Thank you and welcome!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank each of you for a) coming here and b) for reading anything that I post.

Thank you - it does actually mean a lot to me.

- David

Sunday, 22 May 2016



On the 1st May I blogged about HEART OF OAK, following a question from Stephanie Moore Hopkins on her own Layered Pages blog about characters in fiction. Stephanie sent over some questions and one of them was:
What are the common movements your characters make?
A thoroughly good question indeed. So I sat back and thought about that. It was easy, right? Um, no. You see, I never intend my protagonists (I'm talking about the Soldier Chronicles series in general, rather than my unpublished works which stretch from Hastings 1066, medieval period, Tudor and Elizabethan) to be similar or take the same decision or act the same. I want each one to clearly be individual. Right? It's what I wanted when I started to write them, but this single question dissolved my thinking straight away. I feverishly looked back on the novellas - from LIBERTY OR DEATH to the latest TEMPEST - and worryingly considered perhaps there was some discrepancy.
Luckily, even with Lorn Mullone, who is in two of the six stories (so far), the characters do have their own voice, BUT they do share a common theme and I answered with this:
"England expects that every man will do his duty" Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory when the sea battle of Trafalgar was about to commence and I think it's entirely relevant to this question. My protagonists are always beset (in some way or another) a task that they will try their best to achieve. It's about going up against something required of them, almost a test, and it could be perceived a 'life lesson'. Will it make them? Break them? Whatever happens at the very start of the story they will have changed by the ending.
HEART OF OAK sees Captain of Marines Simon Gamble tasked with infiltrating the Maltese island of Gozo and capture a fortress all of which is under French control. The story starts in 1799 and by then, a French army under General Napoleon Bonaparte had sailed to Malta, captured it, plundered it, before moving onto North Africa to pursue a dream of a French colony. His true aim was to secure first a base in the Mediterranean and then Egypt, which could threaten British trade links with India (land crossing). After a skirmish moving across Gozo, Gamble's second-lieutenant is murdered by a French captain and escapes to the fortress. Gamble hopes to kill the Frenchman in the assault and NOTHING will stop him.
So when I got to thinking about BLOOD ON THE SNOW, I wondered if the protagonist, Jack Hallam, would do the same. Were there common movements? Would he risk everything to avenge a friend? Risk his career and his friendships? Yes, without a doubt. Despite their physical differences, they are both cut of the same cloth. But that's ok. The two stories are very different and I do try to make each one distinct. There's nothing worse then reading about a character/characters of a series when the story is the same and there is no further scope of development. Samey plot/character gets boring. Gamble and Hallam are soldiers at heart, both good men and they have their flaws. Phew. 
OK, so why blog about BLOOD ON THE SNOW?
I have written about a separate story arc that I would like to try the traditional route with (a publishing dream) and the first of the books is called THE DESERT LION. The Soldier Chronicles started off as backstories to the major characters of that book, which is set in 1801, Egypt, when the British arrive to throw out the remnants of Bonaparte's army. Going back to what I said about HEART OF OAK earlier with the French taking the Maltese island in 1798 and then landing in Egypt, things by 1799 have taken a downward turn for them. Soon after landing Horatio Nelson carelessly obliterated their entire fleet at The Battle of the Nile, stranding the poor Frenchmen. However, numbering in their thousands and still relatively fighting fit, they marched many miles across the border into Syria to take the vital port-city of Acre. Sir Sidney Smith, a rogue and a brilliant naval commander, had formed an unlikely alliance with the city's commander (nicknamed The Butcher for his liking of torturing prisoners in despicable ways) and helped defend the city. This is the action which Gamble was involved in. The French suffering from the plague and battle losses withdrew back to Egypt and Bonaparte secretly left to go back to Paris. By 1801, a disillusioned French army hung onto Egypt. THE DESERT LION begins and Jack Hallam is a central character, a grizzled veteran of the Revolutionary Wars, but what was he like earlier in his career? He has a nickname 'Old Steadfast'. How did he acquire that?
BLOOD ON THE SNOW is Hallam's story. He has such a presence in THE DESERT LION that I wrote his backstory first (even though BLOOD ON THE SNOW is the third novella in the series) to flesh him out. The story is set during a testing time early in the war at a time when the British army was struggling. Hallam is a lieutenant in the 28th Regiment North Gloucestershire Regiment. I chose that particular regiment because of their action in Egypt and retraced their steps to find out where it was based. I could have settled for the fighting of St Lucia or Gibraltar, but it was during the Flanders campaign that honed the regiment, and some historians believe that it also help design the blueprint of the modern army that ended up in Portugal 1808 and won the Iberian Campaign. Flanders showed where the army was weak with its outmoded concepts and structure.
The Flanders Campaign of 1793-1795 was conducted during the first years of the French Revolutionary War by the allied states of the First Coalition and the French First Republic. The allied aim was to invade France by mobilising its armies along the French frontiers to bully it into submission. In the north, the allies’ immediate aim was to expel the French from the Dutch Republic and the Austrian Netherlands, then march directly to Paris. Britain invested a million pounds to finance their Austrian and Prussian allies. Twenty thousand British troops under George III’s younger son, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, were eventually tied up in the campaign.
Austrian Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg was in overall command, but answered directly to Emperor Francis II, while the Duke of York was given objectives set by William Pitt the Younger’s Foreign Minister, Henry Dundas. Thus, from the outset, mixed political machinations and ignorance hindered the operation. The French armies on the other-hand also suffered. Many from the old royalist officer class had emigrated following the revolution, which left the cavalry severely undermanned and those officers that remained were fearful of being watched by the representatives. The price of failure or disloyalty was the guillotine. After the Battle of Hondshoote, September 1793, the British and Hanoverians under the Duke of York were defeated by General Houchard and General Jourdan. Houchard was arrested for treason for failing to organise a pursuit and guillotined.
By the spring of 1793, the French had virtually marched into the Dutch Republic and Austrian Netherlands unopposed. In May, the British won a victory at Famars and then followed up the success for the siege of Valenciennes. However, instead of concentrating, the allies dispersed their forces in an attempt to mop up the scattered French outposts. The French re-organised and combined their troops. Dundas requested the Duke of York to lay siege to Dunkirk who had to abandon it after a severe mauling at Hondshoote.
By the end of the year, the allied forces were now stretched. The Duke of York was unable to offer support the Austrians and Prussians, because the army was suffering from supply problems. Dundas was withdrawing regiments in order to re-assign them to the West Indies. The French counter-offensive in the spring of the following year smashed apart the fragile allied lines. The Austrian command broke down as Francis II called for a withdrawal. At the Battle of Fleurus, the defeated Austrians; abandoning their century long hold of the Netherlands, retreated north towards Brussels. The loss of the Austrian support and the Prussians (who had also fallen back) led to the campaign’s collapse. The French advanced unchecked.
By the autumn, the Duke of York had been replaced by Sir William Harcourt, but with rumoured peace talks, the British position looked increasingly vulnerable. The only allied success of that year was that of the ‘Glorious First of June’, when Britain’s Lord Howe defeated a French naval squadron in the Atlantic, sinking a ship and capturing six.
The winter of 1794 was one of the worst any one had ever imagined. Rivers froze, men died in the sleep, disease was rampant, and the soldier’s uniforms fell apart. It was an extremely harsh winter, because the army was starving due to the collapsed commissariat. Troops started to steal from the local inhabitants. The officers were too lazy or indifferent to control them, and discipline amongst some units broke down completely.
By the spring of 1795, the limping British reached the Hanoverian port of Bremen. They arrived back in Britain, weak, ill and emaciated. Some never fully recovered and left the army.
The Flanders Campaign demonstrated a series of weaknesses in the British Army. The Duke of York was given the role as Commander-in-Chief and brought forth a programme of reform. It created the professional army that was to fight with much success throughout the Peninsular War.
The allies abandoned the Low Countries. Britain did attempt to undertake a second invasion of the newly proclaimed Batavian Republic in 1799 under The Duke of York, but it faltered and proved equally disastrous.
Notoriously, a children’s rhyme about the Holland campaign mocked the leadership of the Duke of York:

