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A daft writing challenge

I ran a writers’ workshop on Sunday (still cream-crackered from it!). One of the challenges was to randomly draw the names of two people or things, then write a scene featuring them. I decided to play along. Won’t say who I drew until the end.

“Brigadier Sir Nils Olaf, ma’am. Don’t forget you’re meeting him tomorrow at twelve noon.”

Nicola smiled. Brigadier. Would her best suit or the second best be suitable for meeting him? High heels or pumps? Would he expect her to wear her pearls or would the poppy necklace be more appropriate?

“I’m to award him a medal?”

“Yes, First Minister. For services to the Norwegian navy and Scottish tourism.”

“I see.” To be frank, she didn’t see but that happened a lot in her job. Too many meetings, too little time for briefings. “Will there be lunch?”

“Aye. A reception for us. Alas, Sir Nils won’t be able to join us.”

“Oh.” That was a disappointment: Nicola liked a man in uniform. “He’ll be on another engagement?”

“Actually, he’s on a restricted diet. What you might call strict pescatarian.” The secretary grinned, clearly amused at some private joke.

“I’m sure you could rustle him up a tuna baguette.”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t be suitable.”

“Why?” Nicola bridled. “Is he above eating with us? Who does he think he is? An emperor?”

“No, First Minister. But he is a king.”

I drew Nicola Sturgeon and a king penguin. 

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Holiday round up – and the winners are

It was a holiday full of great things, some of which are already starting to get lost among the welter of stuff we did. We reckon we needed ‘sea days’ in between things to enable us to process them. 

Best food – chicken wraps at the Syrian cafe in Rothesay joint winner with  scampi and chips from the little van in Beadnell. 

Best wildlife – the Cuddy ducks and little auks seen off the Northumberland coast (I’ve never seen a little auk before). And, naturally, the seals. 

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Best building – Wemyss station plays Hill House for top spot.

Unexpected pleasures – being able to walk on a bit of your actual Hadrian’s wall.  The poison garden at Alnwick. Finding Capability brown’s birthplace simply because we followed a sign for a café when we need a comfort break. 

All the news from the house of Cochrane

Hi all. The Cochranes are back from holiday, feeling rested and ready to tackle the diary for the rest of the year. Lots of news to report and give a heads-up about
 
News
 
The big news is that the next Cambridge Fellows novella – Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise – is up for pre-order, release date 6th December. 
 
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.
 

 
December will be busy, as I’ll also have a free – rather spooky – age of sail story for you. Don’t forget that the Children in Read auction is open for bidding. 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.
 
Funny to be thinking of new books when The Case of the Grey Assassin is still quite a ‘young’ title – I guess it’s like buses, the books all seem to come at once. I hope Alasdair and Toby don’t take umbrage at not being my only sleuths.


 
Talking of other detectives, in the next newsletter I should have the finalised cover art for Lock, Stock and Peril, to share with you. It’s the next in the Lindenshaw  series and the cover is up to the standard for the rest of them.
 
Excerpt:

This week’s excerpt has to be from the upcoming Jonty and Orlando story.
 
