BOOKS AND WRITING

Current books.
Cash for Characters.
“Can I have a word?”
Other writings…

MR. TAP

A French farce of a ghost story.
Two books in one hard-back volume.

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The common theme throughout ‘MR. TAP‘ is his love affair with his wine. Living in one of nine apartments in a converted château near Carcassonne in the south of Franch, he thinks nothing of spending thousands of euros on just one rarity, but he’s also obsessive about his stash of cheap supermarket plonk that he’s wrongly convinced his neighbours in the château are trying to steal. When local vintner Adrian Braddan locates a much sought-after vintage, Mr. Tap knows he simply has to have it, despite its enormous price tag. With several days to wait until Braddan is due to deliver his special wine, Mr. Tap becomes increasingly irritated by any slight activity or noise by his neighbours that might spoil his big tasting day.

In BOOK ONE – BEFORE LIFE the wily cantankerous old bugger is always having some discrepancy or other with his neighbours.

One by one they fall victim to his ignorance, negligence, incompetence and temper, causing their unimaginable fates.

With Police Inspector Marceau de Mantis hot on his heels, Mr. Tap stealthily makes his escape from the château with his loyal but ever-sleepy dog Rolo in tow…

In BOOK TWO – AFTER LIFE we see that Mr. Tap doesn’t get too far before disaster strikes and he has to come to terms with his new ghostly existence bound by the confines of the château. As soon as Mr. Tap’s Last Will and Testament is read, a whole new chain of events is set in motion…

This story of Mr. Tap comes complete with deadly caterpillars, heavy-metal music loving goats, a crazed Rhodesian Ridgeback and Nellie, a dwarf twin elephant with a healthy appetite for croissants. Did I mention it’s all a right farce too? A French farce of a ghost story. Has there ever been one of those written before?

The background to the creation of MR. TAP…

… Once upon a time the lovely Mrs Watson and I used to own one of the apartments in an imposing château near Carcassonne in the beautiful south of France, just like the fictional Mr. Tap did.

Having several apartment owners of different nationalities sharing the building’s upkeep costs often didn’t bode well for entente cordiale relations between us. Owners and money mixed like oil and water, and what with arguments about the satellite dish, vehicle parking, the communal gardening, the roof, the gutters and the painting and decorating, there were many opportunities for disagreements to flourish.

And there was always one particular resident at the heart of these disagreements. I made up a name for him – “Mr. Tap”.

One evening after a few alcoholic beverages had been consumed at our regular ‘Book Club’ meeting on the Boat For My Potplants, I relayed some of these historic tales of woe to David Roberts, my friend and publisher (I always love saying “my publisher” – it sounds so up my own arse).

After I described the various shenanigans that had gone on at the château, David remarked that it would make a great story, and a worthy follow-up to FLORIDA KEY. Following the enormous fun had at the launches of my first two novels, the good folks whom I proudly considered friends, demanded to be included as characters in my latest tale.

Such as Geoffrey and Pam Kinder, and Roísín Geber and Sylvie Davis. I tried to recreate something of their personas within the prose, and just thinking about them helped enormously with the arduous writing task!

I soon found that the story of MR. TAP would become my greatest challenge, but as the plot thickened it also became the most enjoyable, especially as I wanted to incorporate all the apartment owners based on people that I personally knew from real life. Only Mr. Tap’s character is plucked from my lucid imagination, although maybe I’m only saying that to avoid the threat of possible litigation from him.

In this book, not only have my personal acquaintances from Essex and south France (the two locations where the story’s set) parted with their hard-earned cash to appear within the hallo

wed pages (see CASH FOR CHARACTERS), but so have a number of sponsors also asked me “CAN I HAVE A WORD?” Any word of their choosing to be incorporated into my masterpiece, just for the hell of it, and for a few bob to help the coffers.

