle version, it’s mind-boggling.

It’s madly efficient, but it also means days off from writing are a thing of the past. I finished the first Covid Caper (Shakespeare) about a month ago, and I’ve already had to start his second adventure as an intrepid reporter on Ye Daily Globe. Momentum is the name of the game, so there’ll be at least one more (non Shakespeare) book before Will goes to Scotland to clash with bloody King Macbeth.

I can’t tell you too much about Scotch on the Rocks yet, except that it’s equally mad. And after that, I’ve got more adventures for poor Will.

Enough of whining. Here’s a bit of Chapter 2 of the first book, in which young Bill meets King Lear – and gets a very sore arse. Driving a motorbike, you see. He always was a great one for anachronisms was our William…

Chapter 2   

A married man, Will Shagsper quickly learned, had to have a trade. No good at gloving, as Mr H told everyone in the neighbourhood, not good at anything at all if you asked his wife – within the sheets or out.

            ‘He’s like an octopus that’s lost an arm or two,’ she told her best friend, Gossip Gertrude. ‘How many does an octopus have anyway?’

            ‘Just the none, but good long legs,’ said Gertrude. ‘And their eggs! Would feed an army an ostrich egg would. Oh, octopus. What’s one of those when it’s at home?’

            ‘I suppose we could ask Will,’ said Anne, resentfully, patting her growing belly. ‘If he knows nothing else he knows things no other bugger knows nothing about, Gertrude.’

            And rude Gert smirked, ‘Like putting things in holes. Babies don’t grow on trees do they?’

            ‘He thinks they do,’ said Anne. ‘First time I gave him a hand in bed he thought that I was milking him to feed the baby! He’s a jackanapes.’

            ‘Gross,’ said Gertie. ‘But you’re Mrs Shagsper now, ain’t you? Your salad days are over, duck.’

            ‘Don’t call me duck, it’s low.’

‘We’re in the Midlands, though, get used to it. You’re Mrs S that’s all there is about it. Sorry.’

‘You bloody will be, duck. I’m Hathaway, and that’s an end to it.’

            ‘But you’re married to him! Ain’t you?’

            ‘Yeah, okay, alright, I must admit it. But a Shagsper I will never be, my friend. Shagsper. Shagsper! What sort of effin name is that?’


            ‘And he hasn’t got a job, and he hasn’t got no prospects, and he’s almost young enough to be my bleedin’ son. If it hadn’t been for them three witches I wouldn’t have touched him with a ten foot pole.’

            ‘Three witches? What three witches?’

            ‘That week in Scotland on the charabang. I got pissed one night and I met them at the crossroads. They said they’d tell me fortune for a groat.’

            ‘Bloody Ada, you were drunk, weren’t you? What did they say?’

            ‘I asked them where the lads hung out, up Scotland way. Where I could get a crafty peep behind the sporran. They went on and on and on.’

The truth, eh? You must be bloody mad!

Power of the Ad?

My first ever use of Facebook ads finished a short time ago. I can’t be sure exactly when, because they time them in some American West Coast Time and I couldn’t really work out when the ad would appear in any given zone. I went to grammar school, see = I can’t do sums, only French.

Anyway, I hope lots of people saw it, and lots of people downloaded the freebie of The Blood Hound. If you missed it it’ll cost you a gigantic 99p (or cents) and I really think it’s worth it. Some people love it, and some find it too bleak and horrible for words.

Be interested to read your review on Amazon…

But only sleepeth

It took the Covid lockdown to wake me up, it seems. I realised I hadn’t written on this page for so long I’d forgotten I had it. Written plenty of other things in the meantime – novels, novellas, scripts, even the odd letter – but my old mother always used to say I was a lazy sod. She was a woman though, and they have a different attitude to work. They do it, we think about it…

She’d probably be quite pleased that I was moved to do this because I had something to give away, however. Generous was Dot. And she was not cynical enough to realise the freebie was just a way of getting people to remember my existence. (Oh yes she was!)

It’s a novella called The Blood Hound, and it’s free on Amazon for a couple more days. Not much of a gift, you might think, because it’s only 99p for the rest of the time. I priced it so low because a few of my normal prepub readers think it’s too unpleasant to inflict on Joe Public. It recounts, in fictional form, the true story of a barber in Blackburn, Lancs, who raped and murdered a seven-year-old neighbour called Emily Holland, whose grave and memorial still exist in the local cemetery. It is a gruesome tale, and a weirdly troubling one. The governor of the jail where William Fish was hanged described him as the gentlest prisoner he had ever known.