The pigeonholes at the porters’ lodge had seen many interesting contents over the years, including incomprehensible essays for the attention of fellows, florid invitations intended for students and the occasional very welcome and intriguing communication. Today was an example of the last.
“A letter from the home of the Broads,” Jonty said, waggling the envelope. “Not the Norfolk Broads, 
Swann, simply my family.”
The porter grinned at the joke, poor as it was. It didn’t take long for an employee of St Bride’s to learn that the fellows’ feeble attempts at humour must be indulged. “I’ve heard tell you’ve a notable family indeed, sir. All of them St Bride’s men.”
“And my sister would have been a St Bride’s woman, had we the foresight to accept the other half of mankind.” Jonty held his finger to his lips. “Don’t go repeating that around the university. Some of the older dons would have hysterics.”
“Our secret, Dr Stewart.”
“You’ll go far, Swann. Let’s see what the woman concerned has to say.”
They took the letter to Orlando’s study, where they could read it in peace.
All soon became apparent. It wasn’t often that a Cambridge fellow might receive a letter beginning, “Hello, trouble,” but not many dons had a sister like Lavinia. Despite being a lady of mature years and a mother of two delightful offspring, she still at times acted as though both she and her brother were no more than children themselves. Usually she would telephone, so a written communication must portend something.
We might have a commission for you and Orlando. I didn’t want to use the telephone to discuss it because George and Alexandra appear to have a supernatural sense of hearing.
“They take after their uncle. Ow!” Orlando rubbed his leg. “That was unfair. It’s my dodgy Achilles side so I can’t move it out of the way as quickly as I might were it the other.”
“You need to get back into practice. No more rude comments or you’ll be getting another slap. Or, worse still, I’ll take the commission on all by myself.”
There’s a fellow called Thomas Harle, the son of one of Ralph’s pals, Henry. I’ve met them both and they seemed nice chaps, although the latter embroiled himself in scandal just before the war, if you recall? Mama’s dental nurse.
“What’s this?” Orlando asked.
“Do you remember Papa getting all agitato about some chap—must have been Henry Harle, although I have a feeling he’s actually Sir Henry—who set up home with a young woman whom he’d met while she was helping tend his teeth? Same dental surgeon as ours.”
“Your father wouldn’t have approved of that at all.”
“Very few people did.”
Orlando frowned. “It’s starting to come back to me. Was this the chap of whom your mother said it would almost have been better if he’d run away with a painted hussy from the music halls, someone the family and society could sneer at?”
“Yes, I believe you’re right. Something about the nurse being a pleasant and intelligent young woman whom it was difficult to dislike. It must surely have been a matter of true love between them or else why would they have cast their reputations upon the rocks?” Jonty shared an understanding glance with Orlando. Their type of men would know, more than others, about the risks involved in such a situation and both understood that no merely trivial liaison, no matter how passionate, would be worth such a sacrifice.
Thomas approached Ralph to ask about you two. Whether you would be trustworthy and men of discretion. In a mad moment, Ralph restrained himself from saying that you were a pair of scapegraces who could lead monkeys astray, instead emphasising your illustrious record of successful cases. I believe it’s all to do with a promise Thomas made a comrade during the war and which he has some concerns about carrying out. More than that he wouldn’t say.
“That sounds intriguing,” Orlando said with relish. “Gratifyingly unlike a murder, too. What would you promise a comrade that you’d need our help with? I suppose there are plenty of possibilities.”
 

 
 
 

Next Cambridge Fellows available for pre-order

Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise releases on December 6th and can be pre-ordered now. There will be a print edition, I promise. 

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.

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Created with GIMP

Holiday round-up – and the losers are…

“Safe and sound at home again…” We’ve had a cracking time and now I’m ready to make some awards. Today we have the naff end:

Worst experience: Blackpool tram. Rammed with people and we were the only ones wearing masks. We walked 1.6 miles back to the car in the drizzle rather than repeat the experience.

Most disappointing place: Berwick-upon-Tweed, which has tremendous history but a terribly run down town centre.

Weirdest place: Helensburgh. Amazing residential area – wide avenues laid out in a grid, with lovely houses. Town centre/sea front – like an inner city.

Greatest food let-down: square (Lorne) sausage, which is nowhere near as delicious as it used to be. 

Least successful art shot: this one

Charlie’s newsflash – opposites attract!

Hi all!

We all love a story where opposites attract. Jonty and Orlando in the Cambridge Fellows series would be a prime example. There are loads of tales tackling this really popular trope, a number of which you can find showcased at the Opposites attract event. Proud to be there along with some of my best writing chums.

Lots of love from Northumbria, where we’re stopping off for a while as part of what Mr C and I are calling our land cruise. 

Charlie

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Greetings, all. Hoping this finds you well and full of the joys of…well…almost autumn, really.
 
News
 
Author copies for The Case of the Grey Assassin arrived today (there’s a pleasure that never grows old). It’s in ebook as well, of course.