“Of course you can have a word! What would you like?” I answered, perhaps a little over-enthusiastically. I soon discovered that whereas it would be easy-peasy to slip in the likes of CHARM or MADAME, incorporating words like GALLIMAUFRY or INEVITABLE DONKEY were less so. Thank goodness I had a couple of glasses of reasonably-priced research-essential wine to help lubricate the brain.

Florida Key

Available NOW from Hornet Books, from Amazon, from any bookshop in the country, on Kindle… and DIRECT FROM ME!!!

Order your signed copy direct from me.

ORDER FLORIDA KEY

A thrilling rollercoaster ride of love, lust and an uncovered truth.

When Oliver Markland buys an old prison key from a Florida flea market his casual purchase sets off a train of events surrounding a brutal, decades-old murder. Feeling empathy for the young cyclist who may have been wrongly incarcerated for the notorious crime, Oliver finds himself drawn into unravelling a mystery that threatens his own life.

Who really did commit the so-called ‘Bike Radio Murder’? Can the budding Essex journalist, dubbed by the American press ‘The British Young Sherlock’, solve a puzzle left dormant since dental assistant Sandy Beach was beaten to death in 1981?

Only Oliver Markland has the key…

In MUDDY WATER, my first novel, the central character Leslie Markland has a son, Oliver. In FLORIDA KEY, novel No.2, the now grown-up Oliver continues with his own story. Any link between FLORIDA KEY and MUDDY WATER stops right there; the stories within the pages of each book are completely independent of each other.

The background to the creation of FLORIDA KEY

Holidaying on Anna Maria Island off the west coast of Florida, a visit to a Sunday morning flea market gave me the chance to rummage through a box of old keys on sale. I hoped I’d find one with some letters or inscription that might indicate its origin. I did. The vendor informed me that it might have come from a prison in Illinois. Fascinated, I bought that key for $17, did some research only to discover that it in fact did come from Joliet Penitentiary (the same prison used in the opening sequences of the classic Blues Brothers film).

That got me thinking about the cell the key was used to lock and unlock, who might have been incarcerated there – and of course why. I imagined the prisoner to have been accused of a murder he or she always claimed to be innocent of. But all prisoners claim their innocence, don’t they?

Then, casting my mind back to the early 80’s when I cycled across the USA and met a Japanese national, Yushi, cycling in the opposite direction on the proverbial deserted highway. My imagination pictured him being that accused young man…

Thanks to CASH FOR CHARACTERS, at the book launch for FLORIDA KEY when I invited those good folks of Wivenhoe to show up dressed appropriately, they obliged. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this ‘ere website that Wivenhoe is fully of quirky characters.

A lot of fun was had for sure.

International sensationalism followed the publication of FLORIDA KEY, when my story of the key from Joliet Prison was featured in the newspaper there. Amazingly I was contacted by a Joliet Herald newspaper reader, telling me that their late father actually worked for the Folger Adam Company, the manufacturing firm that made the key.

Well I never!

And not only that. Even better than to be featured in The Times or The Telegraph, FLORIDA KEY was also mentioned in none other than The Brightlingsea & Wivenhoe Chronicle. A sign for sure that I’d made it!

Muddy Water

A love story that went wrong
Available NOW from Hornet Books, from Amazon, from any bookshop in the country, on Kindle… and DIRECT FROM ME!!!

Order your signed copy direct from me.