I, obviously, think the unpleasantness is a vital part of the book. I’ve always found it worrying how black and white murders come out in the wash of fiction, and I wanted to contrast the genuine vileness of Fish’s act with the fact that he was a loved and loving father and husband. He said himself he did no know why he had done it – he had ‘not intended to’ – and his wife said she had forgiven him, whatever that might mean.

But the fact remains it is unpleasant. And maybe the people who hate it are right. It has many vociferous supporters, however, and maybe they are right as well. What? Is this possible? Who knows.

Anyway it’s up on Kindle, it’s free if you get your finger out, and it’s also available in paperback from the same Amazon site. The Scottish writer Brendan Gisby described it as ‘the finest piece of reportage since Capote’s In Cold Blood.’ I hope he’s right. 

Swine Before Pearls

Odd where you get your fun from, innit? As an ex Brookside writer, I agreed to do a brains trust type gig at a literary beanfeast in Malpas, in the depths of Cheshire, with three of the other stalwarts – Jimmy McGovern, Andrew Lynch, and John Oakden, one of the festival organisers, who lives in the area.
None of us knew what to expect, but anything’s better than boredom, and we were promised a good lunch at a local pub. Then we faced about fifty people who did not look, to be frank, like what you’d imagine Brookie fans to be.
Respectable, well-heeled, polite. Unlikely to bury a redundant loved-one under the patio in Brookside Close. (Although you never know, do you?)
John decided the best way forward was to just sit on the platform (without even a glass of gin to hand) and talk about the show and how we’d got on to it, and how it had fitted in with our life as writers. Then we’d offer ourselves up to be questioned, or even filleted.
I was a bit dubious to start with, especially about my role in it. I came to the series later than the others – who were, in fact, all ‘founder members’ – and I was a Southerner who still can’t even do an approximation of a Scouse accent. I didn’t think I’d get scragged in respectable Cheshire/ Shropshire, but the possibility was there…
And anyway, talking about a show that ended several years ago…well, would anybody still be interested?
They were, and so were we. John gave a general introduction, then the anecdotes began to flow. I admitted my outsider status – when I joined I was basically a novelist – and how it felt to be enveloped in the warmth and generosity of that weird and wonderful entity that is ‘The Pool.’
I also remembered a great number of things about the set-up, and the personalities of some of the writers, actors, and directors. And how bizarre it felt on the Friday after
the monthly script meeting to sit in my local and wait for the phone call that would tell me if I’d got an episode or not.
There were twelve of us writers, and eight episodes per month. Even as a grammar school boy I could do that bit of maths. Plus, each time I got an episode I had to buy all my mates a round!
We spoke for about an hour, much to our amazement, and the audience would have stayed for more, I guess. They certainly had not run out of questions when a halt was called. But the festival must go on, as they say. And the boozer was calling.
There was a woman there, whose name, shamefully I did not catch, who sketched us as we talked, then showed us the results. I was easily the most handsome, but then I used to be a journalist as well and therefore should never be believed.
Naturally enough, in this era of instant communication, somebody else knew her name, and sent it to me, with one of the sketches. This happened, madly, because I have a Facebook friend called (this is TRUE) Jan Needle, who buzzed it on to me. Jan Needle is a woman, without a beard, and we have never met. I thank her for her generosity!
So I can now reveal the artist is called Julia Midgley, and if I can I’ll sent on the message and the pic. I’m a scribbler though, not a techie wizard, so gawd knows what’ll happen. If owt.
But after the festivities it was back to Liverpool for Jimmy, and St Helens for me and Andy (who had a bed for me), and down the road to his own lovely house for John. Andy and I ended up outside a night-club in St Helens (yes, you heard me right!) where we were to meet Johnny Vegas and his wonderful PA Bev Dixon for a special do.
Sadly, Lynch had got the date wrong by a month (I won’t say typical but he is St Helens born and bred) so we hung around in the cold until we did the sensible thing.

