Portsmouth bookfest – get your (virtual) tickets now

Tickets go on sale today, via the Pompey website. You can find the full programme here, but you might enjoy the Return of the Deadly Dames on 21st February at 7pm, when we’re discussing forgotten female detectives. Or maybe the 2nd March at 7pm where a bunch of BSB authors will give you some tips especially for fledgling and wannabee authors. So many goodies!

Charlie’s latest newsletter – two free stories to start the new year

Happy new year! Wishing all of you all the very best for 2022.
Finishing the year with two (count them!) free stories appropriately for the season, one’s old and one’s new. The old story is in the Cambridge Fellows universe, with Jonty and Orlando celebrating New Year in their unique way. (Fanart care of the wonderful Elin Gregory.)

Ring in the New
“Wind’s getting up.” Jonty called, as he looked out of the sun lounge window—or was it snow lounge window?—at scudding clouds, hounding the winter sun from the sky. “I never thought I’d find a place colder than Cambridge, short of the North Pole, but this is it.” He unraveled the cord to pull down the blinds.
“No, leave it, if you will. I like to see the snow over the water.” Orlando had to shout as well, to be heard over the wind and at a room’s remove. The house on the river belonged to Rex Prefontaine’s mother—she’d come here as a child for long hot summers spent on the waters or down at the beach. She let her family have the use of it, but people rarely came between Thanksgiving and the spring equinox. Only visitors from foreign shores, who’d find a Massachusetts winter a novelty, dared to set out for a sojourn over New Year.
“It’s fine for you to say ‘leave it’. You’re not standing in here, in a draught—you’re cosied up by the fire.” Still, Jonty left the blinds up. It had been a wonderful view out into the sunset, the last remnants of which still lingered on the horizon.
“Then put on a thicker jumper or a scarf or something.” Orlando got up from his chair and came over. As soon as he opened the internal door, the cold hit him afresh. “Ruddy Norah, it feels like the arctic in here. Come back into the lounge like a sensible boy. Look at the snow from there.”
Jonty, for once, obeyed his lover without a fight. “Do you think we’ll get a fresh fall today?”
“I think it likely, given the colour of that sky. We could be stranded.” Orlando didn’t seem too worried. “We have fuel and, so long as the well’s accessible, water. You might run out of chocolate, though.”
“I thought you said we’d always be able to get along the road to the general store. I quite enjoyed trudging up there this morning. So long as they’ve got chocolate I’ll be happy.” Jonty rubbed his hands before the fire’s glow. “And a telegraph, so we can keep home informed. Sorry, Mama, see you in April…”
You can finish off the story here.
And now for the new…this was written for the local Romantic Novelists’ Association secret Santa story swop (try saying that after a gin or two).
Pressure of work. Nicholas could have written the manual on it.
This is what it must have been like being on blockade duty in the time of Nelson. Long periods of boredom interspersed with intense activity, although Nicholas’s work pattern was more predictable than the sailors’ would have been and he didn’t have the stress of waiting for signs of the French leaving port.
Lucia was more equable about things. “It’s the family business, dear. You’ve known what it would be like to take over the reins since you were little.”
She was right. Lucia was usually right, despite having only married into the operation. She’d been a Godsend, though—planning, organising, finding ways to spread the workload more evenly rather than focussed on certain key dates. Good at keeping the workforce happy, too, which was never easy, given how many they employed.
Sometimes he felt…not quite frustrated, more dissatisfied, even though he had been aware of what was expected of him from the moment he was old enough to understand.
“Someday all this will be yours,” his father had said one morning, sweeping his hand to take in the factories, the dispatch areas, the central administrative core and the other parts which kept the business running. Nicholas had only been nine, blown away by the size of what was involved in getting the job done, realising for the first time that his dad would grow old, retire from the board—that was the family tradition—move to the dower house and leave his eldest son in charge. Later he’d realised there’d be pressure on him to produce an heir, as his forefathers had done. None of it was a problem: he’d been born to it, like royalty. The heir to the throne waiting to step into the monarch’s shoes when he abdicated.
Still, Nicholas couldn’t help feeling the business would run perfectly well without him, that he was nothing more than a figurehead, albeit a much loved and appreciated one.
“Lucia,” he said one evening in November, over a post-dinner glass of wine, “don’t you ever feel that we should simply go on a cruise for the whole of December and leave everyone to it? The work would still get done.”
Lucia smiled. “I’m sure that’s so but people would notice.”
“They’d think I was slacking?”
“Not exactly. What I meant is that they’d miss your presence. The boss never goes AWOL at this time of year, even if his main role is to jolly everyone else along and make those keynote personal appearances.” She paused. “Do you really mean it? Is it getting too much?”
“Not so much too much as not enough, somehow. It was all a great challenge at first, what with coping with the increase in demand—we’d been running on fumes for too long—and updating the systems.”