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down
However, there is another satirical verse attributed to Richard Tarlton, and so was adapted where possible, the latest being The Duke of York. The oldest version of the song dates from 1642:
The King of France with forty thousand men,
came up the hill and so came downe againe
Many officers who would continue to serve their countries received their baptism of fire on the fields of Flanders. Arthur Wesley, the future Duke of Wellington, was colonel of the 33rd Foot and saw his first action at the Battle of Boxtel. The Austrian Archduke Charles fought in Flanders, as did several of Napoleon’s marshals: Jourdan, Ney, Murat, Mortier and Bernadotte. The Prussian General Sharnhorst, another great reformer of the Napoleonic Wars, saw battle under the Duke of York.
The Flanders Campaign may have ended in failure, but the 28th was one of the regiments that remained unwavering and dependable. Lord Cathcart wrote in his General Orders, ‘‘Whenever danger is to be apprehended and difficulties to be surmounted, you have the 27th and the 28th to call upon’’.
The 28th returned home in May 1795, and later embarked for the West Indies. A gale known as ‘Admiral Christian’s Storm’ sprang up when the convoy was at sea and four companies of the battalion made it safely to Barbados to assist in the capture of St Lucia in 1796. The other six companies returned home and were sent to garrison Gibraltar. The complete regiment went on to Malta and sailed with Sir Ralph Abercromby’s Expeditionary Army to Egypt.
You can see what a person was up against during the campaign. Drunkenness, lethargy, corruption and a self-promoting/self-serving drive that some officers had - also in one of the worst winters recorded. I wanted my protagonist right in the thick of it. I named him Hallam from my own family genealogy and he was christened John, but there were so many (historical) John's in THE DESERT LION that I subsequently changed it to Jack to avoid confusion.
I remember writing the opening during the winter of 2008. A relationship of ten years to a girl from Iceland had failed and I was left in alone in the house we had bought together and it was a weekend. I felt friendless, sad, and angry and I seemed to channel that into the characters. It was cold and I imagined British redcoats crossing snowy field. It was not a tight march of disciplined troops in immaculate uniforms. It was a rabble of desperate men:
 It was dawn in Holland.
Under a blue-grey winter sky, a column of soldiers marched across frozen crop fields. Snow had fallen during the night, and in the morning, the world had become a crunchy white bleakness. The wind whistled as it whipped across the fields, ice hung from fence posts and sheeted the tufts of grass so that each blade looked as though it was encased in glass. The bare furrows were hard and slippery, puddles were iced-over, and the men’s breath plumed above their heads.
The soldiers were from a company of the 28th, a British regiment raised in North Gloucestershire, and their destination was a farmstead half a mile away. The feeble sun clung to the horizon, throwing their rushing shadows far ahead of them like a newspaper’s exaggerated caricatures. The wind tugged snow from the ground, whirling it in a glittering dance, and straight into their faces. Most of them wore their thick issue greatcoats, but some were without winter dress altogether. The British army had suffered horrendously from the Flanders climate; the men’s coats had literally fallen apart. Some redcoats had been issued with simple jackets without any lace and facings as replacements, some wore local homespun coats that looked crude and ill-fashioned, and some even wore clogs made from willow-wood, because their boots had rotted away. The unlucky ones, without the winter coats and gloves, had tied scraps of cloth around their hands and bare feet. The smart bright red of the uniform had long faded to a dull purple, or pink, and was now so heavily patched with mismatched cloth that the men resembled vagabonds rather than soldiers. Their unshaven faces were wrapped in scarves made from common sacking, or what they had looted and begged along the way. Some had lost their black round hats, and either wore forage, or simple peasant hats tied in place under the chin with twine.
Their vacant expressions and sunken cheeks, made dirty through weeks of campaigning, betrayed that they were exhausted and bitterly hungry.
The Duke of York’s British and German Army had joined their Austrian and Dutch allies by landing in the Austrian-owned Netherlands, and had marched expecting an easy victory. But the French, swept away with their new republicanism, had turned on them with an unforgiving fury, speed and superior numbers. Defeat after defeat had left the British fighting alone, but the winter brought more misery, and they were forced to retreat across the frozen Gelderland in the fervent hope of reaching the harbours in the north where ships would take them home.
They had marched for days. It was a struggle with the roads being flooded, iced over, or left as glutinous traps. Time after time, they had stopped and waited while a gun carriage, or wagon was shifted by brute force. Rain and snow fell with barely a break, and the few Dutch they saw stared at them with suspicious eyes. There were no cheers of welcome for their allies. There was nothing but marching, pain and cold.
An officer, mounted on a black charger, trotted to the front of the company; the horse whinnied, hot steam pluming from its wide nostrils. He looked ashen and seemed to wince in rhythm to the horse’s stride.
‘Damn your haste!’ he said angrily. ‘What’s the hurry, man? Do you need to void your bowels?’ His sneering comments were directed to an officer who marched confidently ahead of the men.
‘We’re late, sir,’ the officer said reproachfully. He was a lieutenant and just stared ahead rather than turn to face his superior. Flecks of snow dotted his bicorn hat and his long chestnut-coloured hair that was tied back with a frayed black bow.
Captain Andrew Clements hawked once and then spat onto the ground. ‘Late? Late for what exactly? You have a whore waiting for you, Lieutenant? Is that it?’ He had an insolent face, cold and antagonistic. He held a canteen to his mouth, gulped and then wiped his unshaven chin that bristled with black and silver hairs.
Lieutenant Jack Hallam ignored the remark. He knew that the canteen contained rum and that Clements was already drunk.
He usually was.
‘Pick your feet up, Private Tipton,’ Sergeant Abraham Fox bellowed. ‘I’ve seen Dutch girls who are more soldierly than you are!’ Fox was a dark-eyed, burly man, and his face was a horror of ancient scars. He turned to the rest of the company. ‘Pick up your stride, all of you!’
‘That’s the way, Sergeant,’ Clements said, hiccupped and then burped. ‘Onward, you laggard scum!’
Hallam glanced behind; the men marched quietly and solemnly. They might look like beaten tramps, but the 28th had spent the last two weeks fighting a rear-guard that had astounded even the most cynical adversaries and brought praise from the generals. Men may have died in their dozens from the miasmic fever caused by the swampy countryside, and crippled by frostbite, but the despondency in the men of Number Eight Company was irrevocably due to Clements.
The forty-year-old captain frowned constantly as if everything bothered him. He had dark hair turning white, protuberant eyes, and such a languid demeanour that he always appeared to slouch. His family was exceedingly wealthy and owned a thousand acres of woodland in the Forest of Dean, but he was never one for sharing such personal information, especially to his fellow officers. A month ago the brusque captain had ordered Private Wheeler to be flogged for suspected thievery of a pocket watch. However, it turned out that the popular private had not been the culprit and died from his wounds, caused by the four hundred given lashes. It became apparent that Clements had simply misplaced his watch, and Wheeler had died for nothing. The captain was not reprimanded and that galled Hallam severely. Clements verbally abused the men, even more so when he was drunk, so the remarks were frequent and daily. And so by now, December 1794, morale, already strained, had dipped to an all-time low.
Hallam knew the men deserved better than contempt, and when Clements was indisposed, he personally took command and encouraged and praised them. The captain had once told him querulously that the ranks were filled with ‘every deplorable piece of refuse imaginable’. To control and forge the men into the professional soldier’s hours of monotonous drill and harsh punishments were relied upon. There had been a skirmish a few days back and the men had performed admirably; every movement had been a drill-master’s delight and every command was obeyed crisply as though they were performing on parade for the Duke of York. Clements paid them no heed. He had sat scowling from his saddle, no doubt suffering from a hangover, but Hallam had congratulated them and witnessed a spark of appreciation. It wasn’t much; a tiny flicker of gratitude, but it was a start and one he wanted to build on.
Hallam is young and keen to show his worth, but will not be swayed by men of higher rank or men socially higher on the scale. Hallam is from Buckinghamshire and I was asked once why wasn't he from Gloucestershire where the regiment was linked to as all British regiments had been for a few years. The majority of the battalion would be, but a small minority would have transferred in so I thought that was ok. Besides, I originally decided 'an outsider' would create some tension with men of another county, but that idea was weak when I discovered by years of conflict many battalions sometimes weren't even 50% from the same county.
Hallam might be keen to show that he was an able officer because he wanted to command a company of his own (except that officers of that time - if they had the funds - could purchase the next rank up and had nothing to do with ability at all) but had to have a drive. A story demands it. What else could Hallam want during the campaign? It would be survival, of course, but he also had a reason to live and that was his young wife.
Hallam was from Wendover in Buckinghamshire and at twenty-nine was newly married. He had met Isabel at a ball held in her home town of Lyndhurst, in the New Forest, when the battalion was on standby to join the army in March of this year. He hated such occasions. He disliked dancing, had no interest in small talk, but as soon as they were introduced he had felt his heart strings being pulled. Soon, they had both fallen deeply in love.
Isabel was a thin girl, not yet twenty, beautiful, loving, and considerate. He absolutely adored her – physically and spiritually. They got married in a tiny parish church on a beautiful day, just six weeks after meeting, and just days before the regiment had sailed away. He remembered the parting; she had kissed him hard, her tongue shimmering, exhilarating and loving as she curled it around his. She drew back, eyes glinting with tears.
‘Come back to me, Jack,’ Isabel had pleaded. ‘Please come back.’
He had held her tightly, not wanting to let her go. ‘I will, my love. I promise.’
Hallam brought out a silver locket from his pocket. It gleamed brightly despite the morning’s bleak sunlight. He had it made for the wedding. Inside was a small miniature of her portrait. He touched her softly painted face with a finger nail. It still felt odd being married, even after eight months, but it was a good feeling nonetheless.
It's all Hallam wants to do in BLOOD ON THE SNOW - to see his wife again. I wrote the tagline to the story ''Fight not for glory, but to survive''. I think it brilliantly summed up what the men were thinking of. I also wrote his desperation for Isabel because I was desperately lonely myself. Jack pines for his love. Love is at the heart of the story.
Ensign Julian Stubbington was created to be Hallam's 'student'. I wanted Hallam to go through Flanders as though it were a huge lesson for him. Poor Stubbington had his fate chosen when I outlined the story, but his death had such an impact on Hallam that it changed him to become a better officer - one who will listen and teach, rather than ignore and preach. I did cry a little when Hallam realises he has been killed. Both of us suffered from the guilt.
Captain Andrew Clements - I had a lot of fun writing him. I did work for a manager who was an alcoholic and a lot of the time he was funny, good fun and sadly a lot nicer than he was when he was sober. Clements isn't based on anyone though. He was there for Hallam to topple him and to show what a good officer could do with his men rather than treat them with contempt. Clements epitomises those officers who are instantly dislikeable and those few who were likely to be killed by their own men, rather then the enemy. I fear that Clements would be cashiered for incompetence after the campaign before he had a chance to be murdered though. Good riddance to rot!
The story ends on Christmas Day and it leaves Hallam even more desperate to reach home, but it was a beautiful way to conclude, one of my favourite books of the series so far:
He sat back in the chair, sagging slightly, and unfolded Isabel’s letter again and smiled. It was dated 25th May, and she wrote that she was two months pregnant.
The baby must be due any day now and Hallam could already be a father, and the feeling was so wonderful that tears pricked at his eyes. If it was a boy, he would name him William after his own loving father.
The sound of singing outside the room echoed up along the street. German voices and they were singing carols. Soft music played. It was Christmas and he was a captain and a father. A father!
He took a long swig of the brandy, eyes glistening in the firelight.
It was a magical Christmas.

