Thursday, 20 December 2012


     I am hoping that Santa might bring me     Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up The Bodies" on Christmas morning so I haven't yet read the 2012 Mann Booker prize winner.  But - on the ball and up-top-the-mark as always - I have recently put down her previous winner, "Woolf Hall," with a sigh of satisfaction.  What a splendid book and a worthy winner of the God-knows-how-many-quids that come as the prize!  (Actually, I've just looked it up and the award is £50,000.)

     Hilary won the much-covetted prize in 2009, of course, and I can't help reflecting that "Woolf Hall" is a far better novel than either of the two that followed it:  Howard Jacobson's "The Finkler Question" in 2010 and Julian Barnes's "The Sense of an Ending" in 2011.

     I admire both of these latter two writers.  Barnes brings a depth of intellect to his work that staggered and intrigued me when I read his first novel, "Flaubert's Parrot" all those years ago, and Jacobson has a wit that always delights me when he appears on the box.  Yet their winning novels disappointed me.  I could never quite work out what sense of an ending Barnes was trying to depict and H.J.'s book - much vaunted as the first humourous novel to win the Booker - failed to raise a smile with me.

     But Mantel!  Ah, now there's a story!!  Her story telling is direct, incorporating pace and a sinuous development of character; her dialogue is a delight, overcoming the historical novelist's problem of period speech simply by using straightforward modern language but seamlessly weaving in the odd Tudor phrase or term; and her scholarship makes you never question each seemingly unbelievable twist of the plot.

   The book set standards for the Mann Booker competition that seemed to slip away in the following two years. Judging from the reviews I have read, "Bring Up the Bodies" should restore them.  Three cheers for the old fashioned historical novel!

     A very happy Christmas and a splendid book-filled 2013 to all the readers of this all-too-occasional blog. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


     Another new book, another round of signings.  I shall be signing copies of my newly launched novel, Starshine, at Waterstone's, Salisbury, next Tuesday, 20th November, from 11am until 1pm.  I would be delighted to see readers there during that time.  You don't even have to buy a book - just drop by for a chat if you are in the area, to help me avoid dropping off...

     I shall also be putting pen to the title page of the book at Beatons, in Tisbury, from 2pm until 6 on Saturday 1st December.  All welcome!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


     Short stories. You know, the easy-to-write stuff. Just like novels, except that they are shorter and take up less time and effort. And nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

     I have now had thirteen full length books published (counting STARSHINE,which comes out on 11th November)and have written dozens of short stories, but only one of the latter have seen the light of day.

     This is probably due to two reasons: I was not very good at writing 'em and there are very few publications left in the UK that publish short stories. I feel now that one of the mistakes I have always made in trying to create the short stuff is in regarding the form as - as stated above - really novels in a diminutive form; i.e. with a defined beginning, middle and end. Now, I am not sure that that is right. In fact, I think it is wrong.

     Re-reading some of the past masters of the genre - V.S.Pritchett, William Trevor, Hemmingway, Katherine Mansfield, Scott Fitzgerald et al - I have become increasingly aware that they depict what is, in effect, a slice of life; their tales are observations on the human condition as revealed by glimpsing a happening, often not one of high drama, that illustrate what it's all about Alfie. Some of the earlier successful specialists, such as O'Henry and de Maupassant, employed the device of a slick, surprise ending to lift the tale, but the basic technique remained the same: one of revealing an episode that depicted some great truth.

    So, having STARSHINE, my World War I novel poised on the slipway for launch next month, and the latest Fonthill safely put to bed for publication in the Spring of 2013, I have a little time in hand. I will, then, dip my arthritic toe into the seemingly so placid waters of short story writing.

     I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


At the beginning of this site, I invite readers to respond to my blog and let me have their comments on what I have written. Many of you have accepted the invitation and posted your views. They have all been passed onto me via my e-mail address and I have always responded directly to the writer via the same route. The trouble is that none of this correspondence has appeared on the web site, so that it looked as though my blog meanderings were disappearing into thin air, evoking no responses. The general readership, then, were prevented from observing the interchange of views. All my blasted fault! I have just discovered that there is a small device on the site which, if clicked, would have allowed the correspondence to be published on the site. And, of course, myopically, I failed to see it. So my apologies to regular correspondents like Trollman for tucking him and his fellow writers away into the ether - and double, triple apologies if my responding e-mails failed to reach them as a result. From now on, all buttons will be pressed and inter-changes - for better or worse - will be made public.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


     A last word - from me, anyway - about the Olympics.