“One of the first things I remember after meeting you was that argument you had with your grandfather about computers. He didn’t even approve of Pac-man.” Lucia laid her hand gently on his arm. “I think that’s when I fell in love with you. I admired your vision and determination to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t the easiest. If the business would continue to operate without you being in the building, that’s because of the work you’ve done through the years.”
“I suppose you’re right. As always.” There was no rancour in the remark: they formed a good team.
“You’ve never been at risk of having a Gerald Ratner type moment, either. Imagine your uncle having been in charge.” Lucia chuckled but it was nothing to laugh about. Bill had a serious case of foot in mouth and could quite easily have made an, “Our products are crap,” kind of remark without realising what the consequences might be.
“Very true. I should count my blessings. There’s always the shutdown for January and time in the Caribbean to look forward to. And Christine coming back from Cambridge.”
The other light of Nicholas’s life, the daughter they’d had after years of trying. Not the first: that child, he or she, hadn’t survived the first few months of pregnancy and after that they’d given up hope. To the extent of warning Nicholas’s sister that at some point her young son might have to be appraised of the notion that he’d be the one in charge of the family firm eventually. Then Christine had come along, beautiful and precious and bright as the dog star.
She’d be home from Newnham and her beloved Natural Sciences soon, to experience her first Christmas as an adult. Some of her friends said the magic had worn off for them but not for her. Stockings, games, the family traditions unique to them, the family gatherings and the proper celebration of the twelve days of Christmas—they’d always made the most of the period up to twelfth night, given how busy advent was. Like several businesses, they kept their company celebration for January, just before the shutdown, when life wasn’t quite as manic. 
“I’m glad uni breaks up relatively early. She can pitch in.” Nicholas raised his hand to forestall any comment. “No, I’m not going to slave-drive her. She can have a few days off before I even drop a hint.”
“Knowing Christine she’ll be wanting to lend a hand straight away. She knows she has to learn the ropes. Irrespective of what your father might think.” Lucia accompanied the remark with a smile but they both knew that what she referred to was a serious matter.
The firm had never been run by a female and Nicholas’s dad had made his feelings known on the point when it had become clear that Christine was going to be an only child. He’d had a touch too much to drink and the old in vino veritas took hold. He’d asked what the company was going to do, how they’d ever deal with such an unprecedented situation given the weight of expectation from both employees and customers. Nicholas wasn’t unsympathetic to what his father had said—it was a big issue, breaking with a tradition that had a much bigger implication than the boardroom.
It had been Nicholas’s grandfather, also present at the discussion and much more sober than his son, who’d fought Christine’s corner most effectively. Hadn’t it been obvious from when she was a toddler, he’d pointed out, that she was a born organiser, showing a damn sight more intelligence and common sense than any of them had at the same age?
“Breath of fresh air, she’ll be, Nick. I hope I’m around to see it.” Whether the remark had been addressed to Nicholas or his dad—all the firstborn sons in the family were lumbered with that name—it didn’t matter. They’d both taken it to heart.
The old man was still around, thriving in his dotage, although it would be unlikely he’d get his wish to see Christine at the reins, unless Nicholas took early retirement. Although…
“Lucia. What do you think about a job share?”
“Me? Whose job exactly would I be sharing?” Lucia’s expression left Nicholas in no doubt that was the kind of thing she wouldn’t be touching with a barge pole.
“Not you. Me and Christine. Not until she’s finished her studies, of course, although I’d like to float it past her before that.” In case she pulls the same sort of face at the notion as you’ve just done.
“I think that’s a brilliant idea. It would be good for you, as well, to put together a career development plan for her. I can help with that if you want.” HR was one of Lucia’s many areas of expertise. “Although it would need to be your thing, not mine. And Christine’s. Ownership rather than imposition.”
Nicholas grinned at her using the slogan. It was part of the management style she’d brought to the company from outside. Even his reactionary father had come to appreciate the way she’d helped modernise the business and re-motivate a workforce for whom the magic had started to be lost.
Lost magic. Perhaps that was partly his problem, too. He needed to reawaken the sense of wonder and perhaps working with Christine, seeing things through her eyes, would be the way to do it. “Do you think she’d like to come out on the big delivery run? I can’t imagine it would be a teenager’s idea of a fun Christmas Eve.”
“Ask her. If I were a betting woman, I’d have fifty on her saying yes. And maybe another fifty on her having been waiting for you to make the suggestion.” Lucia snuggled closer on the large sofa. “She’s her own woman but she’s still her father’s child. Father Christmas’s chip off the old ice block.”
“I can’t help worry, though. What will the children think if they wake and catch a glimpse of her doing the stocking run?”
“They’ll think it’s great, especially the girls. Female monarchs, female Prime Ministers, female Nobel Prize winners, female footballers. Perhaps the world’s more ready for Mother Christmas than you give it credit for.”

