Killing Mr Black – Preview (Shaping Dougie).

The following (unedited) excerpt is taken from Killing Mr Black and is copyright if Mark Wilson 2018:

Mary’s hands moved quickly and surely, feeding the material though her industrial sewing machine. Decades of experience guided them despite the ordinarily ubiquitous tremors, which all but vanished whilst she sewed. Dougie watched his wife as she worked, enjoying the peace and the certainty of purpose she clearly experienced during these moments.

From his vantage, Mary looked as though she was her whole self, her ‘real’ self as she worked. Her head tilted and bobbed and darted as she adjusted her loose grip and made quick alterations to the path of the material through the needle’s path. Dougie watched her snip part of the material free from the machine and smooth it out onto her work table that she may examine her progress. Dougie imagined her sharp eyes moving over the completed sections and her mind effortlessly calculating the next phase. Although he couldn’t see his wife’s face, experience told him that she would almost certainly be smiling broadly as she worked.

Regretful at having to break the moment, but aware that he must, Dougie stood up from the desk he’d been lean-sitting against.

“Mary-love?” He spoke gently as to not startle her in case she had forgotten he was in the room, such had been the peace of the moment.

Laying her dress-in-progress down, Mary Black turned sharply to lock eyes with her husband. Dougie’s heart wrenched at her expression. He had broken her concentration and the magical effect that sewing had on her. Smiling warmly at the woman he had loved for almost forty years, but now barely recognised, Dougie held his breath and voice, giving her time to process.

Mary’s eyes, wide with confusion, narrowed and then relaxed again as recognition dawned. “Oh,” she said smiling back at him finally. “I’d forgotten that you were here.”

Dougie bobbed a nod. “Yeah, I was trying to be quiet, let you work. Sorry if I scared you.”

Mary shook her head. “S’fine,” she said. Noting that Dougie’s jacket lay on the desk behind him, she asked, “You off out?”

“Yeah.”

“Work?”

“No, love. Just for a walk.”

Mary nodded.

Losing interest, she was already turning back to her task.

Dougie pulled his jacket on and walked over to place a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Leaning over, he planted a soft kiss on her cheek. Her hands already occupied at their task, her mind locked on the dress, Mary barely seemed to notice.

Dougie swallowed regret and headed to the door.

“I’ve left a sandwich n the fridge and there’s plenty tea in the pot,” he told the back of her head. An abrupt surge of guilt almost changed Dougie’s mind about leaving the house. He considered just staying in, perhaps watching the telly whilst she worked. His conscious prodded at him to tell Mary the truth about here he was going. His better judgment whispered that he should keep his secrets.

Making his way from Mary’s work room, out into the hall, Dougie pulled the front door open. Slipping out into the early evening, he whispered a half-hearted goodbye to Mary.

In the back-room, Mary Black’s hands busied themselves, expertly stitching, rotating and adjusting. Skills earned from thousands of hours of crafting garments allowed her to perform on auto-pilot, for the most part.

Hearing the front door close, Mary spoke over her shoulder to no-one, “Bye, Tom. Have fun.”

∞∞∞

An icy wind cut across the Meadows and Dougie pulled his hat down over his forehead as he continued his short walk from his and Mary’s apartment on Gillespie way to the building on Nightingale way where Karen lived.

Karen.

As always, the instant Karen’s name floated up to the surface of his thoughts, his heart lurched with the pain of lying to Mary about her.

Not lying, exactly, just not telling the truth.

Dougie pushed the false justification away. Not telling Mary was lying to her. He knew this and refused to hide from the wrongness of it. Dougie felt like punching himself. Instead he trudged across the meadows towards Karen’s apartment.

Despite the guilt and the pain he felt every time he sees her, Dougie’s time with Karen- never often enough despite how close their respective homes were- brought intense feelings of comfort and a rightness to his empty world.

Karen’s face floated up before his mind’s-eye.

Twenty-four years old. Still so very young.

The thought brought a sad smile to his lips. About the same age as Frankie at work, but so very different.

Dougie warmed himself with the thought of her as he sliced through the Edinburgh evening, shoulders hunched against the growing wind.

By the time he reached the tall, red double-doors of her building, Dougie’s thoughts were fixed completely on Karen and the short time they would have together before he had to return home.

Entering the building, Dougie smiled at the receptionist, who returned his greeting. As he didn’t recognise her, Dougie assumed she was knew.

“Who are you here for?” she asked pleasantly, regarding- almost assessing- him as she spoke.

“Karen,” he replied pleasantly.

“Ah, ok. I’ll buzz you up.”

Dougie Black thanked her and headed upstairs, heart pounding in anticipation.

