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Charlie’s latest newsletter

Hot on the heels of the snow, we’ve had some glorious spring-like days. The sun has shone, the sky has been blue as Jonty’s eyes, the birds have been singing their little hearts out and generally everybody has felt more upbeat.
Portsmouth online Bookfest has been a great success. I was very pleased with the two panels I was involved with (and saw some familiar names/faces from around the globe in the audiences). There are a few events still to come, especially the always-marvellous Mystery Fest. The keynote speaker this year is discussing wildlife crime and if he’s half as good as the equivalent last year, who discussed modern police questioning techniques, the audience are in for a treat.
My next ‘live’ appearance should be an RNA interview in April. More news once I have it. Talking of which, I should have some more concrete news about a couple of stories, soon, including that new Alasdair and Toby story. I never announce until contracts are signed, so – as they say – watch this space.
Fancy a bargain? Riptide is having a clearance sale on paperbacks. Don’t think any of mine are in there, but some of them are on special offer, such as Best Corpse for the Job.  Riptide also do some great “bundles” including the complete set of Porthkennack stories which includes two of mine, Broke Deep and Count the Shells. Here’s a smidge from the latter, which (though I say it as shouldn’t) I think is one of the best novels I’ve ever written.
Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.
Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.
When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.

Michael steered his sister towards the flower bed, which lay in full bloom by the steps up to the house, then stopped. “Richard mentioned Thomas.”
Caroline frowned. “Did he?”
“I wouldn’t have said if he hadn’t, would I? Sorry,” he stroked her hand, “shouldn’t have snapped at you. He did. He said he was highly amused by the state of Thomas’s hair in a photograph you must have of the both of us. I didn’t realise you’d kept one.”
Caroline, blushing, kept her gaze on the petunias. “Oh, it’s an old one. I have it at home. Remembrance of when we were much younger. You and me here, Thomas at Broch, Eric at— Whatever was his uncle’s house called?”
“Cataclews.” It had been a ghastly gothic pile, on its last legs when Eric’s family had used it for holidays. “The only good thing about it was being the vehicle to his meeting us.”
“So he says, as well.” Caroline smiled. “Anyway, that picture kept me going all those long days when the family waited for the next letter from you.”
Michael nodded. Many a photograph must have kept families, wives, and sweethearts comforted over the years. “Not just me, I suspect. You always had a soft spot for Thomas, didn’t you?”
“He was rather handsome. We all liked him.”
Did she know how far Michael’s liking had gone? It wasn’t something they could ever have freely discussed, but Caroline was far from stupid. She must have noticed exchanges of glances, overheard whispers or mysterious laughter, wondered why Michael wasn’t quite the same with Thomas as he was with other friends. Or had she simply assumed that was how men were when they had close friendships? Many people lived in blissful ignorance of what really went on between some couples of the same gender who shared a house or habitually holidayed together.
“Michael?” Caroline nudged him. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Yes. Just lost in memories. I can almost see him here, now. Running along this very lawn with that wretched kite.”
“The one he couldn’t get to fly?” Caroline snorted.
“That’s the one.” They’d have been fifteen, the family holidaying here and Michael introducing Thomas to them for the first time. He’d lived not far away, at a house called Broch, which was apparently some type of ancient Scottish dwelling and had been the brainchild of a previous, Celtic, owner of the property. Thomas had dropped in on the Grays on an almost daily basis, although nobody had complained at the intrusion. As Caroline had pointed out, he had been universally liked. It had been a glorious summer of warmth and light, the two boys teetering on the brink of understanding that their camaraderie was not like that of their schoolmates. “I was glad when that kite broke. I always felt he’d get so enthralled he wouldn’t realise where he was running and he’d go down the path and right over the cliff with it.”
Caroline, sly smile creeping over her face, patted his hand. “I have a terrible confession to make, although I won’t do it until you swear you won’t tell Richard.”
“I swear,” Michael promised, intrigued.
“I was the one who broke that kite. I had exactly the same concern as you did—he was so terribly reckless, so . . .” She shrugged. “I’ve lived with it on my conscience, but it had to be done.”
“And it was well done. I was tempted to do the same, but never had the courage. I wonder if he ever suspected?” Although given that Thomas had such an open, trusting mind, that was unlikely.
“I always feel it’s a shame I couldn’t have taken up all those guns in France and broken them. Such a waste, but you don’t need that particular sermon.” Caroline shook herself. “Come on, luncheon.”

The joys of virtual bookfests

A year ago I’d just finished one panel at Portsmouth Bookfest and was prepping for another couple. It was a brilliant festival and turned out to be the last live author event before lockdowns hit. I was delighted to find out it was going online this year and grabbed a couple of chances to take part. Last week I did a panel about ‘finishing your book and doing something with it subsequently’ and this week I was among a group of folk discussing lost detectives. Both times I ended up moderating and both times the panel appeared to be a huge success.