This year’s Christmas freebie

Tah dah! Secrets started life in an anthology and has now been liberated for me to share with you all as a Charlie Christmas pressie.


Aboard the frigate Hecuba, two bells in the last dog watch. 

Only a fool would barge into Stephen Hopkins’s great cabin unannounced, especially when he was in conference with his first lieutenant. When Midshipman Rogerson burst through the door, he consequently got the reception he deserved.

“Are we beating to quarters?” The captain demanded, dark eyes glowering below a mass of dark hair.

“No, sir.” Rogerson was a sensible lad of fifteen, two years now at sea and utterly absorbed with serving king and country, so why he’d taken such leave of his senses as to come in unannounced was an utter mystery.

“Then, Mr. Rogerson, you are forgetting yourself. What is the meaning of this?” The lantern shadows on the captain’s face gave it an unnaturally solemn appearance. Barely more than ten years older than the midshipman but with all those years’ experience in his pocket, Hopkins seated at his own table in his own well-furnished cabin was a formidable man

“It’s a monster, sir. Two points off the larboard beam and very close. Mr Douglas said you were to be notified immediately, sir.” Rogerson was usually a bundle of nerves when in the presence of his superior officers but on this occasion he was strangely animated.

First Lieutenant Simon Paget smiled. Despite being the same age as the captain, he knew he gave the illusion of being younger, less careworn, if no less a sailor. “I’ve always heard about other people seeing sea serpents but I never believed it could be true. You’re not attempting to fool us, are you?”

The young man looked horrified. “Of course not, sir. It’s there all right, come and see.”

Lieutenant Paget caught Hopkins’s eye and managed by another smile to defuse the anger brewing there. He picked up his hat and placed it over his short cut locks. The new fashion, much more practical than the long queue the captain still favoured. “There’s not a moment to lose, I’d say.”

The scene on deck was like a tableau. From Douglas, the ship’s master, down to the meanest foremast jack, men were frozen in their places, eyes fixed on the object in the water. The sun had set early, being only weeks from the shortest day, but the steady stream of moonlight made observation easy. This was no optical illusion: this was indeed a monster. Huge, menacing and slowly approaching the frigate.

A long neck rose from the water like a sinuous mast, bearing a head that seemed too small to grace the body carrying it. That body could be seen just breaking the water—a massive bulk, as big as a finner—shining sleekly. There was the impression of a long, strong tail following behind, prompting Douglas to mumble about Behemoth and whether this beast also ate grass like the ox, or if its preferred food was jack tars.

