February 2016


I’m taking a short break from the blog. While I’m away:

  • There will be no Letters from Elsewhere this Friday, but the popular series will be back the following Friday.
  • I have a post coming up on Angela Wren’s blog today and other guest posts are planned for a month or so hence.
  • OlgaSwan - LamplightLamplight by Olga Swan is being published by Crooked Cat this Thursday. Lamplight is a thriller – book 1 in the David Klein series. David Klein is eighteen when he runs away from the poverty and orthodoxy of his Jewish home in Birmingham, England, for the bright lights and opportunities of New York. But trouble is in store.

    From the anguish and terror of nearly drowning at sea, the story moves between New York, Birmingham and eventually to Breslau in Germany where, when working as a war reporter, he meets Karin. Together, they live through the burgeoning terror of Nazi Germany in 1938.

    You’re invited to join the launch party on Facebook. And the ebook is available now for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Baby with rattlePlay nicely while I’m away and I’ll reveal all on my return.

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What would you give for a world free of war, dependence on fossil fuels, pollution and terrorism? That is the premise for the Alchemy series.

An accidental discovery solving the problem of fossil fuel brings this Utopian vision closer but at what cost? Could there be unforeseen consequences and how dire would they be? Who could fight demons if all established religion had been abolished?

Put aside demons and add two people more doomed than Romeo and Juliet who are forced to fight alongside each other. Mix in some very energetic Goths and an undercover Christian Granny for an explosive result as the stories move at breakneck speed into the near-future blending magical realism with pizza, ritual with slang, deepest hatred with impossible love, shape-shifting with public transport.

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Book 1 Alchemy

Book 2 Shaman’s Drum

You can find Ailsa Abraham on TwitterFacebook and on her Web page.

Letters from Elsewhere

It seems special abilities are as much a handicap as good fortune. Just as well I don’t have any! I’m fascinated by the history of today’s visitor, especially as it relates to the novel I’m currently working on.

Tana Standish operated as a British secret agent for Interprises, a secret adjunct of MI6, through the 1960s to the 1980s. She had a photographic memory and possessed psychic abilities, not all of them capable of being called upon at will. After four missions (Singapore, Naples, Izmir and Odessa), and prior to her next mission to Pilsen (1968), she was evaluated by the new psychologist, Dr James Fisk. In an effort at catharsis, he asked her to write a number of letters to him about her early memories. This is one of those letters:

Dear James

 I ‘celebrated’ my fifth birthday [in 1942] stumbling through the sewers of Warsaw, my hand in twelve-year-old brother Ishmael’s. We’d survived hunger and disease and managed to avoid the deportation of the children to Treblinka in July but everyone knew they would not live through the oncoming German onslaught.

Our elder brother Mordechai had told us we must escape, promising, “Jews will live to settle scores. Jews have lived and will endure for all eternity.” He would continue the Jewish resistance. As we slunk through the subterranean tunnels, I looked back, and Mordechai was singing a popular song of the starved ghetto: “When we had nothing to eat, they gave us a turnip, or a beet, here, take food, take fleas, have some typhus, die of disease!”

Ishmael, with hollow cheeks, pallid skin and all the signs of starvation, constantly deprived himself of our meagre contraband food in order to keep my strength up. Ishmael limped; he’d fractured his heel escaping a German raider whilst stealing outside the wall in the Aryan section of the city.

For two days, we munched sparingly on the scraps of coarse bread and stale cheese and stolen sugar.

On the third day when the food ran out, we surfaced from the rank sewers in the Christian part of the city. The outskirts of Warsaw were a great deal more repellent than below. We’d long-since grown accustomed to the dark and the vermin; even the smell had lost its pungency. But here, above ground, we were easy prey to demented thieves and homicidal Nazis.

Our most treasured possessions, however, were forged papers, created by a small commune of talented men and women: a travel-pass each, testifying that we were young Poles of pure race.

Constantly hiding, we followed the river Wkra north for most of the way, towards the Baltic, and our forged papers helped. When we could, we prayed. Ishmael told me about our eternal souls and how good people went to Olam Haba. “People who have done good but need to be purified, they go to Gehenom.”

“What about the Nazis?” I asked.

“Oh, they are too evil for Gehenom. They will be punished for all eternity.”

“Good,” I said.

We subsisted on vegetable refuse in farms and on the occasional rabbit.

The nights were still very cold and there were few haystacks to insulate us. The sky was filled with stars and my young mind wondered if there was any truth in the fable that when people died a star came into existence. A lot of people had died, I thought, gazing aloft, trying not to think of Mordechai.