Now, there’s something special about seeing people in person and I don’t just mean the opportunity to sell one’s books. There’s an interaction that isn’t available online. However, that’s outweighed by several advantages of going ‘Zoom’. We had people in the audience from all over the place, including the USA. People were able to put questions and remarks into the chat facility that wouldn’t be possible in the usual setting as it would see rude. And, last but not least, no long drive home in the dark.

There are still some events coming up including the wonderful MysteryFest. Booking is online and very easy

Charlie’s latest newsletter

We’ve had more snow! And, true to my promise, I was out in it making two whole families of snow-frogs before it became unusable. Yes, under the respectable-sixty-something-woman exterior, there lies a seven year old boy just itching to have fun!
Last chance to get you tickets for Portsmouth online Bookfest. Lots of excellent panels, two of which yours truly is on.
February 17th 7pm GMT I’m with Liam Livings, Clare London and Sue Brown talking about helping you to finish your book and know what to do with it.
 Do you have a half-completed novel you’d love to finish? Or a finished novel that you’re not sure what to do with? Let us help you take the next step along the road to watching that novel leave the nest. In this panel we’ll cover: Ways to get that unfinished manuscript over the line, without it fizzling out. The common mistakes that authors make in their first—and subsequent!—drafts and how to rectify these. What options you have when your story is complete and next steps for making the most of them.
February 24th 7pm GMT I’m putting on my mystery hat to discuss forgotten fictional detectives.
This panel will introduce five fictional detectives who have slipped out of public notice. They will range from the first Victorian lady detective written by a woman; an Artificial Intelligence Personality living near Washington DC; a multi-talented detective who rarely sleeps(Charlie’s note – that’s the one I’m championing!) and the father and son detectives that Ellis Peters abandoned when Brother Cadfael took over her life. 
Guest author
I don’t often have guests in my newsletter, but I’ve known Anne Barwell since Noah was a boy, so I was delighted when she agreed to a short interview about her new release:
Authors say that they can’t choose a favourite book, as that would be like choosing a favourite child. So, what is it about this book that gave you particular pleasure in the writing of it?
The first book in this series was the first story I wrote that I knew would be a full book – in fact, it ended up being a three book series.  With Winter Duet I enjoyed incorporating music into the storyline. When I did my music papers at uni one of the lectures was about coded messages in music, and I’d always wanted to do something with that.  One of the pieces I studied in that paper makes an appearance in the book too.
Have you/would you write a storyline with Covid in it?
I haven’t, and to be honest I’m not sure I’d want to. I have addressed the 1918 epidemic in my historicals though.  One of my characters in this story lost his parents to the Spanish Flu.
What’s the single most surprising piece of research you’ve done?
In a contemporary paranormal book I have coming out later this year, I researched how to weaponise a fire sprinkler system.

Who do you trust when no one is who they seem? Winter Duet, book 2 of Anne Barwell’s WWII Echoes Rising series is now available for pre-order on Amazon , and on Payhip until 15th February. When it releases on Amazon on 17th February it will be available in KU for the first time. 

Sneak Peek at an upcoming release
Remember I was talking about the next Toby and Alasdair story, the one which started off as a case of poison pen letters but quickly grew into a hunt for a mass murderer? I’m pleased to say it has a publisher – more news when the details are finalised. In celebration, here’s an (as yet not fully edited) excerpt.
London, 1952
“With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship.” Alasdair Hamilton took Fiona Marsden’s dainty left hand in his, while in his right he held the wedding ring, turning it to catch the light.
Fiona, eyes alive with demure expectation, smiled with exactly the right amount of promise of passion to come.
“With all my worldly—”
“Alasdair!” Alexander Rattigan’s voice rang out across the studio floor. How vexatious. Alasdair couldn’t remember the last time a director had stopped him in mid-scene.  He, Toby Bowe and Fiona—the stellar trio whose performances filled Landseer Pictures’ coffers—prided themselves on the paucity of takes they required to get a scene safely in the can. The Royal Romance was proving no exception to the rule.
“Sorry to interrupt you both but there’s a buzzing coming from somewhere. You may not be picking it up but the microphones will. Irrespective of that, it’s extremely annoying.” Alexander turned to his assistant, an efficient young man who was becoming invaluable on the set.
“Jack, will you see if you can find out where that infernal row is emanating from and put a stop to it? The rest of you can take a break while we sort this out.”
“Relief at last,” Toby said, rolling his shoulders and taking off his plumed, royal blue tricorn hat. “I know this is a royal wedding scene but I feel like the queen of the May.”
“How do you think I feel?” Fiona said, fanning herself with an ivory-coloured prayer book. “I’ve got six petticoats on under here. This is what it must be like to be a mille feuille. Do you think anyone—even royalty—really wore things like this in the eighteenth century? It would have driven me mad.”
“I doubt anybody wore anything resembling what the wardrobe department turns out. In any era or setting.” Alasdair, perspiring under the lights, imitated Fiona’s fanning motion with his hat, much to the consternation of his dresser, who came haring up and took it from him. “Alexander, please can we take a small break? My forehead’s dripping and that noise is becoming a distinct nuisance.”
“Of course. Back to your dressing rooms where you have them, please and we’ll aim to resume in twenty minutes. By which time the buzz will have—aha!” To everyone’s relief the noise, which had been steadily increasing in decibels, suddenly ceased.
The four actors under the lights, which included one venerable old soul portraying the archbishop who was conducting the ceremony, headed for the comfort of their dressing rooms, although Alasdair deliberately took his time. He for one wanted to know what had caused the wretched noise and curiosity took precedence over relief for the moment. Not least because he was still annoyed at being interrupted when he’d been giving one of his best performances. He was unlikely to be taking the wedding vows himself at any point and he’d secretly imagined he was saying the words to Toby, which was producing an air of authenticity that would stand out on the screen. The audiences would believe that he was either a brilliant actor or he harboured a secret passion for Fiona which for some reason would never be requited, probably because she was secretly engaged to one of the dashing gentlemen on whose arm she was often draped.
If the adoring public knew that Fiona was quietly heading for marriage to an orthopaedic surgeon, whereas Toby and Alasdair had eyes for nobody but each other, they’d have been—respectively—disappointed and horrified. Except in the case of the more understanding females and the gents who occasionally sent the two male stars anonymous but passionate missives.
In terms of maintaining their image, both professionally and personally, Alasdair hoped to be able to repeat the same quality of performance when the scene came to be shot again.
“Jack, well done.” Alexander’s words snapped Alasdair out of the thoughts he’d been lost in. The director’s assistant had reappeared, gingerly carrying something. “What was making that din?”
“This.” Jack held out a small, slightly battered metal object. “It appears to be a battery-operated device whose sole purpose is to produce a buzz. An increasingly loud buzz, at that. By the time I found it, the thing was almost unbearable to get close to.”
“Where was it? Alasdair asked.
“Wedged under a chair. Easy to locate, given the racket.” Jack shook his head. “I couldn’t work out how to turn it off so I found a hammer and smashed the wretched machine.”
With lots of love 