Read the rest here…

Charlie’s latest newsletter (sort of)

Can I wish everyone a really good Christmas and an excellent new year. May you get whatever you want and may it be as wonderful as when you simply wanted it.
There’s fun – and prizes – every day at my old pal RJ Scott’s Advent calendar. I was there yesterday – behind door 16 – and am offering a bag of British goodies to one winner drawn from among the comments. Said goodies, to be sent anywhere in the known universe. I’ve put together a really good selection of things, from Blenheim, Thornbury Castle, Hill House, etc.
Talking of RJ, who’s a very old pal of mine, she has a brand new seasonal romance out right now. The Wishing Tree will be a right good ‘un, believe me and I’m so pleased to be giving a shout out about it.

It takes an impossible Christmas wish for Bailey to find forever love with his brother’s best friend. Turning twenty-five and still a virgin, Bailey has barely dated, let alone acted on the private fantasies featuring his brother’s best friend, newly retired hockey star, Kai. All he wants is for Kai to love him, but after a summer when Kai’s anger drove them apart, love doesn’t seem possible at all. 
When Kai goes home to Wishing Tree, he knows he owes everyone an apology, not least of all to the man he loves. He’s convinced he can be the man Bailey deserves, and he needs to show Bailey how much he’s changed. 
The only problem? Bailey has secrets he’s scared will drive Kai away, and Kai is running out of time to convince Bailey that falling in love starts with a wish, and can end up in forever.
The Wishing Tree is a standalone small-town Christmas MM romance with perfect snow, twinkling lights, a first real kiss, a shy virgin with a silken kink, a retired hockey player, and all the Christmas feels.


And as another treat, there’s this year’s free story – which I’m only letting newsletter readers know about for the moment. It’ll be linked at my blog next week.

Charlie’s latest – free stories all the way to Christmas!

Here’s the next of the free stories I promised all the way to Christmas. In fact, I’m bringing two for the (free) price of one. 

The first is Good Will to All Men which gets an airing every Advent and the second is An Outlaw for an Inlaw, which is last year’s freebie and which features the trio from the Lindenshaw Mysteries.

The first Sunday of half term, October 2020.
The Matthews/Bright/Campbell-the-Newfoundland residence
“Does rule of six include dogs?” Adam Matthews scrutinized his Christmas lunch list, one of many lists he and Robin Bright produced at this time of year. Who got a real card, who got an e-card, who they bought presents for, whose presents had to go into the post, what food they had to order and what they had to buy fresh. Even for a Christmas like 2020, you needed to be organised and organised well in advance. Perhaps even more so, with the frenzy of online buying that was bound to occur. So the start of October half-term wasn’t too early to be putting his lists together.
He also had a mental list of things he didn’t want to happen, top of which was Robin getting called in over the Christmas break to deal with a murder.
Adam looked up from his seat, to where his partner was lying on the sofa, eyes shut. “Eh, I’m talking to you, Detective Chief Inspector Bright. Are you having a sly kip?”
“No, I’m just resting my eyes.” Robin shot him a smile. “Rule of six. Despite the fact that he’d eat enough for six if we let him, Campbell doesn’t count as a human.”
The Newfoundland, who’d definitely been having a kip, although there was nothing sly about it, raised his head at the mention of his name. Or maybe at the magic word “eat”.
“Even though he gets a stocking?”
“You could give a stocking to that hedgehog who used to come sniffing around the back door but that wouldn’t make him count as one of the six.” Robin patted the dog’s head. “Used to drive you mad, didn’t it, boy? No nasty hedgehogs here.”
“There’ll probably in hibernation. Don’t count your chickens until next spring.”

Read the rest at my website.


Release day!

Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise is out today in ebook and paperback

Created with GIMP

Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith like nothing better than being asked to solve mysteries, but when they get commissioned to help someone fulfil a vow he made to a late comrade in arms, matters start to cut too close to home for both of them.