BLOOD ON THE SNOW - Holland, 1794, and all hope is lost.
Faced by appalling weather and pursued by an overwhelming enemy, the very survival of the British Army is at stake.

With little supplies and ammunition, Lieutenant Jack Hallam of the 28th Regiment must prove himself by leading his company through the full horrors of the withdrawal, where morale is desperately low, and where looting and ill-discipline are rife.

The men must endure freezing temperatures, disease and battle if they wish to see home again, and if any officer can accomplish this feat, then that man is Jack Hallam.

BLOOD ON THE SNOW is a gripping tale of honour, bravery and self-sacrifice in the darkest of times.

Fight not for glory, but to survive.

''From the very first page BLOOD ON THE SNOW is a terrific page-turner and there's a steadily increasing excitement that leads to an all-stops-out finale. Fantastic!''
''David Cook writes with such realism that he is, in my opinion, fast becoming a master of historical storytelling.''

''Cook throws us into his most vivid and thrilling action-packed story to date where the sound of musket fire, the roar of cannon, and the chill threat of the French Dragoons, brings the harrowing Flanders Campaign to brutal life in an intense battle of survival.''

The enhanced 2015 version of BLOOD ON THE SNOW is now available in the FIRE AND STEEL ANTHOLOGY COLLECTION:

Amazon UK

Saturday, 21 May 2016


I am delighted to announce that Edward James features here today.

As you may be aware I asked authors if they would like to appear in a series to find out what they write about, why they write, their thoughts about the writing process, their drives, and learn a little more about them.
Please find the full interview below:

So tell us about your writing, Edward.

So far I have written only two novels, although before that there were three non-fiction books which I wrote in whole or part. 
The two novels are both historical fiction set in the Tudor era, based on stories published by the Elizabethan chronicler, Richard Hakluyt.

Freedom's Pilgrim is the story of a 13 year old boy, Miles Philips, who signs on to join John Hawkins on his last slave trading expedition to Africa and the West indies in 1567.  The English fleet is ambushed by the Spaniards and 200 English sailors are marooned on the coast of Mexico.  Miles is  one of the few who gets  back to England, 17 years later, after an incredible series of adventures.  I sub-titled the book 'A Tudor Odyssey'.

I started The Frozen Dream when I left the Civil Service in 1993, but I didn't get down to finishing it until 2007, when I gave up my consultancy when I knew I had cancer, so as not to let down my clients. It focused my mind, as Dr Johnson would have said. The Frozen Dream is the story of England's  first contact with Russia.  In 1553 a group of London merchants decide to open a new trade route to China by sending three ships over the North Pole.  What follows is a tale of tragedy, triumph and ultimately disaster. Much of the story takes place with a Lapp  tribe in the Arctic.
Freedom's  Pilgrim is currently available only as an e-book  with Amazon Kindle. The Frozen Dream is published by Silverwood Books in paperback and as an e-book by Kindle and Kobo.

How do you structure when writing a book  - do you start with an outline, plot each chapter or just write and see where it goes from there?

Richard Hakluyt structured it all for me. His Principal Navigations of the English People contains over 120 stories, many, like  the story of  Miles Philips, taken verbatim from the man himself.  I have set  out to tell a selection of the stories in modern form, putting in the pieces Hakluyt left out, like all the female  characters.

How do you market your books?