Toby Bowe and Alasdair Hamilton make the perfect partnership onscreen and off. While hiding their relationship tests their acting skills to the utmost, a shared penchant for amateur detection challenges their intellect in a way that making films never can.
When a practical joker appears to be targeting Landseer Studios, they’re the obvious men to investigate the affair but life turns tricky when they also get asked to help a film critic who’s receiving threatening letters. Suddenly they’re involved with the hunt for a serial killer and the case begins to cut too close to home for comfort…

 

 
The first set of edits have gone back for Lock, Stock and Peril, the next in the Lindenshaw Series. Release date, cover art, etc when I have it finalised. Suffice to say that Campbell does feature – he’s definitely the readers’ favourite.
 
I do have a release date for the next Cambridge Fellows mystery novella, Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise. Monday 6th December will see that let loose although the pre-order link isn’t yet live. That’s a job on my rather long list. I’ll also – as always – have a free story to offer you this December and this one’s set in the age of sail.
 
I’m delighted to say that the Children in Read auction opens tomorrow. I’ll be offering a print copy of Old Sins as the Lindenshaw book I offered last year went well. And it’s all for an excellent cause.
 
In case Old Sins passed you by…

Detective Chief Inspector Robin Bright and his partner, deputy headteacher Adam Matthews, have just consigned their summer holiday to the photo album. It’s time to get back to the daily grind, and the biggest problem they’re expecting to face: their wedding plans. Then fate strikes—literally—with a bang.
Someone letting loose shots on the common, a murder designed to look like a suicide, and the return of a teacher who made Robin’s childhood hell all conspire to turn this into one of his trickiest cases yet.
Especially when somebody might be targeting their Newfoundland, Campbell. Robin is used to his and Adam’s lives being in danger, but this takes the—dog—biscuit.

 
Excerpt:
“Are you awake?” a bleary voice sounded at Adam’s side.
“No. I’m fast asleep.”
“Pillock.” Robin turned, laying his right arm over Adam’s stomach. “Am I dreaming it or did you volunteer to cook breakfast today?”
“Yes. It’s my turn.” Which was why Adam had been lying in bed thinking, putting off the inevitable. “Although I can’t do so unless you let go of me.”
“Shame.” Robin kissed Adam’s shoulder. “I need to clone you so you can be cooking breakfast and romping about here with me at the same time.”
“If I were a woman, I’d accuse you of being a sexist pig. As it is, I’ll call you a lazy sod.” Adam threw off Robin’s arm, rolled him over, and slapped his backside. “Don’t lie here too long or I’ll give all your bacon to Campbell.”
“I’d fight him for it.”
They both got out of bed, Adam heading to the bathroom for a quick relieving visit before his partner got in there. On a work day, Robin showered and shaved speedily, but on occasions like this when he had the opportunity to take his leisure, he enjoyed lingering over his ablutions. And why not? He worked hard, so he should have the chance to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. As long as he didn’t linger too much and risk being presented with an incinerated sausage.
When Adam got down to the kitchen, Campbell greeted him with a rub against his legs, followed by a dash for the kitchen door. Lie-ins were great for the workers in the household, but not helpful for canine bladders. Opening that door took precedence over everything else first thing in the morning. Once that was done, Adam could get the kettle on, fish out the bacon—always best done while Campbell was otherwise occupied—put on some music, and potter about the kitchen content in the knowledge that the two creatures he loved best were happy. And long might that state of affairs continue.
Over breakfast, talk turned—inevitably—to their imminent return to work, although Robin insisted that shouldn’t be discussed for at least another twenty-four hours. He’d even banned them from watching crime shows over the holiday period, so as not to remind him of what awaited at Abbotston station.
Adam changed the subject to their regular discussion topic. “Am I allowed to mention work in the context of moving house to somewhere slightly more convenient for commuting?”
Given that both of them had relocated to new jobs since they started living together, the comfortable little cottage in Lindenshaw—that had once belonged to Adam’s grandparents, as had the infant Campbell—wasn’t quite as well located as it had been.
“Campbell says you can mention that all you want.” Robin grinned. “He wants a bigger garden to lumber about in. And he keeps reminding me we can afford it, maintenance and all.”
“That dog should get a job as an estate agent.” Or maybe a registrar. There was also the small matter of a civil partnership to sort out, which they’d decided on earlier in the year but not got any further in terms of planning.
“Mum was asking again,” Robin said when he’d finished the last bit of bacon.
Great minds were clearly thinking alike again. “Asking about what?”
Robin gently tapped Adam’s arm with the back of his hand. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. Have we set a date? Will she need her passport? Should she buy a winter hat or a spring one?”
“What did you tell her?”
“That what with the demands of school life and the unpredictable villains of Abbotston, it wasn’t easy to fix a weekend.”
All of which was true, but wouldn’t have mollified Mrs. Bright one bit. “And what did she say in response?”
Robin shrugged. “That she understood the predicament we were in, which I suspect was a lie because she then pointed out that other policemen and teachers manage to tie the knot.”
 