Jonty Stewart looked through the window of his study at St Bride’s college, transfixed by the scene playing out in the court below. Dr Panesar—polymath, pioneer aviator and who knew what else—was trying to catch a wounded pigeon, a pigeon which didn’t appear to want to be caught.

“That’s quite a kerfuffle.”

The voice sounding over his shoulder was so familiar, Jonty barely registered surprise at its owner’s arrival in his room. Anyway, he’d seen Orlando Coppersmith heading across the court and guessed he would be arriving soon.

“Another victim of Hotspur, do you think? Or Mrs Hotspur?”

“Quite likely. They’re doing a marvellous job of keeping the flying vermin under control.” Orlando patted Jonty’s shoulder while they both observed their colleague’s progress. St Bride’s took a great deal of pride in the pair of peregrine falcons which had deigned to nest on the chapel tower and which dived down on their prey at a terrifying rate.

The college took an equal pride in its pair of amateur sleuths, who’d solved mysteries and murders ancient and modern, including a commission from royalty.

“Not far to look for a culprit in the case of the plucked pigeon.” Jonty cuffed his lover’s arm. “It feels a long time since we had a proper case, though. I can’t believe the world has turned virtuous all of a sudden.”

“I will be extremely vexed if it had.” Orlando snorted. “I’m not asking for a murder—it makes me feel very guilty when I’ve been yearning for one and it subsequently lands in our laps, as it were—but a code to unravel or a crime from long ago would be most gratifying.”

Jonty had heard that refrain many a time, either here in college or by their own fireside. While Orlando always had his mathematics and the challenge of trying to get the principles of same into the noddles of his students, it didn’t provide quite the intellectual stimulus of a real-life mystery. “Well, given the way the universe seems to work—or the machinations of Mama sitting on her heavenly cloud forcing the angels to organise a case for you or else she’ll report them for having grubby halos—no doubt some perplexing mystery will soon fall into our laps. A nice, tricky one, with no corpses or other distressing quantities. 


Charlie’s latest newsletter – free stories all the way to Christmas!

It’s December and, as you can imagine, I am like a dog with two tails because Christmas is coming. I know, I’m just a big kiddie but this really is the most wonderful time of the year. IMHO
The really big headline that month will be the next Cambridge Fellows, Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise, which releases on Monday! It’s up for pre-order now and I’m delighted to say the print version is available, too, right here
There’s fun – and prizes – every day through to Christmas at my old pal RJ Scott’s Advent calendar. A couple of dozen great authors taking part…and me! I’ll be popping up there on some-day-I’m-not-allowed-to-say, when I’ll be offering a bag of British goodies to one winner, to be sent anywhere in the known universe. The goodies, not the winner…

I’ve been sharing a free story every week during advent and am continuing that today. I was listening to Christmas songs on Scala radio this week, one of which reminded me of this. An early free story with Jonty, Orlando and argument and a reconciliation.
Cambridge, December 1907
“I’ve just found out that Dr. Panesar has sent Nurse Hatfield the most beautiful bunch of red roses. Out of season as well.  It must be love.” Jonty Stewart had just returned from St. Bride’s, fairly full of the joys of winter, and wearing one of Dr. Panesar’s lovely scarlet buds in his buttonhole. Not that Orlando Coppersmith was likely to notice. He didn’t seem to notice anything about Jonty at the moment.
“Hmphmphm,” Orlando replied, immersed in a book.
Jonty eased himself into the chair the other side of the hearth from his lover. “Is that ‘Hmphmphm’ as in I think she would have preferred white or ‘Hmphmphm’ as in what a lovely gesture?”
“It was ‘Hmphmphm’ as in he should have saved his money and bought a decent jacket. His present one is threadbare at the elbows.” Orlando promptly stuck his nose back in his book.
“Everyone seems to be receiving little love tokens at the moment,” Jonty went on. “Miss Peters is getting a non-stop supply of chocolates from some chap down at St. Thomas’s, who has declared undying love for her. She takes them down to the orphanage and watches the little tykes eat them, so they reach the intended recipients. Are you listening?”
“Yes. Chocolates. Thomas’s. Tykes.” Orlando never looked up.
“Time was when you used to bring me little doo-dads. Mint Lumps. Champagne…” Jonty’s voice trailed off, a sign he hoped his lover would pick up that all was not well. But Orlando was preoccupied as usual.
“Hm? I believe I may have done. Yes.”
“Oh to hell with it. Believe you may have done? Perhaps it was another lover then, Orlando, who sent me those trifles, and I’ve got the two of you confused.” Jonty rose from his seat, in a marked manner. “I think I’ll go to my study and contemplate the nature of the relationship between the sea captain and Sebastian in Twelfth Night. Rather appropriate to the current situation, I think.”

