Belonging – the story of The Shadow Man

I started writing my second novel, The Shadow Man, as a tribute to my home village. Like the villages and small towns that Stephen King creates where the kids maraud around the place, living a completely different life to the grown-ups and where different and strange things can happen, oblivious to the adults around them. This kind of thing didn’t happen back home, of course, but we did roam around the place like we owned it, and some of the things that happened to us did make it through into the book – apart from the vengeful ghost spirit of course!

Ultimately, it was all Bruce Springsteen’s fault. Because in amongst Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Born to Run and all his other huge anthems, one of my favourites is My Hometown. And whilst my hometown was actually a little village, NOT a town as my editor pointed out, it resonated when I was writing The Shadow Man. So much so that belonging, and the idea of what it means to call somewhere ‘home’ became a key theme in the book. I spent eighteen years calling that little village my home. It’s just a function of geography of course – your family happen to live in a certain place and it is where you identify as your home from thereon in. I knew most of the people in my village, and a lot of the populace would’ve either known me or my family, or at least recognised me as familiar when my friends and I rode around the place on our bikes.

‘Marauding around as if we owned the place,’ as I say in the book.

And for those 18 years or so it was home.

But it’s like when you move house, leaving all those memories of life and love behind and move into a new place, paint a few rooms, hang some pictures on the walls and set your bedroom furniture out so it looks exactly like your bedroom should. After how long is that ‘home’ – a few weeks, a month or two maybe at the most – and suddenly the old place isn’t home anymore and here is where you belong.

So if home and belonging are purely related to the place and the people, then can we ever claim anywhere as home or say that we belong anywhere? Perhaps it’s only when we become synonymous with somewhere that we can truly say that’s where we belong – like 221B Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes or The Queen and Buck House. So for how long must you live somewhere before it genuinely is synonymous with you – truly your hometown? Thirty years? Fifty maybe? Maybe you need to have generations of your family living there – preferably in the same house – for that place and that town to be associated with you. Your histories becoming intertwined.

That’s my way of introducing this extract from The Shadow Man where the main character, Philippa narrating the story in first person, reflects on this subject, and the vengeful spirit they are investigating.

‘It made me think, what is thirty years in the overall history of a place? I grew up here, spent my formative years here, strutted around as a teenager in my home villagehere because I really did feel like I owned the place, and vied for territory with a gang of boys who were doing the same.

Vied for territory with a gang of boys.

Why did that suddenly spring to mind, and why did it trigger something? My spider sense was tingling just thinking of it. What did it mean? Whatever, it was beyond the reach of my sub-conscious, and a new layer for another day perhaps.

This is my home village. The place that I’d called home – and still did sometimes. But then is it? I wondered if I could actually call it that? I’d lived there for eighteen years, sure, but in the lifespan of a village that had been around for hundreds of years, it was nothing. And that was nearly thirty years ago. After leaving home for good, I only returned periodically, for weekend visits – hardly anyone who lived here now would remember me. There’d be even fewer in another ten years. So now I’m a stranger here, as any of the residents of the new houses that had sprung up around the pond would attest if they were twitching their curtains as I stood outside a house I used to know, eyeing me warily until I moved on or drove away.

It’s like I’d never existed.

No legacy here, no history, no nothing.

I was a blip in the timeline, a minor biological load and then gone. Could anyone truly regard a place as their home? Or were we all just passing through? I suppose that if generations of your family had lived somewhere, and had become entrenched within the folklore – the story of the place and the family becoming completely entwined – then maybe that could be regarded as your home.

And how long would that last when you and your kin were gone? A generation? Two?

But what if your attachment to a place was so strong, through a story, an act or an injustice, that you couldn’t leave. That If the bond was so indefatigable that you found a way to exist beyond your bag of watery cells, to transcend the human condition and sidestep death itself – your memory and your spirit intertwining to keep you here forever.  What if that was what we were up against.?

So in the book, the idea is that The Shadow Man, a vengeful spirit that hangs over the village has more of a claim to describing the place as their hometown than any of the women in the story who have moved on. In the real world, I suppose, this idea of placing our loyalty to bricks and mortar is misplaced when, in fact, we don’t belong anywhere at all, only to each other.

