Books, Reviews and Morris!

Order your copy now. It'll be published in April by Severn House!

Order your copy now. It’ll be published in April by Severn House!

Look at that nice new cover. Beautiful, isn’t it? It will be the first of, I expect, a series of crime stories based around Jack Blackjack, with the first coming your way in late April from Severn House. Hope you will enjoy it!


Books. I have piles of books in my office. Piles and piles, in fact. The last time my father came to the house, he looked around at the shelves groaning under the weight of books, and shook his head. ‘Have you really read all these?’

That day, some eight or nine years ago, I could happily nod. But sadly he’s now so old that driving is not realistic (well, not without unrealistic danger to all other road users), and I can only imagine what he would think of the stacks of books on all surfaces that have not yet been read. There are rather a lot of them.

It’s not my fault. Writing is a demanding, time consuming job at the best of times, and it’s been some years since I had time to sit down and devote hours at a stretch to reading for pleasure. Children, deadlines and talks all get in the way. And it is not as though I spend my life collecting books. I tend only to buy research material. The books that are sitting haphazardly all over my office are the ones that publishers send to me.

There are historical romances, modern crime, medieval crime, modern spy stories, self improvement books … well I could do with reading some of them, to be honest, but the main thing is, there are just too many.

Some I will dip into, and generally try to read a little daily. It doesn’t really work. All too often you have to be in the right mood and ready and willing to devote a fair amount of time to a book. But I can’t. While writing I cannot other people’s books. Invariably, without intending it, I tend to find that I start copying the writer’s style, and that can be disastrous!

However, sometimes a book arrives that does demand attention. And after a while I’ll find time to actually read the darned things.


dsc_0516.jpgLast year I was fortunate to be given a proof copy of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE by Matthew Harffy.

This is a great read for those who enjoy dark age tales. It begins with a prologue in 619 AD, when Paulinus, a Christian missionary of a more masculine type, arrives in a new land to spread the word. The priestess of the area, Nelda, begins to bring down her curse on this unwanted newcomer, but when he prays for help, lightning strikes Nelda’s sacred tree and destroys it. Appalled, she accepts banishment from the village, but her son she tells to stay there.

However this is not their story. It is Beobrand’s. A warrior from an earlier book (I’m assuming – I haven’t read any others of Matthew’s) has joined a new war band. He’s bitter, he’s injured, but he’s young and he’s determined to carve out a future for himself. Not that he thinks he can succeed. It doesn’t seem likely, especially when his own lord is killed during an attack that Beobrand recommended, but hey – that can be life for a warrior. Luckily the attack succeeded, and he is rewarded. However, rivalries and danger are ever-present in this dark evocation.

I won’t go further. Suffice it to say that I’ll be hunting down copies of Matthew’s other work. I really enjoyed this.

But life cannot all be dark ages. And I had to try out a book I learned about on the internet. I was tweeting about various things and met a guy called Jemahl Evans in Wales. We had a brief conversation, and the upshot was that we swapped books. He got FIELDS OF GLORY, and I got THE LAST ROUNDHEAD.

This is, frankly, glorious. Blandford is an earlier version of Flashman from George MacDonald Fraser’s superb series, but leavened with a measure of Colonel Blimp. He is irascible and a drunk, which is why he finds himself in London at a bad time. He had to go: he’d been engaging in horizontal jogging with his brother’s fiancée, and it was because of that unfortunate liaison that he found himself engaged by the King to serve in the army. Not a good idea before Edgehill and Turnham Green.

The story is a romp that does not take itself too seriously (often a failing of more humorous stories), but instead bumbles and bounces from battlefield to battlefield, enjoying a little Tom Jones’ style of diversion along the way. It is thoroughly delightful, and I recommend it to all who enjoy Flashman, Tom Jones and similar period romps. The great thing is, I think I learned more about the English Civil War from this book than any other I’ve read – and it was all enjoyable!

What else? Well, I have to go to enjoy a meal on Wednesday, that will entail taking a load of work on a train for some hours. That will be good. It’s rare that I get to travel at all nowadays. I’m generally too busy. I have a novel and a short story to amend, and hopefully much of that will be done on the train. But I also have to finalise characters in the new book, and that will involve a lot of planning.

However the week is not all about enjoyment, sadly.

As readers of WriterlyWitterings will know, I was deeply saddened a couple of weeks ago by the death of my old mate Andy Setchell. I wrote about Andy in the last blog. When this is published, I will be sitting in the church with him to say goodbye. I miss him hugely.

So this week, I will be reminding myself that life is fleeting at best; it’s not a rehearsal, as my Canadian buddy likes to remind me. So as soon as I’ve got some work out of the way, I’ll be making sure that I get to see more old friends in the coming year.

Thinking of old friends, I have to put in a short plug here. Some of the best friends I’ve made are the guys who can laugh together, who have totally different backgrounds, different jobs, different attitudes to life, but who enjoy it to the full. These are the lads who make up the Tinners’ Morris band of brothers. I’ve been enormously fortunate to have made so many very good friends in this group of pub-crawling old devils. If you want to see more about us, please look at their page on Facebook for photos of a deeply embarrassing nature:

Like that page, and you’ll see when we are dancing in your area, and with luck, you can come and see us!

Have a great week.

A rare sight. All feet simultaneously off the ground!

A rare sight. All feet simultaneously off the ground!

10 Responses to “Books, Reviews and Morris!”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Lots of luck with the new book my friend :)


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael on his soon to be released book. ;)


  3. Fascinating that you mention books – I was watching your latest video on YouTube and was utterly distracted by the eclectic range of books on the shelves behind you, trying to fathom in what sense they were arranged (if any).

    Looking forward to Rebellion’s Message.


  4. Lindsey Russell says:

    I read a lot, probably more than I should and do so while writing (well not in parallel but you know what I mean), but to avoid slipping into someone else’s style I always read the last five or six pages I wrote. Will look out for your Tudor book – Mary’s reign is a fairly unploughed field compared to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I so should provide fertile pickings. Not a fan of Mary the monarch so will be interesting to see how you handle any part she plays in the proceedings – if any. Mr Evans book sounds good as well – a favourite period of history (along with the Plantagenets) for me.


    • Thanks for that. I know that falling into another writing style doesn’t affect all of us, but I seem to be very affected. Other people’s styles are infectious, clearly! Hope you enjoy my latest when it comes out. All best!


  5. Kay Samuelson says:

    I am looking forward to “Rebellion’s Message”, which will be available in the US on Aug. 1, 2016. I do enjoy both the Tudor and the Plantagenet periods of history. Both “The Cross and the Curse” and “The Last Roundhead” sound very interesting, and thank you for your reviews. Something to fill the time until your book is available here.

    Love your picture of the Morris Dancers. That looks like a great deal of fun, as well as excellent exercise.


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