Charlie’s latest newsletter

We’ve had snow! OK, it was barely an inch and it didn’t stay but I was like a child with excitement, out scrunching around in my snow boots and making snow-frogs.
Portsmouth Book Fest is about to launch online. Don’t forget to grab a place at some of the excellent sessions, especially as this may be a unique opportunity to attend if you’re not in the Portsmouth area. I’m doing two events:
February 17th 7pm GMT I’m with Liam Livings, Clare London and Sue Brown talking about helping you to finish your book and know what to do with it. Helping you finish your book & know what to do with it! | Portsmouth Library and Archive Service (
 Do you have a half-completed novel you’d love to finish? Or a finished novel that you’re not sure what to do with? Let us help you take the next step along the road to watching that novel leave the nest. In this panel we’ll cover: Ways to get that unfinished manuscript over the line, without it fizzling out. The common mistakes that authors make in their first—and subsequent!—drafts and how to rectify these. What options you have when your story is complete and next steps for making the most of them. We’ve considerable experience to offer, not just as published authors (traditionally, Indie and self-published): among us we’ve been on acquisition teams for anthologies, read and assessed manuscripts for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme and have led many panels and training events for writers.
February 24th 7pm GMT I’m putting on my mystery hat to discuss forgotten fictional detectives. Forgotten Fictional Detectives | Portsmouth Library and Archive Service (
This panel will introduce five fictional detectives who have slipped out of public notice. They will range from the first Victorian lady detective written by a woman; an Artificial Intelligence Personality living near Washington DC; a multi-talented detective who rarely sleeps; and the father and son detectives that Ellis Peters abandoned when Brother Cadfael took over her life. 
I’ve started work on the next Lindenshaw book at last, having dithered about having to tackle “it”. I know I’m not the only author who’s been loathe to write about the present situation but I suddenly decided that I couldn’t keep pretending the world is anything different to what it is. I have to say, it’s proving really enjoyable. Lot’s of possibilities within a lockdown world and I’ve been doing lots of practical experiments on plot points. Mainly, so far, involving electric blinds. Don’t ask.
I’m also just about finished the first “good” draft of the next Toby and Alasdair story, which started off as a case of poison pen letters but quickly grew into a hunt for a mass murderer! If you’ve not come across this pair before, they’re actor laddies from just post-WWII, who don’t just play Holmes and Watson onscreen. Here’s a little reminder of the last one of their cases, from “An Act of Detection” which features two of their investigations.
Stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe wow the post WWII audiences with their performances. But when they depict Holmes and Watson life starts to imitate art. They get asked in by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance only to find a series of threatening letters—and an unwanted suitor—make real life very different from the movies. Then there’s an unpleasant co-star who’s found murdered during an opening night. Surely detection can’t be that hard?
“Hello sailor!” Toby Bowe’s cheery tones came down the telephone line.
Alasdair Hamilton groaned. “I knew you were going to say that. Sir Ian’s been in touch with your agent, then?”
“Of course he has. Contract’s signed, sealed and delivered. I don’t know why they bother to keep up the pretence of talking to our agents individually rather than saving both time and effort and nabbing us both together.”
“You know exactly why they do that. More important to save scandal than save time.”
What would the British cinema-going public say if it knew its favourite leading men—the pride of Sir Ian Sheringham and his studio, Landseer—continued their love scenes in the privacy of their own homes? And without the participation of Fiona Marsden, who’d been their perennial leading lady.
Hamilton, Bowe and Marsden. The British public adored the special chemistry the trio displayed on screen, one that made every scene appear real rather than acted. Although given the true situation, then Toby and Alasdair’s acting skills surely surpassed those of even Olivier and Gielgud, so convincingly did they both display their adoration of Fiona on celluloid. Still, hadn’t many an actor or actress being doing exactly the same thing over the years? Alasdair and Toby weren’t unique in finding their own sex more attractive than the opposite one.
“Are you looking forward to lunch?” Toby asked.
Alasdair snorted. “The food, yes. Not necessarily the rest of it.”
“Landseer always does put out a good nosebag. I wonder if they’ll be supplying us with faux girlfriends to add to the illusion?”
“Not today, I’d guess.” And thank God for that. Part of the smokescreen that helped maintain the actors’ reputation was their being seen in public with beautiful young women. Rarely the same ones twice, though, because Landseer didn’t want the young ladies becoming suspicious about why their charms appeared to be having no effect.
“I suppose that when Fiona’s about they like her to shine like a diamond on a coal heap. No other lovelies to risk detracting attention.” Toby chuckled. “They could give us plain starlets to squire on these occasions. No, belay that. They’d not let us be seen with anyone too mousey.”
“I don’t suppose it would go with the image. The studio powers that be think the public would expect only the most attractive women to be draped on our arms.”
“Hm. I bet it’s more subtle than that. A beautiful woman, and a different one each time, implies a series of flirtations. Were she homely it might suggest we’d found true love. And what would your adoring fans say if they believed you were at risk of being taken out of the marriage market permanently?”
“Less of the adoring fans nonsense, you cheeky bugger.” Alasdair snorted. “And the same would apply to you. Just as well we held those negotiations directly with Sir Ian.”
At the point they’d become the hottest properties in British cinema, rather than holding out for everything in terms of film deals or size and luxuriousness of dressing room, they’d made it plain to the boss that while they’d wine and dine whichever young lady Landseer felt needed a leg up on the ladder to stardom, they would draw a line at even the suggestion of undergoing sham marriages. That both maintained their reputation as playboys and enhanced their standing as being easy to work with and highly professional.
“And what’s all this belay rubbish you were spouting earlier?” Alasdair added.
“Got to get in character for the new role, Admiral. Splice the main brace, twelve at the grating and whatnot.”
And finally
The snow made me think of our trip to Norway two years ago and the wonderful church at Alta, whose design is based on the Northern Lights. 