ORDER MUDDY WATER

Leslie Markland hasn’t a clue what the word entailment means, but when his father’s will is read he soon finds out – and it’s not good news.
Cruelly denied his inheritance – the Markland Estate in Yorkshire – Leslie sets out to gain revenge on the father who betrayed him. Living on a barge on the river estuary at Wivenhoe in Essex, he plots his retribution.
The unforeseen train of events this unleashes backfires spectacularly when he winds up in prison.
With unpredictable twists and turns, this book is the extraordinary tale of revenge and unexpected love he writes during his stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The background to the creation of MUDDY WATER

“If I could dig up his bones from the grave and chuck them in the river, I would!” a man I’d just met told me when I’d asked him about his family. He was talking about his late father. I was appalled, and I wanted to know more. He went on to explain how he’d been left out from his father’s will because of not having any children of his own, in favour of his younger brother who did. His solution, my new acquaintance continued, was to scupper that will and contest it once he’d fathered a child of his own, using a sperm-donation surrogacy agency. As well as being shocked, I was equally fascinated. “This could be a great story for a book,” I remarked, half joking. “Well, fill yer boots then. Go ahead,” he complied. “Just leave my name out of it.”

So I began writing his story – starting with main character (and made-up name) Leslie Markland entering the London agency to begin his own personal baby-making process…

On my old boat moored conveniently outside a pub on the muddy waters of Wivenhoe, I continued writing up Leslie’s story, imagining how his quest for retribution might continue. I knew from my own experiences how complicated some family affairs could be, and I discussed the story’s progress with fellow Wivenhonian David Roberts from Hornet Books during our weekly ‘Book Club’ sessions on that same boat. I’d first met David thanks to our mutual love of music. Every week we would meet on the Boat For My Potplants to discuss my debut novel’s progress while drinking wine and playing songs mostly from the ‘70’s. David mentored me, making welcome suggestions about the characters and plot – but demanding that he could design the cover if Hornet were to publish Muddy Water.

Of course I agreed, and we actually used my daughter Laura for the two slightly different photos (look at her hands), taken in my living room under David’s artistic direction.

Laura, a brilliant artist, also illustrated all the main characters – including Harry the dog, and Leslie Markland. Now, in my mind’s eye, Leslie bore a similarity to my music hero, Harry Nilsson. Harry who? I hear you ask. Kids – I urge you to check him out. He’s one of the most gifted singer-songwriters ever, with a sweet voice that can give goose bumps from a thousand paces – but that’s a whole other story (see MY JOURNEY). Laura captured my mind’s eye brilliantly.

Muddy Water was the first of my books to incorporate my ‘CASH FOR CHARACTERS’ scheme, where a number of real people paid to become characters in the story. I did my best to allow a little of their own personalities to shine within the pages. At the launch party I divvied up all the cash raised and gave those massive cheques you can get from the bank to four great and worthy causes, all mentioned within the plot’s pages – the RNLI, MIND, The Samaritans, and the Royal British Legion.

BITE SIZED SALES TIPS

A guide book for sales professionals

Still available from my garage!

In every issue of CoatHanger (see below) I wrote 8 sales tips – basic things like ‘Ask for the order!’ – titbits of practical advice I had gleaned during my time on the road as a sales rep.

Nothing too serious. A worthy quote and one tip per page – oh so easy to digest – just like the fruit on the cover, with any resemblance to Apple’s logo being purely coincidental.

London publisher Kogan Page actually paid us good money for my humorous words of wisdom and Steve’s slightly more serious inclusions. Ah, there’s money in this writing mullarkey, I thought.

Published in 2001, the book went on to become a world-wide best-seller, eventually being translated into Dutch and Mandarin. Well, at least initially it did sell very well, but Kogan Page soon moved onto newer titles and Sales Tips was left to dwindle.

“I could do a better job than them,” I declared, and negotiated to buy all the unsold copies back. And since then they have remained cellophane-wrapped in my garage.

And that’s why they are still available. You couldn’t buy a better book to help you in your sales career – honest guv. Grab your copy now before they’re all gone. Perhaps in another 20 years they will be.

CASH FOR CHARACTERS

I very much wanted to continue my writing ‘career’, following the runaway success of MUDDY WATER. But the question was how could I afford to? After all, the mortgage still needed to be paid and food put on t’table.

But I do believe that every solution is born from necessity. For me, I found it necessary to continue writing. I had discovered that it was in my heart as much as in my head. What to do, what to do? How could I balance my financial books? Then I hit upon the genius idea… CASH FOR CHARACTERS!