Not very well. Silverwood are very helpful and The Frozen Dream was featured at The London Book Fair in April this year.   I have a blog,, which features background pieces on my books as well as short stories and even poems and I have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, which II  try to use to 'feed' my blog.
Have you ever attended a writers workshop?

I've belonged to several writers' groups over the years, from the Society of Civil Service Authors to Cheltenham Writers' Circle.  Some years  ago I went on an Arvon course at a farm on Dartmoor, but I think I learned more about cooking than writing.

Have you attended any literary events?

I live in Cheltenham so I go to the Festival of Literature every year and sometimes to the Oxford Literary Festival.  This April I visited the London Book Fair at the invitation of my publishers.  The Frozen Dream won three literary prizes before it was published (from W H Smith, The Mail on Sunday and Silverwood Books) so of course I went to  the Award ceremonies.  My most gratifying invitation was this April when I was asked to speak to the old pupils association at the school I left over 60 years ago.

What social media platforms do you mainly use?

As I said I have my blog and my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  I've yet to work out how to use Goodreads.

How much do you feel you've improved in the last few years?

I think my second book, Freedom's Pilgrim, is the better book and I learned a lot from writing The Frozen  Dream, although as it happened Freedom's Pilgrim was published first. I had written a great deal before my two novels, including many short stories, several of which were published and one of which was read on Radio 4.

As a reviewer for Historical Novels Review I review at least a dozen novels  a year, which is probably the best way to learn.

What is your favourite genre?

Historical fiction.  I have been a review editor for the Historical Novel Society for the last seven years.

Who was your favourite childhood author?

C S Forester and the Hornblower series.  I know they are adult novels but I read them all from our local library as a child.

Who do you act out the scenes in your novels with?
Myself.  I act them out in my head as I walk to the newsagent every morning (I could have the newspaper delivered, but then I would lose my exercise and thinking time).

How old where you when you first started writing?

I started writing for my school magazine when I was 15.  As a university teacher (I lectured in  Social Policy in Britain and America) I produced the usual stream of academic papers and articles and as a bureaucrat (in London  and Brussels) and later as an  international consultant (everywhere) I lived by writing reports and contributing the White Papers, etc.

I started writing fiction in a small way when I became  self-employed and more seriously when I gave up work after my cancer op in 1971.

What is your favourite thing you've written?
I think my favourite is still Shoreham at War, the history of my home village in WW2 - Shoreham in Kent that is, not the port in Sussex - which is based on oral testimonies.  Several villagers collaborated on this, but I was the editor and main contributor.  It was published by Shoreham Historical Society in 2006.

What's your favourite character archetype of literature?

The lone survivor who wins through against all odds.

What scene in your writing has made you laugh the hardest or cry the most?

My light-hearted pieces are mostly short stories, mainly about my time in Brussels - e.g. An Accidental Virgin and Plus ca Change, both of which you can read on my blog.

The most poignant episode in my novels is probably near the end of The Frozen Dream, when the Tartar princess, Elena, goes on a suicide mission to save her lover on the beach at Peterhead.

What do you think makes good writing?

The sense of being there, of seeing things as your subject sees them and feeling them has he or she feels them.

Do you believe in writers block?

Writers' Block is a luxury enjoyed by writers who have reached the bottom of their in-trays.  I  don't think I've ever got to the bottom of mine.

Which authors have enthralled you? What book has had the biggest influence on your work?

When my mother's eyesight was failing I used to read to her all the detective stories of the 'Golden Age', Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, et al.  They have been an enduring, if often unconscious influence.

What book are your currently reading?

Currently I'm reading The Midnight Watch, a  debut novel by David Dyer about the ship which saw the Titanic's distress signals and didn't come to the rescue.  It's a sea story that's also a detective story and it's wonderfully written.

Where do you do your writing?

I have a little office looking onto the garden in my Cheltenham home.  When I lived in Kent I worked in one of the converted stables of our converted Coach House.

Who is your favourite character of your books and why?

Miles Philips, the hero of Freedom's Pilgrim, an ordinary guy in extraordinary situations who muddles through to glory.

Do you agree with the statement: write about what you know?

No, or else historical fiction would be impossible. I must confess that I've never been on a slave-trading expedition to Africa.

What challenges do you face when writing? Are you easily distracted?

Very.  I constantly find other things to do, to put off writing - filing, answering email or completing questionnaires.

What has surprised you most about writing?

How difficult it is to find an agent or a publisher and how many unpublished manuscripts there are - even the postman had one he wanted to show me.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

It legitimates day-dreaming, at least to oneself, even if nobody else regards it as serious work.

What is the most exciting experience you've had as a result of writing?

I've had several; my first literary prize (W H Smith 'Raw Talent' competition), selling my first print novel at the Bristol Literary Festival, speaking to my old scholars' association  about my books.

What do you like doing when you aren't writing?

Seeing my children and my grandchildren and visiting far away places (my wife and I went camping across the Arabian desert last February).

Last question: what advice can you give to other writers?

It's never too late but it's better to start early.

It's unlikely that you'll ever be able to live by your writing and you  will get a lot of disappointment, but it's fun in itself and you  meet interesting people.
Thank you for answering my questions and all the best, Edward.

Saturday, 14 May 2016


I am delighted to announce that Lauretta and Michael Kehoe, authors of A Dream of Dragons, feature here today!

As you may be aware I asked authors if they would like to appear in a series to find out what they write about, why they write, their thoughts about the writing process, their drives, and learn a little more about them.
Please find the full interview below:

What started the interest to write?

Lauretta: I have always been a creative person.  My goal in life for a long time was to be a commercial artist.  But I have been writing stories for many years, publishing my own fan stories in the 1980s.  But recently, Michael and I have decided it is time to pursue our dreams so I decided to write a book and he has launched his career as an actor.

Michael: As an actor and comedian I have always had a creative side which I’ve had since childhood.  I have been writing my stand-up monologues since my early teens along with poetry and short stories.  My wife had me read her novel once she had finished and I couldn’t help but add a few laughs and suggestions.  Turns out we make a heck of a good team in writing as well as everything else.
Tell us about your first novel?
Lauretta: A Dream of Dragons is an urban fantasy with a faith based message. 
“Free-lance artist, Henry Williford was resigned to the single life. When he discovers a naked, helpless woman on a Florida beach, his life changes forever. He names her Anne and is amazed at how quickly she learns to become a woman. Their days are filled with joy and discovery, as together they seek to find the answers to Anne's elusive past, while their nights are plagued by dreams of golden dragons that soon become nightmares of black dragons, fire and death. When a forgotten enemy resurfaces and threatens to take the life of her new love, Anne learns of her amazing origin, but is faced with a terrible choice.” 
It is dark and intense but with a wonderful message of love.
Michael: Naked woman on the beach sounds cliché I know but trust me this is different from anything you have ever read before.  Besides, the sibling rivalry between the main character and his sister will make you laugh.
Are you self-published or traditional?

Lauretta: We are being published through Tate Publishing, a mainline publisher but one that requires that we pay a fee for a publicist and Tate pays all the costs to produce the book.  Tate has a very aggressive marketing machine that will help us to get the book out where we could not as a self-published author.

So why Tate Publishing?
Lauretta: Yes, we signed with Tate because of the ability to utilize their marketing. After the frustration of repeated rejections or no answers from agents, I then sent the manuscript directly to publishers.  Six publishers were interested in publishing the book but we felt that Tate had the most to offer. 

Your chosen genre is Urban fantasy - what draws you to it? 
Lauretta: I can put myself into the shoes of the characters yet be able to explore fantastic settings, people and events.

How many books have you written?
We have two more books that will follow A Dream of Dragons.  The second novel will take our characters, Henry, Anne and Heidi, to a planet where there is no sin. When something happens that exposes the world to sin, our heroes will be the catalyst to bring these broken people to the Great Creator. The third book deals with alien abduction and forgiveness.