Charlie’s latest newsletter

Halfway through January already? Where has the year gone…although it’s nice to see the evenings getting lighter. There are daffodils in bud locally – mine are too sensible and keeping their little heads down, although my snowdrops are doing very nicely.
Booking for Portsmouth Bookfest is up and running: the event is predominantly online, which is very exciting because it means that wherever you are in the world you can take part! (See, there have to be some good things coming out of the present situation.) Some of the sessions are free, which is even better. For my sins, I’m doing two events:
February 17th 7pm GMT I’m with Liam Livings, Clare London and Sue Brown talking about helping you to finish your book and know what to do with it.
 Do you have a half-completed novel you’d love to finish? Or a finished novel that you’re not sure what to do with? Let us help you take the next step along the road to watching that novel leave the nest. In this panel we’ll cover: Ways to get that unfinished manuscript over the line, without it fizzling out. The common mistakes that authors make in their first—and subsequent!—drafts and how to rectify these. What options you have when your story is complete and next steps for making the most of them. We’ve considerable experience to offer, not just as published authors (traditionally, Indie and self-published): among us we’ve been on acquisition teams for anthologies, read and assessed manuscripts for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme and have led many panels and training events for writers.
February 24th 7pm GMT I’m putting on my mystery hat to discuss forgotten fictional detectives.
This panel will introduce five fictional detectives who have slipped out of public notice. They will range from the first Victorian lady detective written by a woman; an Artificial Intelligence Personality living near Washington DC; a multi-talented detective who rarely sleeps; and the father and son detectives that Ellis Peters abandoned when Brother Cadfael took over her life. 
There are lots of other panels which may be of interest to you, as well!
Don’t forget that if you want the ‘correct’ version of Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem then all you need to do is get in touch. The story is exactly the same but the originally uploaded file was the unproofed version.
 Free story
If you’ve read Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem, you’ll know that Dr Panesar features in his aeroplane. It came as a shock to me to discover that he was a pilot—as it’s been a surprise to discover the other things he’s been involved in—and it was in the crafting of this tale that the revelations were made. Spies, Planes and Automobiles is a joint effort with Ein Gregory, who suffered nobly for her art as she, a plotter, yoked herself to me, a pantser.
“Is she dead?” A deep voice. Miles could hear it clearly and suspected he might be able to put a name to it from some deep cavern of memory, but he could neither open his eyes nor respond.
“No, she’s breathing, you clown. Hopefully nothing worse than being out for the count. And a pint of claret down the front of her dress.” Another voice, one that Miles instantly recognised, although what Jonty Stewart was doing here, God alone knew. Unless Miles was dreaming, of course. Or really had died and Dr. Stewart and his colleague—that’s who the other voice must belong to—formed an unusual pair of heavenly ushers. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. It was that other idiot going far too fast. Worse driver even than you.” The colleague—what was his name again? Wainwright? Copperberg?—sounded beside himself with worry. “We should have gone for the doctor. The car would be quicker than a cart.”
“And leave the farmer here with a team of spooked horses? Have you seen the size of those things or have any idea what sort of damage they could do? Better to look after h— Ah, hello.”
Miles had managed to force his eyes open; there were worse sights to greet a man than Jonty Stewart, even though he must be into his fifties by now. Classically handsome face, high cheekbones, a scar that added rather than detracted from the whole effect. Miles couldn’t deny that he’d fancied his tutor during his years at Cambridge and just hoped he hadn’t made too much of an exhibition of himself at the time. Although wasn’t he making an exhibition of himself now?
“Hello,” he managed. “I don’t think anything’s broken.”
“Only most of the front of your car.” Stewart, grinning, drew out a handkerchief then applied it to Miles’s nose. “And your cover, Miles. Although not as badly as it might have been had I let the farmer perform first aid.”
“Oh.” He morphed Millie’s voice into his own; a more nasal version than normal, although he didn’t think his nose was actually broken. “Is it so obvious?”
“Only to somebody who admired your Rosalind.”
Read the rest here.