A good night’s sleep and then back home in time for Gentleman Jack with the amazing Suranne Jones. As the French might say, quell weekend!

Well I tried me best, but failed. Clcik on this link and you might see the pic though. Fingers crossed.

PS Apologies to people who’ve left comments and feel I’m ignoring them. I’m only feeling my way…  Hopefully, I’ll get there later….

The Hunchback Rides Again

There are all sorts of aspects of the Notre Dame fire which are fascinating. As well as being a tragedy, it shows how some tragedies are worse than others, for instance. No one died, and within days money was pouring in from all over the world to rebuild it. Monsieur Macron, facing a difficult election soon must have thanked his lucky stars.
    Conspiracy theorists please form an orderly queue.
    And what, you may ask, of other governments’ responses to such horrors? What about that fire in London last year? People died, you may remember. A hideous number of them. Large sums of money were also contributed to a fund for the bereaved and the homeless. Many of them are still homeless. Many of them still hover on the shores of destitution.
     Victor Hugo wrote an amazing novel about the cathedral, which like many of his works was so enormous that many of us found it hard to finish. (As did he, in fact. His publishers had to grovel on their metaphorical knees to get him to finally deliver the late, late manuscript.) His original title made no reference to the poor destitute creature Quasi Modo, found abandoned outside the cathedral and whose life became intertwined with it, but it was due to him that the book finally became a world property – on the back of Hollywood, natch.
    And now, Hugo’s great classic is selling like hot cakes again in France. Nowt like publicity, is there? In which spirit I might refer you to my own ‘version’ and translation, which i did for Walker Books, and which was illustrated by David Hughes. His pictures were so amazing, and uncompromising, that many people seemed to think they should not have appeared in what was seen (by the English) as a children’s/young adults’ book.
It’s still available, and I still think it’s one of my better works (not least for the illustrations!). You can always Google it…

Off to Sea Once More….

The Sea Officer Bentley Thrillers: A naval fiction box set

In the words of the fine old song, ‘We’re Off to Sea Once More.’

Or to put it another way, my four 18th century sea books about the troubled young officer William Bentley have just been brought out as a box set by Endeavour Press. Which means that for a ridiculously low price (eight quid I think, without being arsed to actually check) you can follow his adventures from a greenhorn to a captain, from a virgin to a haunted sexual being, from a believer in the nobility of his calling and the British Navy to a man of complex crises.

Like many young men – children? – of his era he was lucky enough to be turfed out of house and home to live with several hundred men in a floating murder-machine, trained and moulded by older officers who ranged from geniuses to psychopaths, turned into heroes or corpses for the greater good and glory of the noblest and most self-satisfied country the world had probably ever known.

It was indeed a signal privilege to fight and die for England. To forge the greatest and bloodiest empire of modern times. To set the guidelines for the way Pax Britannica came to be seen by the world today.

William Bentley, a Hampshire boy, was lucky enough to have an uncle, Daniel Swift, who would take him on his frigate Welfare as a midshipman. Swift was a natural teacher, with a view of the men and officers under his command that everyone admired. Until they tasted, and endured, it.

Men like Jesse Broad, a seaman and a smuggler, ripe to be pressed, and destined to be hated by his savage captain. His natural nobility was a magnet to the young midshipman – and a red rag to the bull that was Daniel Swift. The ending of the first book – A Fine Boy for Killing – is agreed by many critics to be truly horrific.

It also sets the scene for the long rise to maturity of Sea Officer Bentley, and his fight for some sort of honourable survival. The survival and honour, also, of the woman he is born to love. Deborah – Deb – the Portsmouth slavey, the seagoing whore, the Spithead Nymph.

The books are too bleak for some, but I can’t help that, can I? I started writing them as a alternative to the gung-ho delights of the great books of the tradition, and as my stories developed, my view grew bleaker. I do mean great, however. Hornblower was my first love, Aubrey when he came along.

They stirred my blood, I read them passionately. But I somehow felt I owed it the poor sods who actually did our bloody work for us that we should maybe taste the blood as well. Nelson came home pickled in brandy, and Emma Hamilton, who had to sell her body for the first time at fourteen or so, died a penniless alcoholic in France. Their daughter was acknowledged as Nelson’s only in her name, Horatia.

To us British, some forms of honour are more important than others, aren’t they?