Who is your favourite character of your books?

Lauretta: It is hard to decide between Henry and Anne.  Henry is everything we are as weak humans who don’t always to what we should.  Michael provided a lot of the thought process for Henry.  Anne is just such a wonderful character with her innocent outlook on a new world and her willingness to give herself totally to love.

Michael: Without a doubt my favourite character in the book is Heidi.  I had so much fun tormenting Henry and as it turns out Henry can give as good as he gets.

What challenges do you face when writing?

Lauretta: Time. That is our biggest challenge.  That and working in an alien world, we are finding it more difficult to build the world, the scenery, flora, animal and even the specifics of the people.  It is something we have not done before.

Michael: The biggest challenge for this novel was taking my wife’s original manuscript and adding to it without rewriting the entire book.  In general I have to be in the right creative mood to write or I end up just producing and not writing.

Who do you act out the scenes in your novels with?

Lauretta: That’s easy! With each other!

Michael: What she said.

What is your favourite thing you've written and why? 
Lauretta: I think the favourite scene I’ve written is the climax of the story where our characters learn what sacrifice is.  It was also the most difficult as far as emotional scene to write but it is compelling and rich.

Where do you do your writing?

Lauretta: I initially wrote the story at my work during down times.  Now I write in our family room where we have my computer set up.  Michael likes to sit on our couch with his laptop and write.
Michael: Currently I write in my recliner in the early morning hours when it’s nice and quiet and I’m fresh.  I’ve always been an early riser, I am however getting a chair for my desk in my office/studio (right now I use it primarily to practice my singing) and hope to write there as well.
How many hours a day on average do you spend writing?

Lauretta: Not enough!  That goes back to time management.  We don’t have set hours – something we need to work on.

Michael: Depends on the day and how creative my brain is for that moment.  I do not try to force it but am becoming more disciplined in setting time aside.
How do you structure each story - do you start with an outline, plot each chapter as you go or just write and see where it flows?

Lauretta: When I started each story, I had an idea as to the final act but let the story write itself.  But when you are working with a co-author, an outline becomes a necessity to make sure that our ideas work together.

Michael: At heart I’m definitely a pantser, writing when inspiration hits and going with the flow.  However working with my wife I need to get a background and have notes so I can remain consistent with her original story and not muck it up.

Where do you market your work?

Lauretta: Haven’t started marketing yet but we will be using social media, radio and television ads and different events that are set up by Tate.
Michael: Right now I carry bookmarks with me and share with everyone I meet.  I plan on booking as many engagements the publisher can arrange for me and promote the heck out of our book. Still in the learning stage on that one.

What social media platforms do you use?

What has surprised you most about writing?

Lauretta: What really surprised me was the togetherness that writing with your spouse brings.  It has drawn us closer together as a couple and as partners.  And I am thrilled to see how brilliant Michael is.  It is his creativity that has also prompted his comedy acts. But he really is an intelligent man.

Michael: Twenty four years together and she just now figured all that out, I find that surprising.
How much do you feel you've evolved creatively?

Lauretta: Oh, tremendously! And not only evolving creatively but doing it the right way but taking classes with Jerry Jenkins through his online guild,  We have also been lucky to have several published authors help us in bringing “A Dream of Dragons” to life, authors like Chris Harold Stevenson, M.A.R. Unger, Shawn Brink and Jeff W. Horton.  We are excited to see what happens with the next books with the increased knowledge we’ve gained through these sources.

Michael: Not so much evolved as I am motivated.  I think what really keeps people from pursuing any passion they have is themselves.  I just had to get out of my own way and commit to doing it.  Believe in yourself and don’t ever let anyone talk you out of doing what you love, especially yourself.

Who designs your book jackets?
Lauretta: The beautiful cover was done by Tate.

Michael: We told them what we wanted and they nailed it on the 2nd or 3rd try.

Who proof-reads your work? Who is your editor?
Lauretta: We have had the work edited by Chris Stevenson, M.A.R. Unger and Shawn Brink.  I had several friends proof-read the book, most notably Maxime Laboy.  In addition, Tate provides editorial services and I did quite a bit of proof-reading on my own.

Have you attended any literary events? Writer's workshops?
Lauretta: We went to Rock & Read Las Vegas as volunteers a few months ago and we’re planning to attend Realm Makers in Pennsylvania in July. We’ll have to see what events come up as far as time and finances and what Tate has in store.

What do you think makes good writing? What do you think the secret to success is?
Lauretta: What makes good writing is making the reader care about the main characters.  They must relate, live in their skins, feel what the hero is feeling.  If you do not lock the reader in with the emotional arc of your character, they won’t care what happens.  The secret to success is making your characters alive.

Which authors do you idolise? 
Lauretta: Well I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien since the 70’s.  I have also been influenced a lot by Ted Dekker.  I like that he is not afraid to dip into the dark with a Christian viewpoint.  Then there is Diana Gabaldon and the late Roger Zelazny, both of whom I have admired.  I must also include Jerry Jenkins, not only for his Left Behind series but his generosity in helping other authors.  I have to say that I am encouraged by the new authors I have discovered, some Indie others traditional, many of whom I have featured on our own author interviews.  I am excited to see where they go.

And what book has had the biggest influence on your work?
Lauretta: There are several authors that I admire that have influenced our work.  Diana Gabaldon wrote about why such terrible things happen to Jamie and Claire in “Outlander”  – that it was a way for each to show how much they love the other.  We have brought that into Dream of Dragons so that Henry and Anne must also be willing to give all to the one they love.  Also, I was deeply touched by Ted Dekker’s “When Heaven Weeps.”  Again, the willingness of the main characters to give all for the other is a strong theme that touched me.

What's your favourite character archetype of literature? 
Lauretta: I would have to say fallible people who are willing to do extraordinary things for others – even if it means to die for another.  Christ says “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend”.  That theme echoes through our stories.

And lastly, what advice can you give to other writers?
Lauretta: Start. Don’t wait for something, don’t worry about how good you are. Just start writing and see what happened. You never know where it’s going to go.

Michael: I couldn’t agree more, just get it written. Think of it as moulding a piece of clay, you can work it, edit it, shape it afterwards but you have to write it first.
Thank you both so much for agreeing to feature on the Spotlight series and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


I am very pleased to announce that author Samantha Ford features next in the series.

As you may be aware I asked authors on my facebook page if they would like to appear in a series of *interviews*. I wanted to connect with other writers, find out what they write about, why they write, their thoughts about the writing process, their drives, and learn a little more about them. Please find the full interview below:
What started the interest to write?

I’ve always loved to write and decided to start my first novel whilst I was looking after a huge heap on the Tanzanian border.

Tell us about your first novel?

My first novel, The Zanzibar Affair, is about a letter found in an old chest on the island of Zanzibar which reveals the secret of why a woman, with a glamorous but anguised past, suddenly disappeared. Her daughter meets the man who has always loved her mother but who he hasn’t seen for eighteen years. Together they piece together the last years of her mother’s life and his extraordinary connection it. The story moves from New York City to Cape Town and France.
Are you self-published or traditional?

Sadly I am self published.

Do you have a literary agent?

Sadly no. I think I have a better chance of winning the lottery.

What genre do you write and what draws you to it?

I like to appeal to the more sophisticated read and I write the sort of stories I would like to read. I like stories, sagas if you like, that span a couple of generations and have an unexpected twist at the end, the sort of ending that makes you sit up straight and want to read the story again and wonder how you missed all the clues!

How many books have you written?

I have written three novels and ten short stories.

Who is your favourite character of your books?