Charlie’s latest newsletter

May I wish you a very happy New Year? I know 2020 was a bit of a disappointment (typical Brit understatement, eh?) but we got through it and we’ll get through 2021. Honest, guv’nor.
First the bad news – for some reason, the wrong file got uploaded for the latest Cambridge Fellows story, Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem. The tale itself was unaffected, but the version you may have downloaded wasn’t the one with the final proofing. The right file is now in place on kindle, but if any of you bought the original and would like the ‘proper’ version, please let me know and I’ll send it over.
Now the good news. I did the draw for my newsletter competition and the elves of randomness picked Lloyd, whom I’ll be contacting presently to see which of the prizes fit the bill.
A Free story:
Here’s a little ficlet, apt for the time of year, featuring Jonty and Orlando on New Year’s Eve.

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 unravelled 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 seriously don’t think we’ll be here all winter, do you? I have lectures to give. As it is we’ll be cutting it fine with the liner getting in so close to term starting.” Orlando was starting to worry now.
“We should be fine. Should be. Mrs Prefontaine did say there was one winter when she was smaller when they’d had to resort to going out and shooting game to survive. Even great swathes of the river froze over and that’s tidal. The sea itself iced up at Scituate.”
“I think you’re making that up to frighten me.” Orlando poked the fire, arranging the logs more neatly and efficiently for burning. “And I was so looking forward to seeing in the New Year here. Just the two of us and not a bagpipe within earshot. Romantic.”
“I wonder how Mama and Papa are coping with Hogmanay without me?” Jonty sighed. This wasn’t just idle chat—he was clearly concerned that any Stewart New Year celebration without the youngest son present to enliven proceedings would be a dull and listless affair.
“Having a whale of a time. You mother will have less to worry over this year, without the constant anxiety that you’ve whipped your underwear off beneath your kilt.” Orlando stretched out, delighted with his fire construction skills. Not too fiercely hot or too timidly cool—just the right quantity of heat being emitted.
“I insist we sing Auld Lang Syne when the hour hand tips past the twelve.”
“I’ll grant you that. Although maybe we should sing it now?” It was just gone five o’clock, and the New Year would already have hit Sussex.
“No. Let’s lengthen the festivities—Papa would appreciate the idea of a Stewart representative extending the celebration over the global time zones. The sun never sets on Hogmanay and all that. Even though the sun seems to have given up here and it’s getting as black as your grandfather’s moustache outside.” Jonty snuggled down at his lover’s side. “I bet there’s not a person abroad out there now. Anyone with any sense is tucked up at home.”
“You don’t regret not staying on at Rex’s?” A pang of guilt clutched at Orlando’s heart—it had been his yearning to come out here to the cottage, once they’d been offered the chance. They could still change their minds and somehow make their way back the ten miles north to the Prefontaines’ palatial house, if Jonty felt so inclined.
“No. I had a lovely Christmas, even if the lack of mince pies—or anything else of a dried fruit nature—rather took the gilt off the gingerbread. Not that there was any of that, either. But I could do with some peace and quiet before we have to see the dunderheads again and I can’t imagine we’ll get that on board ship. Besides,” Jonty ran his fingers along his lover’s thigh, “we couldn’t have abused our host and hostess’s hospitality by flitting between rooms, could we? I’ve missed sleeping with you.”
Orlando brought his lover’s hand to his lips, tenderly kissing then stroking it. They’d not been able to do this at the Prefontaines’, even though the youngest son of the house would have been happy to let them indulge the love they enjoyed. They weren’t sure if his parents knew the real extent of the relationship—personal as well as business—Rex enjoyed with Matthew Ainslie.
And if they did know, and silently tolerated things, Jonty and Orlando wouldn’t have insulted their generous welcome with brazenly open displays of affection.
Even at the Stewarts’ home, where Orlando was welcomed as a son-in-law in everything but legality and where they’d been assigned an incredibly discreet valet who’d ignore shirts left in the ‘wrong’ bedroom, they wouldn’t be so insensitive as to wander along holding hands or snogging under the mistletoe.
It had even become a standing joke for Mr. Stewart to offer Orlando a sprig of the stuff to chase the kitchen maids with, even though he knew damn well that the opportunity would never be taken. At the very least it maintained the illusion for any other guests present.
But now no such deceptions or proprieties had to be observed. If they wanted to kiss or hold hands or anything else in front of the fire—sprawling on the floor as they’d done the very first time they’d had anything like sex—then they were free to do so, so long as they pulled down the blinds and left everything as they had found it. No evidence of their love except fond memories they’d keep forever and inane grins they’d wear for the next day.
“Come on!” Jonty suddenly leaped to his feet, sending Orlando sprawling and scattering his thoughts. “We can lounge here later. I want to make the most of the snow. While it’s crisp and even. Under the moon.” His voice had a wistful tone to it, so Orlando knew there’d be no protesting, even if he wanted to. The thought of donning layers of clothes and being out throwing snowballs, or just walking in the enchanting silvery light was too tempting to resist. And of course there’d be coming back afterwards, noses and ears raw with cold, and disrobing and having to warm up frozen appendages and… “Well, don’t take forever about it.”
“Sorry.” Orlando didn’t add, “I was just thinking”. He’d used that line too often before and been met with a barrage of abuse about his overthinking everything. Jonty could always find enough fuel for his sarcastic fires without heaping it up and handing it to him on a plate.