Charlie
 
 
 

Guest author – Anne Barwell with her re-release of, Comes a Horseman

Anne Barwell and I have known each other since Noah was a boy, so it’s always a pleasure to host her, especially as she always writes an interesting blog post. Today’s is no exception:

Thanks for hosting me today as part of my re-release of Comes a Horseman, the 3rd and final book in my WWII Echoes Rising series.

I prefer to read and write flawed characters, rather than protagonists who are always right, and antagonists who are two-dimensional virtual moustache whirlers.  They’re more interesting, and I like a bit of emotional angst in my stories.

Good people make mistakes, and especially during war, find themselves in a position where they need to follow a course of action they wouldn’t usually.  In Echoes Rising the team have so far been focused on getting Kristopher and the information he carries to the Allies.  But now, they’re having doubts about this being the best course of action, and whether their mission should succeed.  Add in the complication of friendship, found family, and the romantic attachments that have grown between two couples in their team. What sacrifices will someone make in order to ensure the person they love survives? A person who in usual circumstances wouldn’t kill anyone reacts differently when someone they love is threatened.

Or do they? War is harsh, and survival comes with a cost. 

On the flip side, Standartenführer Holm is very sure that he is doing the right thing in hunting the men who have eluded him for months. In his mind, he is the hero of this story, and he justifies all of his actions with that narrative firmly in place.  Kristopher is a traitor to his country, and the men with him the enemy, so should be dealt with accordingly.  And then there’s the issue of one of those men being the son of the man who killed Holm’s father…

His second in command, Reiniger, is a little less complicated.  Although he too, believes in what he is doing, he enjoys his job perhaps a bit too much.  In Shadowboxing, Kristopher and Michel made a fool of him, and in Winter Duet, the team cost him an eye.  He’s out for revenge and determined to achieve it.

Rounding out this group of people is Margarete Huber. She’s an interesting character to write, and very layered. Her motivations are very much her own, and even Holm prefers to have nothing to do with her.  She’s a woman who spins her own webs in order to trap her prey, and likes to be in control.  She didn’t expect Kristopher to defect, and it annoys her that she didn’t see it coming.  Holm might be a strategist but she takes planning and manipulation to a whole new level.

With Comes a Horseman being the final book in the series these characters—from both sides—will finally meet again face to face with one final encounter. Who do you think will win and at what cost?

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What if those who stand by you are the ones who betray you?

France, 1944
Sometimes the most desperate struggles take place far from the battlefield, and what happens in secret can change the course of history.

Victory is close at hand, but freedom remains frustratingly just beyond the grasp of German physicist Dr Kristopher Lehrer, Resistance fighter Michel, and the remaining members of the team sent by the Allies—Captain Matt Bryant, Sergeant Ken Lowe, and Dr Zhou Liang—as they fight to keep the atomic plans from the Nazis. The team reaches France and connects with members of Michel’s French Resistance cell in Normandy. Allied troops are poised to liberate France, and rescue is supposedly at hand. However, Kristopher is no longer sure the information he carries in his memory is safe with either side.

When Standartenführer Holm and his men finally catch up with their prey, the team is left with few options. With a traitor in their midst, who can they trust? Kristopher must become something he is not in order to save the man he loves. Death is biding his time, and sacrifices must be made for any of them to have the futures they want.

Author’s note: This is the second edition of Comes a Horseman. The first edition was released by another publishing house.  This story has been re-edited, and uses UK spelling to reflect its setting.