A Brief Time in Our History Stephen Hawking died yesterday, and I for one am very sad. I’m 47 years old and Professor Hawking should have died before I was born, having been diagnosed in 1963 with motor neurone disease, a condition which claims most victims within five years. Yet he survived and thrived for more than half a century, becoming, in my view, my generation’s Einstein.

His former wife has suggested in her book that he wasn’t a good husband and was a narcissist. A number of commentators have also alluded to this, and that’s as maybe, but my post today is to celebrate the scientist who brought theoretical physics into the living room, and that isn’t something that happens every day.

Stephen Hawking took Einstein’s theory of general relativity and extrapolated it to the beginning of time, to specifically predict the Big Bang. And now, from analysis of how the universe is expanding (which is way beyond me), scientists can work backwards and estimate exactly when this was. It was probably a Wednesday. Not only that but he also predicted how the universe would expand and ultimately end at the bottom of a black hole. He took relativity and mixed it with quantum physics – two very different theories – to create a balanced ‘theory of everything’. Getting that heady mixture right would leave even John Torode salivating.

His A Brief History of Time became science for the masses – bringing physics, astronomy and cosmology onto our bookshelves, on the shelves next to David Attenborough and Ranulph Fiennes. It was too much for me when I first read it, but little snippets and off-hand facts blew me away, and my already-piqued interest in the universe was ignited.

But it’s Hawking’s reaction to his disability that is of most interest. In a generation where the cliché was ‘does he take sugar’, where the carer was asked if their disabled companion would prefer one lump or two rather than asking the person themselves, the good professor became a household name. He was the first rock-star scientist, way before Brian Cox, and to hell with whether he was disabled. And he looked like he was loving it. His voice synthesizer from the 80s could have been upgraded and improved, but he kept it, presumably because it was his voice that everyone knew – just like yours or mine. It became one of the most recognisable voices on the planet. From being sampled by Pink Floyd on The Division Bell, to appearing on The Simpsons and Star Trek, he became in icon. Stephen Hawking was famous because of his disability, not in spite of it, the world’s most famous wheelchair user.

In a world where the word genius is bandied around for writing a clever post on Facebook, Stephen Hawking was a proper genius. Before his death, one of his most recent concerns was how AI might ultimately wipe out the human race. And if Prof Hawking is predicting The Terminator, I think we’d better sit up and take notice. The world of physics is a poorer place today without him, but I look forward to watching the next generation of scientists follow in the great man’s footsteps, and seeing what more we can achieve.

The Mystery of the Unexplained

Okay, so back in the early 80s, there was a fondness for magazine producers in the UK to release their products as fortnightly serials, building up to a full volume set after you’d been collecting them about a hundred years or so. I’m sure I recollect titles dealing with different battles in warfare and you got a different ‘toy’ soldier with each issue, I also think there was some kind of wildlife one focusing on a different type of animal each time.

That didn’t float my boat, but what did, was one called The Unexplained. It took ‘mysterious phenomena’ and looked at ‘new evidence’ to try and explain them. All the usual suspects were there – some twenty years before the X-Files – Loch Ness, alien abduction, bigfoot / yeti, spontaneous human combustion, the Bermuda triangle (Remember that? Health and Safety must have sorted that out because I haven’t heard a peep out of any kind of dangerous geometry for years…), the Cottingley Fairies and near death experiences.

The second I saw the advert back in the day, I was hooked. I’ve just watched the old ad on YouTube and it still scans pretty well, considering. I had to have it. So every fortnight I trouped off down to the village shop to buy my glossy dose of spookiness, or the manual on how to become Fox Mulder as it might as well have been. I read and re-read it, can still picture some of the images in there, and it became a really important part of how my mind developed into fiction – getting into James Herbert’s The Rats and progressing quickly onto Stephen King, with It coming a couple of years later. But it’s the lure of the unexplained that has always done it for me – even now, my son and I will sit and watch Finding Bigfoot together, with the glimmer of hope that one of the dodgy sightings just might turn out to be real.

And now, having published The Hand of an Angel, and looking at the roster of stories on which I’m currently working, it seems there may be a bit of a link in what would be otherwise completely separate tales. And so, perhaps, I should really have sub-titled The Hand of an Angel: The Unexplained Series – Volume 1.  