Fortunately, I remembered a map from school in Karmelicka Street; it showed the area up to the Baltic; it hadn’t been up-to-date, but it proved invaluable. With an effort, I projected a mental image of it before my eyes and picked out salient landmarks as we travelled. All my family members took my memory gift for granted, hoping I would make use of it at university – but that was before the war, when hopes for a sane future flickered briefly.

Mere scarecrows, we often robbed farms. With my feet blistered and rib cage visible through translucent skin, I weakly, stubbornly clung to Ishmael’s bony hand.

Our journey took almost three months, and on numerous occasions, it was my sixth sense that saved us from capture. I seemed able to see through other people’s eyes sometimes – usually at moments of heightened tension. Ishmael didn’t even pretend to understand what powers I possessed, but was grateful for them.

As we approached the port of Gdynia, Ishmael explained in a faint whisper what we must do. “We’ll stow away on a ship. Wherever it docks, we can hide. It may even go across to Norway. Just think, Tana – Norway!”

Sneaking through the seaport wasn’t easy. The field-grey-clad sentries, gasmask canisters clinking, were there in force and on the alert for saboteurs. But our small size helped us melt into the shadows of warehouses and railway wagons. Miraculously, we avoided detection.

The dockside was swarming with threat and shadows. I was fearful of unfamiliar shapes and seemed to be trembling all the time. Framed in a narrow alleyway, the crosstree and derrick of a freighter’s mainmast were outlined against the night skyline. Then the black hull loomed and Ishmael whispered, “This one. We’ll get aboard this one.” He’d chosen well; whoever docked the ship hadn’t bothered to fit rat-guards on the cables.

Weak as we were, we managed to shin painstakingly slowly up the hawser. My hands were almost raw with the roughness of the cable. Tense minutes later, we squeezed through the gap and quietly lowered ourselves onto the dew-damp forecastle.

I cautiously followed Ishmael and scaled down a ladder onto the well deck. He partially lifted the cargo hatch tarpaulin cover and we both slid into the for’ard hold, where it was pitch-black at first. But after a while, our eyes became accustomed to the darkness; it was not unlike the sewers, I supposed, though smelled less rank.

The hold was stacked with crates but no food. Rats scurried to the forepeak, in deep shadow, but neither of us was particularly alarmed. Even the prospect of eating these vermin as a last resort held no horrors.

My stomach rumbled emptily at the memory of the last food scraps to pass my lips two days ago.

Ishmael chuckled and I imagined that he was smiling; he told me I was to make myself comfortable, while he went ‘up top’ to steal some food.

Fearful for his safety, I pleaded with him not to go. He kissed my forehead. “We’ll starve here if I don’t find something, little Tana. I promised Mordechai I’d look after you. I keep my promises.”

He was gone for ages. I had no way of knowing how long. It could have been an hour, perhaps much longer. The waiting seemed endless.

Deep in the creaking, dank-smelling hold, I was a little afraid. I would much rather have stayed in the sewers of Warsaw. Known terrors seemed preferable to those unknown. Besides, I had too much imagination.

Then my heart lightened, as I recognised Ishmael’s limping stride across the deck above. He sounded in a hurry. Intuitively, I knew something was wrong.

Anxiously, I scrambled up, knees grazing on the metal ladder. I peeked over the coaming.

Silhouetted in the searchlight beam that lanced down from the ship’s bridge, Ishmael attempted to run for cover, heading towards me, dodging around winches and the cowls of ventilators. Under his arm was a brown paper parcel that was spewing apples and he left a trail of broken eggs behind him.

A German voice shrieked: “Halt!”

Ishmael faltered. He turned to face the bridge.

Running out of the wheelhouse, a black-clad sailor leaned over the Navigation Bridge. In his arms was a sub-machine gun. I recognised the weapon and my heart froze.

Ishmael’s face was unnaturally pale in the pinioning light. He seemed resigned. His youthful cracked mouth twisted in a breathless agonised grimace. Suddenly, he jack-knifed backwards, six inches in the air to the staccato sound of the Schmeisser MP40 weapon. His out-flung arms violently discarded the stolen food; most of it splashed overboard as he crumpled almost on top of me, inches away from my face. A solitary apple rolled past his staring eyes and unthinkingly I snatched the fruit.

Ishmael’s head was on one side, his right cheek squashed against the metal deck and his eyes stared at me. His lips trembled but he was unable to speak. Yet I caught his words, faintly echoing in my mind. “I hope Mordechai won’t be too annoyed with me when I see him…” What little light there was went out of him and a thin gasp of air passed his lips and I felt it, like a kiss, on my cheek.

In shock, I slid back into the shadows under the tarpaulin. I knelt in the dark. My mind was completely numb, but I gripped onto the apple – my brother’s last gift to me.