“It’s just so warm, being settled down here.” Orlando lifted his hand, for Jonty to take it and give him a tug. “Much obliged. Now, where’s my scarf?”
They resembled less two fellows of a fairly distinguished Cambridge college than two strange ursine or maybe apelike creatures, oversized and overfurred, cutting great swathes through the snow in boots padded with four pairs of socks.
“Sh.” Jonty lifted his hand, making Orlando stop in his tracks. They stood, listening to the unfamiliar sounds of winter wildlife west side of the Atlantic.
“What is it I’m supposed to be hearing?” Orlando had always had less instinctual appreciation for the wild, not least because he’d not been brought up in a family where hunting and fishing and nights spent out in gardens under the stars seemed de rigeur.
“Don’t use your ears. Use your eyes.” Jonty tipped his head towards a copse of trees, the bare branches stretched against the sky, silver and glittering with moonlight and rime. “Can you see it?”
Orlando focused on the top of a great tree, one of indeterminate species now that winter had robbed it of its leaves, the only way he knew of putting a name to these things. “I don’t…Ah…”
They stood transfixed, watching the great silvery brown shape resettle itself on a branch. An owl, the biggest specimen of the kind Orlando had ever seen, although perhaps exaggerated in size by the optically illusory effects of half light and his awe at such an unexpected sight.
“I wonder if he’s been hunting? Although what he can find in this weather beats me.” Jonty’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Surely any self respecting small animal would be hibernating? Or at least tucked up warm for the night?”
“Maybe he’ll have to live off short commons. Do they scavenge from dustbins or feed on carrion?”
“I have no idea. We need Dr. Panesar here, or some other person equally expert on the ways of the animal kingdom. I’m sure he makes his way through to spring. The owl, not Maurice Panesar. Sh!” Jonty grabbed his lover’s arm, encouraging him to become quiet, although—as usual—it wasn’t Orlando who was making any noise. The owl had launched himself, great wings spread against the pearly, moonlit clouds, soaring over them as big—in appearance if not in reality—as some great primeval pteranosaur.
“I feel truly honoured.” Orlando didn’t say more, nor did he expect an answer from his lover. They both knew how great the privilege had been to see such a sight. They walked on, not needing to hold hands or link arms to maintain a contact of mind and spirit, closer than many a courting couple who walked the lane arm in arm.
“We’re bloody lucky,” Jonty said at last, bestowing Orlando a glorious smile then walking on again, crunching the snow and supremely happy.
Of course they were lucky. Notwithstanding close encounters with murderers who seemed determined to include them in their killing sprees—or malicious letters or who knew what else—the last few years had been magnificent. Especially for Orlando. Poor, lonely, shy Orlando whose life had been greyer than the wintry skies—and just as cold and bleak—before the glorious sunshine of this son of Sussex had broken through, stealing his chair and his heart in the process.
His reverie was broken as the first snowball of the night flew through the air and caught him square between the shoulder blades. Missiles and insults rained for the next ten minutes until a truce was declared and peace broke out among laughter and a brief tentative hug, one that might have passed for bolstering up someone sliding on ice, should anyone have been passing by.
“Back to the cottage?” Jonty whispered. He didn’t need to elaborate on what the bland statement actually meant. Carnal activities in front of that fire, drinking in the New Year with champagne on stomachs full of contentment, hearts full of love and appetites for “anything else” satiated. Orlando picked up his pace, keen to be back indoors before the magic of the moment was lost.
They laid a couple of rugs on the wooden floor, banked down the fire to reduce the risks of stray sparks hitting anyone’s backside, shut all the blinds, got everything ready. Usual preparations mixed with novel, both of them keen to make the most of what might be a once in a lifetime chance—conditions at once brazen and secluded, novel and strangely familiar (echoes of that first time). Warm yet with snow piled at the door and the elements outside determined to spoil the party. No light but firelight. No warmth but burning logs and the ardour of two passions. No music but the wind buffeting the eaves. No power but a joint affection, shared and synergistic. And in the end, the glorious climax, no words more than a simple “I love you,” “I love you too,” more eloquent and apt than any sonnet.
“We’re late with our toast.” Jonty made to get up, but a restraining hand pulled him back into Orlando’s embrace.
“Compared to Sussex we’re already behind. It can wait a while longer.” The warmth of two bodies against each other wasn’t to be discarded so lightly. “Anyway, champagne will make me muzzy headed.”
“Then we should toast the New Year with cocoa and leave the champers for tomorrow. Or as a thank you for Mrs. Prefontaine.” Jonty laid his head on his lover’s chest, seeming now in no great hurry to move. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year. I have a feeling it’ll be a good one.” Orlando caressed Jonty’s firelit hair.
“All our years together have been good ones.”
“You are too soppy for words.” Still, Orlando smiled, holding his lover close for as long as possible. Eventually Jonty wouldn’t be restrained any more. He rose, still in nothing more than the suit his maker had created, poured them each a tot of port, shivering and hopping against the cold, and brought the glasses back to the fire’s glow and the comfort of a blanket.
“We have to do this, or Mama will have our guts for garters. She’ll know. She always knows.” Jonty raised his glass to complete the proper observances. “To the year ahead.”
“Indeed.” Orlando raised his glass. “To 1914.” 
And finally

