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.

1804

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.
 
News
 
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.
 
Excerpt:

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.

Charlie
 
 
 

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.

Excerpt:

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
 
News
 
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
 
 
 

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.
 
News
 
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
 
Charlie
 
 
 

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.

 

Be kind

The new Aldi Christmas advert has landed and has gone straight to number 3 in my Hall of Fame. (I’ll share numbers 2 and 1 over the next few days – you may be able to guess what they’ll be.) Watch out for the many neat touches, including the policemen arresting the knock-off Colin the Caterpillar.

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Autumnal greetings from the house of Cochrane. Hoping that you’re all keeping well. Life is, as ever, busy – why does the diary get so full when you’re semi-retired?
 
News
 
Am lining up some panels for 2022. Two appearances at Portsmouth Bookfest: one event where we’re discussing ‘lost’ female detectives and the other to help new and fledgling authors with some of the things they may worry about (or may not even be aware of!) These will both be over Zoom so available to ‘attend’ from anywhere in the world. 
 
Don’t forget that the Children in Read auction cuts off at the end of November – 29 days from now. I’m offering a personalised, signed print copy of Old Sins as the Lindenshaw book I offered last year went well. And it’s all for an excellent cause, helping children with all sorts of practical help. If you want to bid, make sure you get in before the end date.
 
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 – Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise – releasing on 6th December. It’s up for pre-order now
 
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.
 

Created with GIMP

 
Excerpt: Today I’ve got a snippet from Promises Made Under Fire which, in a touch of meta, I make reference to in the upcoming Cambridge Fellows story.
 
It’s available in e-book and audio version .
 
France, 1915
Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.
When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…

Excerpt:
When I eventually returned to the battalion, I’d been assigned a different platoon, although by some miracle—or underhandedness—Bentham was there as my servant again. I hadn’t realised how much I’d appreciate a constant point, even if he brought echoes of times I didn’t want to think too closely about. I hadn’t realised how much affection I’d felt for Foden until those tears flowed in my parents’ orchard.
When Bentham first came to my billet, he seemed hesitant, not like the man I’d known before.
“What is it, Corporal? Cat got your tongue?”
He studied his boots. “He left something for you, sir.”
“Who?” I asked, feeling I’d missed the point somewhere.
“Lieutenant Foden, of course,” he said, ignoring any obvious stupidity in my question. “It was on the bed in your old quarters, laid out ready, alongside one for his wife and one for his mother. As if he’d known what was going to happen to him.”
I couldn’t find an answer at first. Maybe he had known—he’d never done anything as calculated as that before, when we’d gone into action. I remembered how strangely he’d acted before we went into battle. “He always was well prepared,” I said at last. How inane that must have sounded—was there nothing to be said but platitudes?
“He was that.” Bentham sounded as though he was choking back the emotion, too. Bloody brilliant show for a pair of battle-hardened—and scarred—veterans, but neither of us probably realised how much Foden had meant to us until he’d gone. “Here’s the letter, sir. I didn’t want to post it home in case it missed you somewhere. Didn’t want it following you back and forth over the Channel.”
“Quite right,” I replied, taking the slightly dog-eared envelope from him and looking at the handwriting. At least Frank Foden’s was more legible than his wife’s had ever been.
It took me two days to summon up the courage to open Foden’s letter. We’d been relieved, moved slightly back from the main lines, and were waiting to go and replace another battalion, so it wasn’t as though I had the excuse of more pressing things on my mind anymore.
I’d never dreaded going over the top the way I dreaded slitting the seal on that envelope. I was worried that his words would stir up feelings which had just begun to settle; there would be no room for grief back in the line. Worse than that, had he somehow realised what I was and wanted to tell me that he knew? If that were the case, even if he “approved” somehow, then it spelled potential disaster. Was I so easy to see through? If he’d noticed, had everyone else?
When I eventually opened the bloody thing, my sense of relief was only matched by bewilderment.
 
Tom
I won’t embarrass you by offering my thanks for your being such an excellent colleague these last few weeks or months or years or however long it is before you read this.
If you survive me, and I daresay you wouldn’t be reading this if you don’t so that’s the statement of an ass, then I have a request to make of you. I have more than one, to be honest. Please visit my mother and tell her I’m sorry I wasn’t more of a correspondent. Letters aren’t my thing, really. Don’t say anything mawkish, because she wouldn’t endure it. Never suffered fools gladly or enjoyed being driven to public tears. Tell her some of the most idiotic things I did out here and she’ll be grateful. Then everyone can remember me with a smile.
The other thing’s a bit more delicate.
Could you possibly find time to go and visit a chap called Ronnie Palmer? If he’s moved when you get there then maybe you’d be kind enough to try and track him down. You can tell him what you like about me, it won’t be anything he doesn’t know.
If you could also give him the letter that’s inside this, I’d be grateful. Can’t stick that one in the post and risk someone getting a butcher’s at it.
Maybe I’ll see you on the other side if there is one.
Frank
 
Charlie