It seemed an age. The agony of waiting, fearing discovery, was almost too much. At one low point, I even wanted to declare myself – anything to be rid of the heart-stopping suspense.

Then I heard voices talking overhead. And laughter.

My hearing was finely tuned now. But my mind was still numb – unable to snatch any thoughts from the nearby sailors or soldiers. Then they dragged the body of my brother away, laughing as they did so.

I heard a heavy splash and more hilarity.

But no tears came.

Alone now, I hunched tighter into the hold, amidst the bulky crates, and held the apple till it was bruised.

Even at that early age, my hatred was under an iron control. I had learned quickly enough through listening to other Jews who’d escaped from Treblinka that I must be circumspect when dealing with the enemy. I had cause to grow up quickly..

Finally, the sirens sounded. The freighter cast its moorings; the propellers pulsed and the ship throbbed into life.

Bow-waves caressed the hull. The lapping of water and the heaving motion signified we were finally at sea.

If only I could stay hidden until the ship pulled into some port.

Hunger drove me reluctantly to bite into the apple. It was moist and sent my pulse racing. So delicious! Thinking of Ishmael, tears at last flowed. I ate every scrap, the dry-textured bruised bits, core and all.

Like my young friends, I’d had to scavenge in Warsaw, sneaking into the Aryan quarter. The German policy had been simple and brutally logical – better to starve the inhabitants of the ghetto and save the bullets for the Front.

So, many hours after eating the apple, as the hunger-pangs returned with redoubled force, twisting my stomach into knots, I decided I’d have to forage onboard. At worst, if no food could be found, I’d have to risk serious infection and kill and eat a rat. It presented the least physical risk, obviously – the less food-hunting trips I made, less chance of discovery. But as far as I was concerned it would have to be the last resort.

The freighter was edging out of the choppy Gulf of Danzig and steaming into the Baltic when I emerged into the starlit night. The well deck beneath my feet vibrated to the beat of the massive engines. My nostrils snatched the heady, salty cold air that made me want to retch.

A yellow halo surrounded the moon.

I reached the foremast.

“Halt!”

But this time no searchlight stabbed out. Allied submarines prowled out here, after all.

Praying for invisibility, I stood immobile, ears attuned, detecting feet on a ladder’s metal rungs. Any moment I expected the bullets to punch into me, to rip me open as they had so many of our neighbours; as they had poor Ishmael.

But in an instant I’d regained control and dived behind some winch machinery, hurting knees and shins. Here, the smell of grease and oil mingled with the salt-spray. My senses were at fever pitch. I seemed to hear my pursuer’s every step.

More shouting.

I heard the heavy thud of sea-boots getting closer.

The seaman was a couple of metres away. I glimpsed his black angular shape slinking between the lifeboat davits.

Frustration seethed inside me. It didn’t seem fair, to get so far only to fail!

A sudden deafening explosion rocked the vessel from stem to stern and the night instantly transformed into stark red-yellow daylight. I felt the force of it through the deck, vibrating through my body.

Amidst a raucous hissing and dozens of men’s screams, the ship canted sharply.

The drunken angle of the vessel worsened and I lost my footing on the slippery brine-covered deck.

I hit the metal guardrails and tried grabbing at anything I could get my hands on.

A falling lifeboat barely missed caving-in my skull; it splashed, floated.

Gasping with the shock of the cold sea, I snatched and held onto a rope that dangled from the lifeboat.

The strength in my arms was ebbing fast when I saw a shimmering dark dreamlike shape directly ahead, blocking out the myriad stars. I blinked frantically, distressed at not being able to see the Ishmael and Mordechai stars.

 

James, I’m sorry, but that will have to be enough for now. The curse of a photographic memory means that I don’t forget.  

Thanks, Tana.

Tana books1 and 2Nik Morton explains

Tana’s eleventh mission (but the first to be published) is The Prague Papers, which takes place in Czechoslovakia in 1975; it explains how she obtained the surname Standish. The details were given to me as a dog-eared manuscript in a Southsea hotel with the proviso that I should write it as fiction. Agent Swann was emphatic on that point. A follow-up mission, also based on information provided by certain contacts, has been published, The Tehran Text, relating events in Iran in 1978-1979. Both are e-books published by Crooked Cat.

Bio

NikMorton.

Nik Morton has been writing for over 50 years. He has sold over 120 short stories, even more articles, and had 21 books published in several genres. His latest books are the second and third novels in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, Catacomb and Cataclysm from Crooked Cat. The third Tana Standish mission, The Khyber Chronicle should be released later this year.