New Year always makes me think of Scotland (Lang may yer um reek! as Mr C might say at this time of year) so here’s a Scottish loch – no filters used, it really was like that. 


A right royal muck up

This is a long and sorry tale but I’ll cut it short. Suffice to say that – thanks to someone telling me – I discovered that the file that was uploaded for Lessons in Solving the Wrong Problem wasn’t the final, proofed version. (The story wasn’t affected, only the standard of text.) So, off I went to load the proper version, only to find it had gone from my files, possibly in the great December Dropbox debacle.

Sooo…the text has been re-proofed and new version should be available on kindle soon but if anyone has already bought it and wants the proper version, please get in touch and I’ll oblige.

A musical recommendation and a bit of ‘that’ letter

I can thoroughly recommend the Lord’s Taverners’ Christmas carol concert. A mixture of serious and lighthearted readings and excellent singing. 

Now, you know those awful boasty Christmas letters that people send about all the wonderful things their families have done over the last year? Our middle girl produced a send up one for our family that had me weeping with laughter. Will reproduce it here, in three parts. Like Gaul.

To all of our adoring fans,

Wow, what a year it has been. I hope you, your family and your loved ones have made it through this year unscathed. Many of you will be glad to see the back of this year, with the China Virus hampering many lives. This is not the case for the Cochrane family. Once again, we have had a truly exceptional year, and I am pleased to deliver the annual report to ensure that you enter this festive period feeling inferior.

Let’s start with Peter, who continues to make strides in the Golf Community. Bryson DeChamb-who! With his driving distance and pin-seeking accuracy, Peter was approached by the USGA earlier this year to be offered a spot in the US Open, following Scottie Scheffler’s withdrawal due to COVID. Peter, ever the altruist, decided to reject the opportunity to focus on pressing community issues in the UK. Instead of making his debut on Golf’s main stage, he decided to actively contribute to the UK’s economic recovery. We are hopeful that he will be recognised with an MBE next year for his contribution to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with some economists being quoted as saying “without Pete, the UK would have been plunged into an inconceivable recession”.   