In The Zanzibar Affair my favourite character was Tom who never gave up on the woman he loved. In my latest book I like the gentle old retainer, the custodian of all the secrets of the abandoned house, and Tika the elephant the family adopted as a calf.

What challenges do you face when writing?

The biggest challenge is trying to write a story with appeal. All three of my books are set in Africa where I lived for many years, and much as I love it, it might not appeal to everyone, but having said that most people can only dream of going on safari, I like to think I make that dream come true by taking the reader into the bush. You have to write about what you know and I know East and Southern Africa, and the safari business, better than most.

What is your favourite thing you've written and why?

My favourite story is the one I have just finished called The House Called Mbabati. I must have read it fifty times during the editing stage and I still can’t believe it makes me cry in parts!

Where do you do your writing?

I write anywhere and everywhere. I always have a notebook with me and can be found scribbling copious notes in some pretty odd places.

How do you structure each story - do you start with an outline, plot each chapter as you go or just write and see where it flows?

I just let rip with the story and tidy it all up later.

Where do you market your work?

I’m not very good at this! I have a large network of friends and I use Facebook – more work needed here I know.

Any tips on what to do and what not to do?

I think an author needs to be very wary of the publishing world, there are a lot of sharks out there just waiting to take your money. I wrote a story about it….

What has surprised you most about writing?

The thing that amazes me is how many truly bad books are taken on by traditional publishers. Writing a novel is not difficult for me but trying to find an agent or published is not for the faint hearted – you need nerves of steel and deep faith in yourself as a writer.

How much do you feel you've evolved creatively?

I have evolved a lot as a writer, I feel more confident now with three books done and dusted. My story lines are much stronger, my characters more emotionally charged, but I do steer clear of too much technology in the story – I stick with what I know – wild animals and unpredictable plots and characters.

Who designs your book jackets?

I do this. I have very strong ideas about how I want the book to look.

Who proof-reads your work? Do you have an editor?

I normally edit, edit, edit and proof read my manuscripts myself until they are as polished as I can possibly make them, then I pay to have them professionally edited. It has been quite an expensive exercise but one that I feel is crucial and a good investment. Editors pick up things that seem obvious to the author but perhaps not to the reader.

Have you attended any literary events? Writer's workshops?

Yes. I attended a writing course in Spain a year or so ago with one of my most favourite authors of all time – John Gordon Davis, who was a much loved author in Southern Africa.
It was more about actually getting to meet him than improving my writing skills!

What do you think makes good writing? What do you think the secret to success is?

Passion for your subject and your characters, and the ability to make them jump off the page.

Which authors do you idolise?

John Gordon Davis, of course! I also like Deon Meyer, a South African author, and Daniel Silva.
And what book has had the biggest influence on your work?

By John Gordon Davis called Hold My Hand I’m Dying. I read it over thirty years ago and it was so well crafted, so well written, that even today I can remember the names of all the characters.

And lastly, what advice can you give to other writers?

No matter how many rejections you get – never give up. Do it for yourself. Writing gives me the unique opportunity to create a world of my own, away from the troubled world we are confronted with every day by the media. It’s pure escapism and can be hugely satisfying. You can create characters that you love and would like to meet in real life, and as for the characters you don’t like in your story – well you can just kill them off!
Thank you so much for agreeing to feature on the Spotlight series and sharing your thoughts.

Sunday, 1 May 2016



I was honoured recently to answer a series of questions from Stephanie Moore Hopkins for her Layered Pages blog titled 'Characters in Motion'. Stephanie asked me to talk about the habits of my protagonist and I answered that thought-provoking question by talking about Simon Gamble from HEART OF OAK, the second of the Soldier Chronicles. This is set during the liberation of the Maltese Islands which see's Gamble and his Marines sent behind enemy lines to capture an impregnable fortress called Dominance on the island of Gozo. The book's title references a very popular military song and the chorus goes:
Hearts of oak are our ships, heart of oak are our men,
We always are ready: steady, boys, steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again.