     I have always felt a touch ashamed, or defensive at least, about regularly buying National Lottery tickets.  As my wife points out every week, "it's a sheer waste of money."  Oh, I have had the odd £10 win every blue moon but no gambler worth his salt would contemplate taking on the sort of odds that the Lottery offers.  Crazy, of course.

    I have tried to defend the indefensible by quoting that line from "South Pacific," how can you have a dream come true if he don't have a dream?"  And I have pointed out that a half of the income from the Lottery goes to charity.  But it's awfully difficult to cite the exact instance of where and which charity benefits - and, more importantly, where I benefit.

    Now that has all changed.  Caught up in the Games fervour - at first reluctantly but now wallowing in it - I note with pride that the National Lottery has contributed a goodly share of the cost of staging the games.  And so my £5 worth of input every week makes me a sponsor, removing that lurking feeling of guilt about wasting family income.

    I feel as if I've won a Gold.  Well, almost.

    Crabby Postcript.  The one good thing abut the end of the London Olympics is that the nation will now be spared hearing the word "unbelievable" gasped by medalists and commentators something like twenty or thirty times a Television day.  I'm no pedant about words but the adjective isn't accurate, anyway.  Does anyone think that an Olympic finalist would enter the event without belief of victory, even if it is only tucked away at the back of the mind?  Words like "satisfying," "wonderful" or even the awful "awesome" would be more descriptive.  The dreadful repetition, though, causes the most irritation.  It's a relief to know that the damned word will fall away from our screens unbelievable relief, believe me. 

Friday, 10 August 2012


Allow me two pennorth of comment about The Games.  Have you noticed how so many of the Brits picking up medals are...gulp let me summon up my courage to write this...well:  NOT WHITE?!

There, I've written the unsayable.  But this is not a racist tract.  Firstly, it is a straightforward fact and deserves to be noted.  From the burnished black bonce of Mighty Mo, our very own matchstick middle distance runner, to the slightly sepia-tinted skin of gorgeous Jesse, so many of our winners - certainly in the track events - are descended from immigrants.

Why these athletes are better than people of Anglo-Saxon stock - certainly in the track events - is not for me to conjecture.   The point is that without them I doubt very much whether we would have gathered such a record breaking tally of medals in this greatest of international sports gatherings.

So doesn't this say three bloody good cheers for immigration?

Sunday, 8 July 2012


     In my last blog I wrote about two new books of mine:  STARSHINE and FIRE ACROSS THE VELDT.  The publication dates for these new masterpieces have been changed and I hurry now to correct them.

     STARSHINE (the glow from Verey lights that illuminated No Man's Land in Wordl War I and so caused every everyone in it to freeze, thus stopping the war for a few, brief moments) is a novel much of which is set against the battles of Ypres.  It will now be published appropriately on 11th November, this year, exactly 94 years from the amistice that ended the war.

     FIRE ACROSS THE VELDT, the ninth and latest in the Simon Fonthill series, sees our hero fighting the Boers as a Colonel in the regular British Army.  It will hit the bookshops in hard back from in Spring 2013 and then in paperback form some six months later.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


I am, I confess, the most irregular blogger. I guess this is because, blushing now like a wallflower, I confess feeling that my opinions on most things outside the field of writing for publication are of little interest to other people. True, I will vent a touch of spleen about George W Bush occasionally - even now - but usually I confine these blogs to things that concern me as a writer and therefore might be of interest to my readers. In this context, then, let me welcome you back to this blog with the news about two new books of mine. I have recently typed the two most beautiful words in the English language: The End. They brought to a close the ninth novel in the Simon Fonthill series, FIRE ACROSS THE VELDT. The manuscript has now gone off to my publishers and, all being well, will come onto the nation's bookshelves in January 2013 in hard back form and then, in paperback, the following September. This book sees Simon, his wife Alice and his comrade and former batman "352" Jenkins fighting in the second (and the one we all recall) Boer War, which ended in 1902. This time Fonthill has been lured back into the Regular army by Lord Kitchener to become a Colonel and lead a special unit of light horse to fight the Boers at their own type of "hit and ride" guerrilla warfare. The second book gives me even more pleasure. I wrote it some three years ago to give me a break from the Fonthill series and to satisfy the long standing desire at the back of my mind to write about the first world war, in which my father and all six of my uncles fought - producing one Victoria Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal and one Military Medal. Titled STARSHINE, it has been accepted by my publishers and hopefully will be out in January 2014, appropriately one hundred years after the outbreak of that terrible war. If these two books give readers as much pleasure as I received in writing them, then I will be very satisfied.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


As an ex-Fleet Street hack, I hate it when statements of so-called fact are not substantiated - particularly, of course, those with which I don't agree!