It may have been done before. Who knows? Who cares? Not me. What I cared about was that the wizard wheeze might potentially enable me to follow my heart.

Just as in MUDDY WATER, I offered folks the opportunity to have themselves written into FLORIDA KEY, my second book, for a princely sum. This time I made it clear that it wouldn’t be for charity – it would be to help fund some of my writing time. I was rather doubtful that anyone would be keen to hand over cash for their character – but it was worth a punt.

But lo and behold, I was inundated with requests – and who was I to turn them down? That would have been so rude of me!

As well as the practical benefits of having a few pennies thrown my way to help finance the writing, I discovered that it actually enhanced the writing process. It certainly got my creative juices flowing.

How lucky I was that publisher, editor, designer – and now great friend and wine-drinking partner – David Roberts was still happy to work with me on FLORIDA KEY, and that it would once again be published by Hornet Books. His condition? To design the cover. With me on it. I readily agreed.

Why would David want to continue along this thankless path with me? Maybe it was my continuing offer to share wine and food every week during our now notorious ‘Book Club’ evenings aboard my Boat For My Potplants – now aptly re-named ‘MISS BAUDET’ – after the very first MUDDY WATER cash-for-character to delve into her handbag in search of her chequebook to buy their way to stardom!

They say it’s unlucky to change a boat’s name. I say it’s brought me nothing but good luck.

“CAN I HAVE A WORD?”

Q * “Can I Have a Word?” What the heck is that all about, you might ask? And right you’d be to do so.

Answer: Well, it’s like this: YOU think of ANY word that you’d like ME to incorporate into the text of my book.

In return for a huge sum of money (£10), you will then see ‘your’ word listed against your name in the book’s index, alongside our definition of said word, and what page number it appears on.

Q * Can you show an example of how the listing would look?

Answer: Sure thing. Here: 

Q * W.I.I.F.Y? (What’s In It For You?)

Answer: You have the fun, the kudos, the craziness of seeing your word(s) and your name in print (and on Kindle). And not only that, see how I (with the help of my Editor, David Roberts) I’ve managed to slip your chosen word into the story in a way that it makes perfect sense.

Q * W.I.I.F.M? (What’s In It For Me?)

Answer: Apart from the obvious tenner that goes towards the humungous cost of writing and producing a book, it actually helps with the creative development of the plot – it makes me think outside the box in a way that, in my opinion, enhances the story, and hopefully your reading experience.

Not only that, if only you could know the laughs that David and I have had in working in some of these words! Well, you could knock me down with a feather – it’s been a blast. And long may it continue with future books.

Q * Who can submit a word?

Answer: Anyone. Male, female, young, old, gay, straight – I don’t care. It’s the word that counts.

Q * Are there any rules?

Answer: Of course!!! It can be a real word, or a made-up one. It can be a place or a person’s name. It can even be a soft swear word – BUT NOT anything TOO STRONG! So ‘DRAT’ or ‘DAMNATION’ is fine, but not anything like ‘CULT’ or ‘BILLHOCKS’. Get the gist? (I don’t really mean ‘cult’ or ‘billhocks’ – you know what I’m saying! And I get to make any final decision!

Q * Is this madness limited to just words?

Answer: No. You can ‘buy’ any PUNCTUATION MARK you like that will appear somewhere in the book, and it will be listed in the index, alongside YOUR name. That’ll set you back a cool fiver.

And, how about this?: You can also ‘buy’ the very FIRST or the very LAST word of the entire book. For example, the word ‘ONCE’ as in Once Upon A Time, or the word ‘END’ as in The End. The sky’s the limit, the world’s your lobster!

This could be your chance to not only get your name in print, but to literally have the last word.

Q * And how much would that set me back?

Answer: Only a hundred quid.