Wishing you all a merry Christmas

May I wish you all a very merry Christmas (or as merry as can be managed given the present circumstances.) We’re all hoping that 2021 will be happier and healthier for us all – although some good things came out of 2020, like Mr C learning to use contactless payments and our youngest mastering rough puff pastry.
As promised, I’ll be doing a draw on New Year’s Eve, picking out one winner from this mailing list who’ll get their choice of an audiobook code, an ebook, a print book or a Brit goodie bag.
A free story!
I’ve a brand spanking new – and totally free – Lindenshaw story, An Outlaw for an Inlaw, which you can find at my website.
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.”
The first spring they’d have in their new home, following on from the first Christmas they’d spend there. The change of location was the main reason Adam and Robin were so adamant with their families that they’d be hosting this year and it was one of the positive things that had come out of 2020. A stamp duty holiday to take advantage of had kick-started the local housing market, so perhaps it had turned out just as well that they’d not taken the plunge earlier, despite having said—almost from the time they’d first moved in together—that they should be looking for a place that was theirs from the start. Rather than the cottage that Adam had inherited from his grandparents.
Campbell had been part of that inheritance too, then barely more than a puppy. Back when they were first going out, Robin had asked, in his subtle policeman way, why the old couple had taken on such a large and active dog at an advanced stage of life and got more of an answer than he would have expected. The Newfoundland had been bought to replace Hamish, a black Labrador who’d been their faithful companion for twelve years before passing on to the great Bonio shop in the sky. They wanted to keep active and a dog was perfect for that.
So he’d proved, initially, but then fate struck. A diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour had meant Mrs Matthews didn’t get to see Campbell grow to maturity and her husband’s death had followed hard on her heels. A broken heart, people said, conveniently ignoring the fact that forty cigarettes a day for most a of a lifetime made a man susceptible to coronary disease. While the shock of his wife’s death had contributed, it was nicotine rather than grief that had caused the fatal heart attack.
Adam had never smoked and vowed he never would, having seen both his father and grandfather succumb to the effects of the noxious weed. The effects on the house he’d inherited had been notable, too. Even though his grandparents had kept it sparklingly clean and regular decorated it, you could never disguise where a smoker lived—the clue was always in the paintwork. It had taken Adam a whole summer, a ton of sugar soap and the services of a professional decorator to get to the point where the white looked white and stayed that way.
Their new property hadn’t needed quite so much intensive care, having been left in pristine condition, which is perhaps what you should expect from an ex-army type, which the previous owner had been. The neighbours seemed a nice bunch, accepting of having a gay couple in the vicinity, although Adam and Robin’s professions no doubt helped on that score. The older couple across the road thought it very reassuring to have a policeman almost on their doorstep. Adam had made a joke about Robin not being out patrolling the streets and hadn’t had the heart to say that one of the reasons their previous neighbours had surely heaved a sigh of relief at their departure was the nasty characters who—albeit infrequently—had a habit of turning up on their doorstep. Or, on one occasion, confronting Robin in the kitchen with a gun.
The first day in their new home Robin had remarked, as they’d symbolically carried Campbell over the threshold of their new home, about how long it might be before they had to move again.
“How did you get to six, anyway?” Robin asked, jogging Adam out of his thoughts. “You, me, my mum, Aunt Clare, your mum. That’s five, so you can include Campbell and be fine. Local lockdowns and whatever willing.”
“What about Jeff?”
“Your aunt Clare’s gentleman friend, Jeff.”
“Oh, yes. I’d sort of assumed he’d be history by now. She does have a tendency to pick them up and lay them down again pretty sharpish. High standards, Mum says.” Robin’s eye roll showed what he thought of that opinion.
“Whereas you vacillate between thinking she’s a commitment-phobe or a just footloose and fancy free?” Adam chuckled.
“Something like that. I never did get to meet him, though. What’s he like?”
“Alright.” Adam scratched his head with his pen. “Bit of a silver fox. Widower the last five years. Plays indoor bowls and quite useful at it, apparently.”
“I already got all of that from Mum, apart from the silver fox bit. She said he had classic looks, whatever that means.”

And finally – some of the wonderful Christmas lights at Blenheim Palace. I think they’re baby pterodactyls


Another free story and free concert!

This was the free story in 2018 (seems like yesterday). The concert is Huddersfield Uni Brass extravaganza!


When Mrs. Freya Braithwaite broke her leg a fortnight before she was due to go on a cruise to Alta, she didn’t burst into a fit of tears, nor did she get straight on the phone to her travel insurance company. Instead, she eyeballed her son from her hospital bed, saying, “Sam, I’m not fartarsing about trying to get my money back. I’ve rung Tracey at the travel agents and she’ll arrange for the ticket to be transferred into your name. You need a break, so don’t argue.”

Sam had learned never to argue with his mother, especially when she was right. He did need a break, given what had happened the last few months. Chris-the-slimy-git had upped and left, taking with him as much as he was able to, and trying to screw over Sam for anything else he could potentially get his paws on. Which was why Sam was back living at home again, while the sale of his ex-love nest went through.

“You can take your laptop and work on the ship, you know.  They’ve got internet these days, not signal flags and carrier pigeons.” Mrs. B shook her head at him. “I’ve rung your Aunty Rita, too. She’s coming to look after me while you’re away.”

Bugger. That was both reasonable excuses countered before Sam had the chance to use them.