That was the easy bit…

You go through a slightly strange period when you finish writing a book. At some point after finishing it, and whilst going through an editing and re-drafting cycle until you’re happy that it is totally done, you actually get brave enough to tell people that you’ve written a novel. Brave enough because you’re worried that they’ll laugh in your face because they don’t think you can string a sentence together, or because you’ve just admitted to spending the last year playing make-believe on your laptop. And yes you do get some mixed reactions – there are so many ways of expressing the word ‘really’. Happily the vast majority of people have offered their congratulations, feeling that it is an achievement to have done it. And having said so to other authors, I suppose that it is.

So you’d think that that was the hard work done then. Oh no. As a self-published author – which is a bit like John Cleese in the Fawlty Towers sketch where he plays the part of lots of different people who run the hotel – the hard work is only really starting. You take on the role of the typesetter and research the popular and outdated fonts for novel writing before getting obsessive about the placement of every margin, the graphic designer for the cover, the solicitor to go through all the legal and financial stuff with Amazon and it’s subsidiaries, the marketing guy to look at campaigns on Amazon and social media, and so it goes on and on.

So I genuinely thank every single person who’s patted me on the back in some way for finishing The Hand of an Angel, but that was really the easy bit compared with the promotional work to get as many folks out there as possible reading it. Roll on going back to the easy part of writing a book again!







Launch day – Angel Thursday!

Well here it is guys, the day has come when I launch my first novel to an unsuspecting public! Almost two years to the day since I first sat down and wrote about a conversation between two men in a stark, minimalist clinic room. That conversation was about deja vu, and it became the working title for the book for a long time. The two men were to become Cardiologist Tom Boyand and Psychologist Bob Wauberg, and that conversation did at least, in part, make it into the final book.

About ten days ago I was coming to the end of final proofing of Angel, having taken delivery of hard copy proofs about a week before. As I was sat in this very chair, at this very laptop, going through the final couple of chapters, it struck me that this was probably going to be the last time I was going to be with these characters that I’d become so close to and spent time with over all that time. It was actually quite sad – a bit of an end of an era type thing – but also excited at the same time, that I was now ready to introduce these characters tot he wider world.

So, guys, The Hand of an Angel is available at Amazon, and I’m now beavering away on the ebook, for release in the next week or so. I hope you like it, and I hope you enjoy Tom and Sarah’s story.


How to write a book…

Writing and editing a book are strange things.  First of all you have an idea, and you write it down.  Then you have some more ideas, and you add them to the first one.  Before long you’re sitting at your desk, typing away in the dead of night, ideas flowing, desperately trying not to be distracted by the latest sports news on the internet – something that you only checked an hour ago, and let’s be honest, who are Swansea City going to buy at two o’clock in the morning anyway?  And you do this night after night for months and months.  And then you edit your work, time and again, until you’ve got a tightly-knit piece of work.

And then it’s done.

And then you pass your manuscript to your infinitely better half, Becky, to edit – cue many a frosty bedtime when you take exception to the amount of scribbling she is doing all over your pages – and like it or not you realise it’s not done.  But at least then you can go back to writing to produce a second draft from these edits, and then, finally, it’s done.

Then you send your work to a professional editor – in my case the very lovely and eternally patient Jackie Bates.  In fairness Jackie did prepare me for what being edited is like, but it’s still an eye-opener.  It’s a bit like handing in an essay to be marked at school.  I never thought that someone would be so thorough as to consider the merits of every one of the 95000 words I’d written, but by the time you get to the other side of the editing process, you’ll have done the same.  No matter how constructive, taking criticism isn’t easy, but the version of The Hand of an Angel written on the back of these comments is so much better – tighter and leaner with padding removed, and with further development of story arcs where they needed it.

So I now have the book that I always wanted, and it’s done.

Adventures in writing

Well that sounds cool doesn’t it? And it sounds far more exciting than saying; me sat at my laptop. This blog is reaching out to anyone interested in my writing or The Hand of an Angel particularly. My main focus is getting Angel to someone who is interested in publishing it, but I have got some other projects on the go at the moment, and I’ll write more about them on these pages as well. I also intend to publish some short stories and fan fiction here too.

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