The chorus encapsulates what the story is about: fighting, courage and triumph. 
So why talk about Gamble? Well, I try to make all my protagonists as human as possible. I never make them perfect because that is incredibly unrealistic. Perfection? Pah! In my opinion there is no such thing. I can't stand it when you read about someone who is 'perfect'. It's sickening. And do any of us (who aren't blinded by love or addled by drink) know of someone who is perfect? In our hearts, we don't.
Now being completely honest with you, I start by making the protagonist someone who I would like people to have a drink and chat with. Really? Yes. It's that simple.
Give them a back story so the conversation would be interesting, but I make each one an individual. No clones. Now Simon Gamble, a captain of a British Marine company, was described by one reviewer as a Richard Sharpe-esque character, which I think is a rather unfair summation. I should be flattered that a character of mine should be of the same cloth as Bernard Cornwell's immensely popular Rifle officer, but they aren't really alike.
Richard Sharpe is a thief, a murderer and a man thrust into a position he is more than capable of, but  some people don't agree with that. He is no gentleman among his fellow officers. He joined the army to escape a hanging, which was a common practice with the British legal and military system of the time. A man gaoled and awaiting death for a petty or serious crime could find himself donning a brick-red serge coat and escape his execution by a magistrate. However, to join the British Army in the period, which the Soldier Chronicles takes place (1793-1815), he might find that disease would likely kill him first long before a French bullet could. Sharpe is one of the lucky one's to survive skirmishes, battalion volley's and bayonet charges. He is also unique in that he marched in the common ranks as a Private before acquiring a battlefield commission for saving Arthur Wellesley's life at the Battle of Assaye. This act was not unheard of, but quite rare. Richard Sharpe is a true hero.
Would you have a drink and chat with Richard Sharpe if you could? Absolutely. The things he could tell you about what's he's seen and done.
So how could  - or perhaps should I compare Simon Gamble to Richard Sharpe? Well, I can't to be honest and I don't. Two different characters. The Sharpe novels number twenty or more volumes and Cornwell has been writing about him for thirty plus years. Sharpe is an institution and Bernard Cornwell is a National Treasure. Hard to scale those heights with just my novella.
The Soldier Chronicles are novellas and so I don't want pages and pages of backstory when the stories are snapshots of history - the story starts straight away and plunges into action and adventure. However, Gamble does have a backstory. He is designed to be a man at ease in warfare, a warrior-like figure, ruthless, daring, steadfast and because of this, he is disfigured from battle wounds and emotionally scarred. An unpublished prequel story to HEART OF OAK called VANQUISHER is about Gamble and his marines at the Siege of Acre under the command of Sir Sidney Smith. Unfortunately, Gamble's young second-lieutenant, Bob Carstairs, is killed during the fighting and this leaves Gamble hugely affected by it.
A few months later HEART OF OAK begins and Gamble has tried to blot out the pain and sadness with anger and a hatred of the French as a race. Misguided? Pig-headed? Careless? Yes, Gamble certainly is. He is flawed. He is wounded and he is troubled. When he goes after a captured French captain murders Sam Riding-Smyth to escape, Gamble cannot shake revenge from his bones. He see's this as the point of no return. The Frenchman must die, it's the only course to follow and Gamble will hunt him down until the end of time.
Two officers under his command dead. Is Gamble cursed? Is he unlucky? No, this is the price of war. It's unfair and heart-breaking. It taps into the feeling that soldiers have when they are in tough situations together. They speak of a bond closer than family. They would die for each other, if needs be, and the letters written by survivors of those fallen 'brothers' on foreign fields (even in modern times) shows the profound affect it has. There is a grief that, in some cases, cannot even be spoken about. Soldiers returning from the battlefields of WWI and WWII, for example, refused to discuss what they had witnessed with anyone. Some later did, but it took many years and it was still painful.
Gamble and Sharpe share a few characteristics such as loyalty to their men, unwavering resolve and a determination to see the enemy defeated. And that's why I decided Gamble would command a company of hard, tough and war-like Marines. With all the Soldier Chronicles stories, each are connected to another story; THE DESERT LION that I'm trying to get traditionally published. It all sounds a bit vague and forgive me, but until it get's published one way or another I won't talk about it. Call it superstition, if you like. So the connection to THE DESERT LION is the result of Simon Gamble being created back in 2008 when I had finished the novel. I named him Simon after a friend of mine and just wanted a simple surname like Brook, Cutter, Clarke, Savage . . . and then I thought about his character and everything about him is a risk. Gamble. Bingo!
I wrote his backstory and decided to flesh him out. I described him immediately as ''twenty-nine years old, average-looking with a soldier’s face; sun-darkened, harsh and scarred. If you were to pass him in the street, you would pay him no attention, but if you saw his sea-blue eyes, then you would see that they sparkled brightly, accentuating his rough exterior to give it an odd gentleness that made him memorable.'' 
Archibald Powell, his rough-hewn sergeant was easier to name. I wanted another tough soldier, someone born in England's docks; a typical brawler, and had his background as a man whose father was a possibly Scottish soldier or seaman of the Seven Years War that had stayed in Plymouth. Powell grew up to fight in the army during the war against the American colonists and acquired his unique twin throwing axes after saving the life of a Shawnee native called Blue Jacket. By HEART OF OAK, Powell carries a musketoon: a firearm with a flared muzzle, and a boarding pike. He is a grizzled man, ever-ready for war. All the Marines are.
Accompanying Gamble in this story is his lieutenant, Henry 'Harry' Kennedy, a level-headed and intelligent man in his twenties who is described as, ''immaculately dressed in his scarlet coat with its long-tails, silver lace, white gloves and a silver gorget.'' Kennedy is well-mannered and educated, and in a way, is Gamble's conscience.
Gamble, an officer, but certainly no gentleman is described as wearing: ''His scarlet coat and crimson sash were patched and heavily stitched and he was armed with a cutlass, a straight-bladed sword of extraordinary ugliness. It had a rolled iron grip, a thirty-inch blade, and curiously tied to the pommel was a scrap of a tattered silk. It had belonged to his mother; a parting gift for her young son who promised to return home with enough money to pay for his father's grievous arrears that had cost the family their home. A bone-handled dirk and a large pistol were tucked into his belt, which were also hooked to it in case he dropped them overboard during a fight aboard a vessel.''
The scrap of silk grounds Gamble and reminds him of a failure he has to correct. His story arc goes beyond the Battle of Trafalgar, so it's possible he lives long enough to see his family name restored. With any band or soldiers there is camaraderie and this goes back to the bond they all share. It's important to show this even at the beginning:
   'The lads are in high spirits,' said Kennedy.
   'So they should be, Harry,' Gamble said, watching the rocky crest above them with his eye piece, 'they know we're about to do some killing.'
   'Won't we take any prisoners, sir?' asked Second Lieutenant Samuel Riding-Smyth, with abhorrence at the thought of killing all of the Frenchmen. He was petrified and fought down vomit, which was souring the back of his throat.
   'Oh, Sam,' Kennedy said, shaking his head with an act of despair.
   'What happens if they surrender?' Riding-Smyth looked pained.
   Gamble grunted in frustration. 'If you want to take any prisoners, then that's your prerogative,' he announced, but was still watching the limestone hills. 'Do you know the Frog word for surrender?'
   'Capitulez, sir,' suggested the worried lieutenant.
   Gamble lowered the brass tube angrily. 'Fine, Sam. You ask any Monsewer you come across to capitulez. You shout really loud though, as the buggers will be gunners and we all know that gunners are deaf. You shout and hope they lay down their arms and that they don't meet Sergeant Powell first.'
Riding-Smyth 's eyes slid to the grizzled, broad-shouldered sergeant who stared back at him intently, and for good measure, patted one of his axes with a long exaggerated growl.
   'It suits me, sir,' Powell declared. 'The bastards will be easier to kill if they keep nice and still. Saves me the bother.'
   'I will shout, sir,' the young officer said zealously. 'I will indeed!'
   'Good,' Gamble said, turning to his men who were formed up and waiting with expectant faces. The ball was about to start. It was time to dance. 'Company! Forward!'
   'We're not really going to kill all the Frogs, are we?' Kennedy enquired as they advanced up the narrow beach.
   'Of course not,' Gamble gave him a sly wink. 'That's why a boat will remain here. I'll send the prisoners back to the Prince of Waves,' he said, giving the Sea Prince its nickname, 'along with any keepsakes.'
   'Very good,' Kennedy said, then frowned. 'I thought you spoke Frog?'
   Gamble scanned the grassy bluffs ahead. 'You mean Guernésiais?' he asked, of the language of his native Guernsey that had roots in Norman French. Kennedy nodded.  Gamble's mouth twisted. 'I understand the words, but I choose not to speak it. It's the language of our enemies. And I will not foul the air by muttering it.'
   'You truly hate them, don't you?'
   'I hate them all,' Gamble said loudly. 'As every Englishman should. Death to the French and every goddamn last one of them.'
   'I've heard that French is the language of love?' Kennedy said with an impish grin.
   Gamble laughed sourly. 'The whores don't care where you're from. Just if you have coin to pay them.'
   …you shall pay life for life, a voice uttered in Gamble's head. He'd heard the saying many times since Acre. Too many times now. A friend had died and the words kept coming back to him. He adjusted his bicorn and looped the scope over his shoulders with its leather strap, trying to force the words from his mind, but without much success.
   'Why don't we turn the prisoners over to the locals, sir?' Riding-Smyth enquired, catching up with his two superiors.
   'Because that's a death sentence,' Gamble replied brusquely.
   Kennedy fiddled with the gorget at his throat, a purely decorative horseshoe-shaped piece of metal that harked back to the days when officers had worn armour like medieval knights. 'As civilised men, we could not simply allow that to happen. Even to our bitterest enemies. However, knowing that they will be fed whatever Slope the Ship's Cook can boil up in his infernal copper cauldron is punishment and revenge enough.'
    Riding-Smyth chuckled. 'At every mess time, I pray to God that He will keep me safe from harm.'
   'He must be watching over you,' Kennedy said, 'because as of yet you've not suffered from any of the maladies that frequent the decks.'
   'The Lord has truly been kind to me,' Riding-Smyth replied vehemently.
   'You've obviously not been introduced to the lower deck whores, young Sam,' Kennedy said wryly. 'When you get back on-board, I'll have a dose of mercury on standby.'
Here: Gamble reveals his hatred for the French, a rage that will grow as the story unfolds. It also brings up his guilt that is plaguing him over Carstairs's death. ''You shall pay life for life'' is scripture taken from Exodus 21:23 and, although I'm not religious, it symbolises an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Revenge.
HEART OF OAK is a story of vengeance and discovering just what that entails. It's a treacherous path. Gamble almost ruins his career and loses his friends in the process. Luckily in the end he realises it. There isn't meant to be a moral to the story, but this is close enough I suppose.
  Sergeant Powell wiped sweat from his face with a red sleeve, and took hold of his officer’s arm. 'Is it over now, sir? For the love of God, say it is?'
  Gamble turned to stare at the corpse. Blood flowed out from the body like unravelling strands of red hair. Gulls cried overhead. 'Yes, Archie,' he said, the sun catching his ocean-blue eyes. He smiled, relief washing over him like a wave. He fought back tears, knowing that he had been narrow-minded, obstinate, selfish, and that blind anger had almost wrecked his career and ultimately his friendships. 'It's over. It's damned well over.'
  A gun banged three times outside the city, a salute to the French and the start of a new chapter in Malta's history. A golden sun glowed on Valletta's domes, roofs and steeples.
  It was a day in September on an island in the Mediterranean and for now the world was at peace.
I really enjoyed writing the story and I've been asked if I'll do another story featuring Gamble. I'm sure we'll see him and his Marines again in the not too distant future.