Nik’s Links

Letters from Elsewhere

Since beginning this series of posts, I’ve been visited by people from the near and distant past, people from the present and the future, people from real and made-up places, and someone who appears to have been visited by ghosts. But today’s visitor gives a new meaning to “elsewhere” since she has come from beyond to write to her (living) great-granddaughter. As you’ll see, Rosamund has some important advice to impart.

Dear Ruby,

Shani-EveHow I wish I had known you in life, that I could have walked with you, talked with you. There is so much I want you to know… and much that I hope you never know. My daughter, Sarah, your grandmother, has done a wonderful job in raising you, ensuring, just like I did with her, that you realise how strong the light is, how pure, that the roles we undertake to live are just that: roles. We are players on a stage, some of us in the guise of villains, some of us far less colourful than that! She has taught you that we come from source and go back to source, no matter what deeds we’ve carried out on this earth, that there is rehabilitation but not condemnation, we are part of a whole and must therefore return no matter how meandering our route. That is the human journey.

But what of beings that were never human? Beings that your mother, Jessica, conjured, that almost destroyed her, destroyed you too. Creatures so base that the light cannot touch them. Ruby, these are what I’ve spent a lifetime studying: how they can affect us, how they are waiting, always waiting, to taint our very souls, to drag us deep into the darkness with them. The things I’ve seen, Ruby, oh, the things I’ve seen… The darkness is tempting. I know that. I’ve stared into the very depths of it. It promises us so much whilst delivering nothing. And if we’re frightened of it, it can feed on that fear, devour us. How insidious the darkness is! It creeps in and takes us over bit by bit; it destroys what we really are. But what you are is good, Ruby, remember that, your gift is great, far greater than my gift or your grandmother’s or your mother’s, which is also what makes it dangerous. The darkness has marked you, ever since you were a little girl, and I know how you struggle against it – still struggle, despite having faced it. You suspect it’s not over. And you’re right. Some things are never over. Don’t relax your guard, and keep those you love close – Theo, Ness, Corinna, Cash and Jed – they are your strongest allies and you will need them, all of them.

How I wish I could stand by your side, lend you whatever strength and wisdom I possess. But this is your path and all I can do is watch as you walk down it. But I will keep watch. I promise. And I will pray that you make the right choices, that the darkness doesn’t overwhelm you. Stay safe, darling.

Your loving great-grandmother,

Rosamund

Thank you, Shani Struthers, for letting Rosamund make this brief appearance in our life.

Shani’s Links

ShaniPsychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall (Global Link) 

Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me (Global Link)

Psychic Surveys Prequel: Eve – A Christmas Ghost Story (Global Link)

 

Facebook Author Page    Twitter    Blog    Goodreads

Shani-RTMAbout Shani

Brighton-based author of paranormal fiction, including UK Amazon Bestseller, Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall. Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me is also available as is Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story – the prequel to the Psychic Surveys series. She is also the author of Jessamine, an atmospheric psychological romance set in the Highlands of Scotland and described as a “Wuthering Heights for the 21st century.”

Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street is in progress.

All events in her books are inspired by true life…

Catch up with Shani via her website or on Facebook.

Shani-HHH

 

Letters from ElsewhereOh my, are you in for a treat this week. Just sit back and get ready to be entertained by the one and only Ailsa Abraham.

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionDear Auntie Jane…

It is a little-known fact that Jane Austen, during the time she was waiting for her novels to become successful, worked as an Agony Aunt on the “Journal for Refined Gentlewomen”. In a recently-discovered trunk of papers the following correspondence was found. I can only assume that one of my characters indulged in a little time-travel to hide his distress and identity.

Ailsa1

It would seem that Iamo continued because her next letter does not change tone.

Ailsa2

We can assume that there was a long gap in communication because the final letter pertaining to this question is as follows.

Ailsa3

goth wedding

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is married with no children but six grandchildren. Her passion is motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn’t have all those, I’d have to work for a living, instead of being an author, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing. She has no intention of stopping writing.

both with teaAs Ailsa Abraham:

 

  • Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter – @ailsaabraham

Facebook – Ailsa Abraham

Web page

As Cameron Lawton

JenniferCWilliams Kindred Spirits-Tower of LondonKindred Spirits: Tower of London by Jennifer C. Wilson spawned a very odd letter, which appeared in my series, Letters from Elsewhere in October. This week Jennifer’s novel is one of those featured by my publisher, Crooked Cat.

The other novel featured is The Haunting of Highdown Hall by Shani Struthers.

CrookedCatLogo

If it’s Crooked Cat, it must be good.

In other news, the sun is shining (unlike last week), temperatures are rising and my spirits are, too. No, not the sort of spirits in those novels up there!