For instance, in this morning's Times, Emma Duncan, the Deputy Editor of The Economist, states unequivocally that reading is on the decline. Well, it almost certainly ain't. At least not according to the Society of Authors, of which I am
a humble member, working at the mine face.

The Society tells me that more and more books are being published in the UK, viz 150,000 titles in 2010, a considerable increase on the 110,000 that came onto the nation's bookshelves in 2001. In terms of books sold, the respective figures were 229 million compared to 110 million. A think it's a fair assumption that that means reading is increasing overall, not declining.

As I say, Emma doesn't give her sources. But perhaps she is misled by the fact that the sale of printed books in this country - and probably in all developed markets - is falling. But what is happening is that, according to Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK, one of our largest book publishers, most readers are swapping the purchase of a print book for an e-book.

Is this good news? This is the key question for authors. I guess we don't know yet. What is certain is that the market is undergoing a sea change. According to the Society, Amazon has become overwhelmingly the world's largest retailer, with a market capitalisation of $80billion - and that makes me, at least, distinctly uneasy.

The prices that Amazon charges for its books are heart-warmingly low for the consumer. For the author, they chill the knee caps. Book shops will charge round about £8 for my paperback novels - presuming that savage discounting does not take place, which it invariably does. This means that I receive something like 56pence per book, less agent's commission of, in my case, 15%. That's if the published price is not discounted. Not much, you might agree for the original manufacturer of the product. But this is reduced to about 28 pence at Amazon.

Amazon will have to sell a hell of a lot of my novels to make that return viable for a year's creative work.

Am I moaning. Too right, I am sport. I think I might take up flower arranging....

Monday, 13 February 2012


Freshly back from the magnificent country of the Orange Free State - a touch like John Ford's Monument Valley here and there - in South Africa, I face an in-store signing of the new Fonthill novel, THE WAR OF THE DRAGON LADY, from ll am to one-ish on Saturday, 25th February in Waterstones, Salisbury.

I do not fancy sitting there, like an onion, with no-one to talk to, so if any fans of Simon Fonthill & Co are in the area on that day, do call in. You don't have to buy a book (although, by golly, it would be great if you could...); just come and say hello.

Thank you in advance.

Friday, 20 January 2012


Persisten bronchitis permitting, I fly out from London to Johannesburg on Tuesday to conduct on-the-spot research for Fonthill number nine, now firmly titled "FIRE ACROSS THE VELDT." This is, of course, set against the background of the second and best known Anglo-Boer War, the last of Queen Victoria's "Little Wars," although this one was certainly not so little.

The novel will be published by my new publishers Allison & Busby in January 20(hard back) with the paperback to follow in September of that year and the audio and large print versions due out somewhere in between.

As a previous blog refers, I have already begun writing the story but there comes a time when one has to visit the sites that one is describing to get the feel, the smell and the physical contours of the place to recreate it - even though it may have changed in 110 years. And that time has come for this book.

I have always tried to observe the factual chronology of my stories and I had a problem with this one. This lay in the fact that the first half of the Boer War, when the Brits took such a hiding from those "amateur soldiers," the Boer farmers, at Magersfontein, Colenso and Spion Kop, coincided with the Boxer Rebellion in China and I couldn't have Fonthill in both places.

But what seemed a problem turned into an advantage,for the second half of the conflict in South Africa, which coincided with the relief of Peking, turned out to be much more fascinating to me. As reinforcements poured into Cape Town from Britain and various parts of the Empire the tide of the conventional war turned and the Boers were defeated in set piece battles, losing their State capitals. The war seemed over and Field Marshal Roberts sailed for home, leaving General Kitchener to "tidy up."

K, however, sensed it wouldn't be that easy. The hard core of the Afrikan army took to the veldt, forming fast-moving units which lived rough and conducted guerrilla warfare against the extended British lines and outposts. Reading of Fonthill's exploits in China and knowing of his reputation as an irregular soldier, the General summons him to the Cape to help him "fight the Boers at their own game."

Fonthill can't resist the challenge. The trouble for me, however, was that the places where Fonthill and 352 Jenkins clash with the great Boer commando leaders - De Wet, Botha, Smuts et al - were mainly in remote regions of the Transvaal, the Orange Free State and the northern mountains of the Cape Colony, sites not always well described in the books of the period. So I must go and see for myself.

And if the clear air of the High Veldt doesn't defeat this lingering bronchitis, then I shall turn to drink.