Q * BLOODY HELL!!! HOW MUCH???

Answer: You heard. This is a much coveted position of great importance. And when the book becomes an international best-seller you can point to your name in it and amaze all your friends. Either that or they’ll think you’ve gone bonkers. It depends on your sense of humour.

To submit your chosen word, punctuation mark, or to reserve the much coveted first or last word, click here.

COATHANGER

A companion magazine for sales reps (no longer available).

For years I was a sales rep, driving up and down the country selling TV’s, video recorders, and car radios to retailers – and I was even quite good at it.

But then my employers informed me that they would be closing their UK operation, and that if I wished I could take immediate redundancy, or alternatively work with them for the next 6 months until the company’s closure, and take a package then.

Having nothing better to do, I decided I’d remain until the bitter end. Feeling a tad low one day and worrying about my future, I went to buy a Sales reps’ magazine– only to discover there was nothing to be found on the shelves.

There was an obvious gap in a potentially huge market. I had a light bulb moment – I would create such a magazine aimed at folks like me wanting to read about suits and ties, phones and gadgets, hotels and cars, sandwiches and coffee – and of course jobs. I had no clue as to how to do that, but fortunately I met Steve, a local man with a longstanding career in publishing and journalism. He liked the concept and together we gave birth to ‘CoatHanger’ – so-called because of the sales rep’s stereotypical image of their jacket hanging in the back of their Mondeo.

Lucky break followed lucky break, including me getting on the telly to promote the magazine’s launch. For a whacky publicity stunt we found the world’s largest coathanger – a half-ton colossus – emblazoned it with the magazine’s logo and hired an open lorry to drive it up and down the M1. It wasn’t long before CoatHanger was on sale throughout Britain’s network of motorway services.

What fun! I found myself being invited to car launches with no extravagant expense spared. For example Suzuki took me to drive their Vitara around Nürburgring. Volvo invited me to Nice with their V70. And the icing on the cake – being flown out to Barcelona in Ford’s private jet to review their new Fiesta. My God, I thought; how did I get here, sharing the experience with ‘proper’ writers? I marvelled at how on earth I’d become one of them.

Eventually, with the rising internet the demand for physical publications fell, CoatHanger coughed and spluttered to a gradual end – but not before a book deal was offered to reproduce our ever-popular ‘Bite Size Sales Tips’ in book form.

That became my first taste of becoming an author, and I liked its sweetness.

MOTORBOATS MONTHLY

A story of my boat with flowers on top.

It wasn’t because I had any interest in boats that I got one – I didn’t. It wasn’t because I wanted a project – I was far too busy. And it wasn’t because I could afford to do one up – I couldn’t.

But it was all because my lovely cousin Hilary had suggested I write a blog “about anything” when I first mentioned to her that I was keen on doing some writing.

“What’s a blog?” I asked naively.

Sometimes you just know when certain things are life-changers. When we moved to Wivenhoe and a visiting friend offered me his father’s dilapidated wreck of a river-cruiser, I knew instinctively I had to say ‘yes’. This was one of those life-changing occurrences. This boat was what I could write my blog about.

But suffice to say it became the inspiration for me to submit snippets about the boat’s renovation to Essex Life Magazine – all unpaid of course, but that didn’t matter. Money was certainly not my motivation, although those early articles turned out to be worth more than their weight in gold…

… Thanks to one of those Essex Life Magazine inclusions in which I’d mentioned how some Dulux paint got stuck on my ear, that gave me an idea – I’d ask Dulux if they’d kindly give me some paint. They said “yes, how much would you like Mr. Watson?” and I realised I was on to something.

B&Q followed with providing some power tools. Before long I had a fully functioning, totally renovated boat, complete with new canopy, solar panel system and Suzuki outboard engine.

It made for a great story, so I pitched the idea of writing one to IPC Media, publishers of Motor Boats Monthly. They bit, and invited me to their London offices. What a terrific day that was – and I’ll never forget the thrill I later got when I first saw the magazine with my mugshot adorning the cover in WHSmith’s.