Read the rest here. And if you want the postscript, then pop over to my blog

Charlie’s latest newsletter – free stories all the way to Christmas!

Hello all. Waving like mad from the house of madness, aka Cochrane Central – especially busy at this time of year when we’re involved with Christmas Complete (a toy and gift project for local youngsters whose families are in hardship.) Helping there is definitely the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
Lots going on at present and in the run up to “you know what”. I know, because you mail me about them, that some of you really like the multi-author themed bookfunnel events and the latest – Winter Love, for Christmas and other seasonal books – is still going, but only until the 22nd of November. 41 authors involved!

December’s a busy month: I’ll be popping up in an advent calendar on some-day-I’m-not-allowed-to-say. I’ll be offering a bag of British goodies to be sent anywhere in the known universe. And, of course, the big headline that month will be the next Cambridge Fellows releasing on 6th December. You can pre-order it here.

I’ve recently been blogging about my favourite TV Christmas ads, which made me remember (this will make sense in a minute) I have quite a wealth of free seasonal stories which have accumulated over the years. I’ll be sharing them with you again over the next few weeks.  
The first is Got Mittens, which I wrote at the time of the WWI centenary events.
In years to come they’ll swear it never happened. It couldn’t have happened.
“You’re joking,” some smart Alec will say. “You’re never telling me that you and Fritz laid down yer guns and set to with a football like it was a Saturday afternoon kickabout?”
Maybe I’ll clip that smart Alec round the ear.
Or maybe I’ll just say to him, “You don’t know. You weren’t there.”
I was there. I know.
I remember when the spirit of Christmas came down and knocked some sense into us. How we had a real bit of loving our enemies and doing good to those who despise us. And if it was only for a few hours, so what? Better to do that on Christmas day than knock seven types of shit out of each other. We had a laugh, too—Fritz put up a sign saying, “Gott mit uns” and one of our boys put up a sign that said, “We got mittens too.”
There was a young German lad who I spotted and made a beeline for. Just to have a chat, of course, but why not enjoy the chance while you can? He told me his name—Edgar—and showed me a picture of his girl, Heike. She was nice enough in a Prussian sort of style, although she wasn’t a stunner like him. I told him my name—Harry—but I didn’t have a picture of a girl to show him, just one of my family. He said nice things about them, seeing as he spoke quite good English, enough for us to get along. I didn’t have a word of German, but I did have some Woodbines and they’re a universal language, aren’t they?
So we shared a couple of gaspers and cheered on the footballers, chatting away until somebody decided we’d had enough fun. Then it was back to the trenches and heads down, ready to shoot anybody across the way who peeped out, irrespective of whether we’d just been playing football and singing Christmas songs with them.
I spent the next few weeks scared stiff that I’d pick off Edgar or end up in hand to hand combat with him if they made a sortie. But then we got moved back from the line and eventually popped up several miles east, so that worry eased off, even if I didn’t forget him. How could you forget blue eyes like his?
Read the rest here

It’s real…

My number two in my hall of fame of Christmas adverts set a standard of poignancy that John Lewis – and others – have been trying to recreate ever since and not quite hitting. Perfection in terms of music, storyline and message, it conveys a lot more in two minutes than many Christmas films manage in two hours.