I have always been fascinated by the Corps of Marines. Gamble just seemed to fit in with them. I spent months researching about the Corps and wrote this piece for the English Historical Fiction Authors website back in June 2014:
The Birth of the Corps of Marines 1664 - 1815
The Corps of Marines can trace its commencement all the way to the year 1664 when Britain was at war with the Dutch Republic for control of the seas and trade routes.
It became apparent from the Dutch success that infantry units were needed on-board ship what with the increasing use of firearms. The first recognised raised unit was called the ‘Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot’ and soon after was known as the ‘Lord High Admiral’s Regiment’. These were infantrymen recruited from the Trained Bands of London and were the very first soldiers drafted for the roles of marines.
The wholly musket-armed ‘Holland Regiment’ that John Churchill, later the 1st Duke of Marlborough, served in as a marine, wore ‘gold’ coats rather than the standard red. Today, the British Marine Corps Colours are still one part yellow to signify the ‘gold’ colour of their ancestral coats.
Marine of the Holland Regiment
From the late 17th Century through to the middle of the 18th Century there were other regiments raised as marines, or Foot Regiments converted for sea duty. They fought throughout the War of the Spanish Succession, and the fragmented battles of the War of Jenkins’ Ear with notable successes on both land and sea. Once the wars were over, the units returned to their land roles.
The Corps of Marines, the infantry fighting element of the Royal Navy, were formed on 5th April, 1755. There were fifty companies in three Marine Divisions; headquartered at the major ports of Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth under the command each of a colonel commandant. Horatio Nelson was Chatham’s colonel in 1795.
The marines went on to serve with distinction during the American War of Independence, especially at Battle of Bunker Hill, where they were marked for their ‘cool ability under fire’.
Regularly enlisted like the Army, and not by impressment (press-ganged as some myths dictate) they primarily provided the Royal Navy with a force of troops that could fight on land as infantry, of manning the ships guns, acting as marksmen against enemy crews and for close quarter boarding action at sea.
Their secondary function was to supress mutiny among the seamen. In fact, their quarters always separated the RN officers’ and sailor quarters. They ensured security details and supported discipline of the crews. The ratio of marines on-board each ship was generally at a ratio of one marine per ship gun.
Marine officers during the War of Independence
After the Act of Union was passed in 1801, which incorporated Ireland into the United Kingdom, there was an influx of Irish volunteers. After 1805 nearly ten percent of each company were comprised of foreigners, mainly Maltese, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Each company on paper was to comprise one captain, two first lieutenants, two second lieutenants, eight sergeants, eight corporals, six drummers and one hundred and forty privates. Each Marine Division also had a grenadier and a light company, but they were abolished in 1804. With disease, shortages and battle-caused deaths, it was highly unlikely that the paper figures were ever met. The marine companies were dispersed throughout the fleet and where needed on land.

The marines had their uniforms supplied by the Navy Board, but their dress was that of the infantry. They wore the red coat, with white collar and cuffs. Plumes were the standard colours, white-over-red for battalion companies, green for the light and white for the grenadiers. Officers wore scarlet coats, with white lace and white gloves. Gorgets, worn at the throat, were purely decorative horseshoe shaped pieces of metal that harked back to the days when officers had worn armour like medieval knights. Officer’s carried straight bladed cutlasses with a thirty-two inch blade, a pistol and most commonly a dirk. The marine privates were armed with the Sea Service Brown Bess muskets and the sergeants carried halberds, and then later spontoons or half-pikes.
Marines fighting during ship-to-ship battles
The marines were nicknamed by the sailors ‘lobsters’ because of the red woollen coat, and ‘bootnecks’, a semi-derogatory term derived from the dark leather 'stock' worn round the neck inside the collar which forced a soldier to keep his head up. "Take my sea boots off your neck”, was a saying to imply the marines were wearing a piece of leather cut from the sailors footwear.

In 1802, largely at the recommendation of Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, the marines were re-titled ‘Royal Marines’ by King George III for services to their country:

“In order to mark his approbation of the very meritorious conduct of the Marines during the late war, His Majesty has been graciously pleased to direct that in future the corps shall be called the Royal Marines.”

The white facings (collars and cuffs) were given a royal makeover, changing to ‘Royal Blue’. The bicorn was replaced by the black ‘round-hat’ made of felt, but the red coat was retained.
The Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) was formed in 1804 to man bomb vessels. They wore blue tunics of the Royal Artillery and nicknamed ‘un-boiled lobsters’ or ‘blue marines’.
In 1805, a fourth Marine Division was created at Woolwich and by the end of that year the corps numbered thirty thousand, the largest it ever saw during the Peninsular War.
The Corps of Colonial Marines were two units raised in 1808 from former American slaves for British service. They were created at different times and both disbanded after the wars. They were recruited to address the shortage of military manpower in the Caribbean. The locally-recruited men were less susceptible to tropical illnesses than were troops sent from Britain and knew the terrain. The Corps followed the practice of the British Army's West India Regiments in recruiting escaped slaves as soldiers, but were loathed to view themselves as mere ‘slave soldiers’. They were free men and they represented a psychological threat to the slave-owning American society by being armed. They were highly thought of and as competent as their European comrades. They also received free land grants in Canada in return for their commendable service, achieving freedom in which the 'Land of Liberty' had denied them.
Three additional Marine Battalions (numbered 1-3) were raised from among the Royal Marines specifically for action in Portugal, Northern Spain, the Invasion of France, the Netherlands, North America and the Caribbean. They were disbanded in 1815.
Throughout the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, the Royal Marines were present in every major sea battle: St Vincent, Camperdown, the Nile, Copenhagen, Trafalgar, the Dardanelles, Cape Lissa and Aix Roads.
They always formed part of any cutting out excursion - seizing an enemy ship by using their ships' boats and taking it from its anchorage by boarding it. They were used in amphibious landings and in 1812, helped disrupt coastal traffic, captured several towns, particularly Santander, and tied up the French Army of the North by not allowing it to reinforce the French Army of Portugal, which was then subsequently defeated at Salamanca.
During the Hundred Days Campaign, a RMA company was garrisoned (amongst others) at Ostend to protect Wellington’s rear in the event that the allies would have lost against Napoleon, and would had to retreat to the ports.
After 1815, the Royal Marines would serve its country again around the globe in many actions. However, it was during the wars of 1793-1815 that the force encapsulated the code and spirit of the great fighting force that today is revered throughout the world.
In 2014, the Corps celebrated its 350th anniversary by completing a series of global physical challenges in honour to their proud heritage.
UK stamp released in 2009

HEART OF OAK -  It is December, 1799, and Captain of Marines Simon Gamble has been sent behind enemy lines to capture an impregnable fortress called Dominance on the Maltese island of Gozo.
Gamble must lead his lightly-armed men against the prime veteran soldiers of France, in a daring and brutal fight where there can only be one winner.
Success means freedom for the Gozitans from their French oppressors; failure means the marines face an unmarked grave on foreign soil.
A hero and a soldier to some, but certainly no gentleman, Gamble; battle-scarred and haunted by the horrific bloodshed at the Siege of Acre prior to this mission, must fight a new guileful enemy, even if the price means death or dishonour.
This is Gamble's toughest fight yet, and one he knows he cannot afford to fail.
For the ultimate battle will be for revenge.

The enhanced 2015 version of HEART OF OAK is now available in the FIRE AND STEEL ANTHOLOGY COLLECTION:

Amazon UK