This was it. I knew it. This was what I wanted to do. To put one letter in front of another to form word, a sentences and a paragraph. And getting a cheque from IPC for £600 was the icing on the cake.

Then, a couple of years later, in my wildest dreams I could never have predicted what was to come next. I thought that getting a book deal was what happened only to other writers. As my dear old Nan used to say: “You never know what’s around the corner.”

She was so right.

MMM – MOTORHOMER’S MONTHLY MAGAZINE

A TALE OF OUR CLASSIC HYMER

For years I’d hankered after having a motorhome. Not just any, but a Hymer no less, as I’d heard that they had a drop-down bed above the driver’s cabin. It was great to find one on the Internet for just £3200. I think the low price had something to do with it being very old (1978), very cumbersome (built on a Bedford chassis), and very hard to drive (with a gearstick that was like stirring soup).

We lovingly named her ‘Tallulah The T-Reg’, and we went on a few journeys in her with great fear and trepidation.

For our maiden voyage we were to attend a wedding in Lincoln, some 160 miles away. To ensure we arrived on time we set off early on the Wednesday. The wedding was on the Saturday, but I wanted to be on the safe side – and sure enough we made it – intact but shaken to the core.

We loved Tallulah, and I’m sure Tallulah loved us. We looked after her well, had the taps and water system repaired from all her leaks, and then hardly ever used her again. Even though she didn’t suffer a mechanical breakdown my nervous one was enough for me.

We sold her 2 years later for a substantial profit – after all, Tallulah was a classic – and she was even used on an episode of The Motorhome Channel. See here.

But before she went to her new home in London I thought I’d try submitting an article about her to the magazine revered most by motorhome lovers countrywide, MMM.

My words and pictures were accepted, and I got paid £250 for that. I was a writer now!

UFO REPOR

A LESSON IN HOW TO ESCAPE SCHOOLWORK
Me, age 15 and 3/4, about to do my O’levels

It all started in the classroom at East Barnet School. My friend and to-be collaborator Paul deVos had the idea to create a magazine about his, and soon to be mine, favourite subject that wasn’t on the curriculum – Unidentified Flying Saucers.

With permission granted for us to use the Gestetner printing machine to run off 50 copies to be sold at 5p each, Paul and I put together Issue 1, a twelve-page hand-written masterpiece, packed with fascinating articles like ‘The Banbury Spaceman’ and ‘UFOs Over Warminster’. There was a competition for readers to win 50p if they submitted their ‘Galactic Gag’ that could be used in the next issue, if there was ever going to be one. There was, but I don’t think we ever paid out, instead using the services of another school-mate, Michael Oakes, to compile his own hilarious set of jokes for free.

A couple of years later, and we’d progressed to using a state-of-the-art litho-printer and a real typewriter, and the print-run had increased to 200 copies. Paul and I would go interviewing ‘flying saucer witnesses’, and we even travelled and stayed overnight in a caravan in Warminster – a well-known UFO hotspot. I was scared shitless, even though nothing transpired.

Nevertheless, by January 1974 our little magazine had reached the dizzy heights of a 500-copy print-run, and now with a cover price of 12p, we were making serious pocket money – especially as we were attracting no end of subscribers from around the world including Japan, Australia, France, Canada and the US.

Never before, or since, had by bedroom been so busy in magazine preparations. We were by now able to print photographs, so of course we had to take some – going to our local park armed with saucepan lids of various sizes that Paul would toss in the air and I would capture on film as proof that UFOs really do exist.

The magazine eventually folded when my dad was informed that my Maths and English homework was suffering in the run-up to my O’Levels, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I would have to “stop this nonsense”. He even made me return all the subscription monies. I was gutted!

Who knows where I could have been by now if I’d carried on with the great UFO Report?