Knocking, softly, Dougie pushed the door open a moment later to find the large living room warm and welcoming. Karen was seated in a high back chair, her back to the door. She didn’t turn to acknowledge his entrance. Dougie Black slipped inside, closing the door behind.

Approaching her from behind, he stands a foot away from the chair. “Hi, Karen,” he said softly.

Karen rose from her chair, turning to smile at her visitor. Dressed for indoors in black, she tilted her head as she smiled taking the few seconds she needed to recall his face and their history together. When she did smile, it lit up the room and Dougie’s heart both.

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The Tanzanite Ring – A Valentine’s Horror Short.

The following story comes from Mark Wilson and Ryan Bracha’s Exquisite Corpse and is unedited. (Previously published as an advance peek on Mark Tilbury’s blog). Happy valentine

The Tanzanite Ring by Mark Wilson.

Paris, 2020

The high and muddy Seine slid beneath the bridge, hurriedly winding through the city; no care for its residents, its beautiful buildings nor an appreciation of a stunningly crisp winter evening. Sebastian checked the deep pocket in his overcoat for perhaps the seventh time in the last fifteen minutes.

The shape of the box within settled his nerves and caused his eager heart to skip a beat. Eleanor would be here any moment. Memories of their last visit to this spot together simmered to the surface warming Sebastian more thoroughly than the steam venting through the nearby grates.

He and Eleanor, in Paris. Walking the streets, loving the city. Right here on this very bridge they’d locked their love alongside hundreds of other metal declarations, giggling at the cheesiness of the act but brought closer somehow by it. As though a little padlock bought for two Euros from an opportunistic vendor, could deepen their love. But, somehow, it had.

Have three years really passed since last we had been in the city together?

So many other cities and countries explored together since.

Sebastian clutched at the box in his pocket once more as he scanned the padlocks and their messages to pass the time. A rough vibration from his phone shook Sebastian from his reverie. Checking the face, he confirmed the alarm he’d set.

Time to meet Eleanor by Notre Dame.

∞∞∞

I see her long before she notes my presence. Content to watch her for a few moments, I step back, cloaking myself in the deep shadows of a nearby statue. She’s right on time.

Eleanor.

Ten years we’ve had each other. A decade of travel, city to city, country to country. Each place we visit holds a significance known only to us. A special site where we’ve shared a moment together.

Where she’s given me her heart.

A few feet from the Trevi Fountain in Rome, huddled in a doorway where no prying eyes could penetrate.

Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. In my arms she descended the stairs with me, ducking into a secluded garden for a secret clinch.

Beneath the bridge at Camden Lock we indulged in perhaps the most intimate moment of my life.

The list goes on. Each moment a gift. Her time, her heart and her soul; given to me in a moment of purest connection etched for eternity into my memories.

Pride swells in me as I watch the familiar cadence and gait of her steps. She radiates goodness, this woman of mine. My heart beats so violently inside my chest I almost expect her to whip her head around to seek out and fix on the sound. Once again, my hand closes around the ring box in my pocket.

Inspiration flashes. I consider stepping out into the square to present her with the ring. Right here, right now. Removing the symbol of my unending love from my pocket, I rotate it a few turns, idly making a decision.

Recognising the rush of excitement for cheap impetuousness, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

Stick to the plan. Somewhere private, just for us.

Never one for making an exhibition of myself, I shove the box back into my pocket and step into the light to greet my love.

∞∞∞

One arm around Eleanor’s waist, the other pressed protectively…affectionately around her abdomen and curling round her hip, Sebastian led his love from the main square along the banks of the Seine. Eleanor shivered making the man who loves her pull her closer into his side. He kissed her on the cheek feeling the chill in her skin. He hoped his own body heat lessened her chill. Sebastian halted their brisk pace. Smiling at Eleanor, he removed his scarf with his left hand, keeping his right arm protectively around her waist to better share body heat. Looping his cashmere scarf around her slender neck, he asked, “Better?”

Eyes misting, she nodded her gratitude. They set off once again at a clip, crossing Pont Saint-Michel. Huddled in tight together against the nip of the wind, they walked along the Seine to Pont des Arts. Eleanor looked along the bridge to where the love-locks dangled, covering metres of the bridge’s railings.

Noting an older man at the half-way point of the bridge, she cut a sidelong look at Sebastian’s contented face, before jabbing a sharp elbow hard into her captor’s ribs. Sebastian was unhurt nor even moved by the blow. His response was to loop his left arm from around her back, up behind her head. His iron grip clenched her mouth and nose. Sebastian allowed a moment’s disappointment to show on his face. His sorrow was genuine but did little to alter his plans.

Sliding the short blade he held to her hip in deep enough to grate against the bone millimetres below- catching Eleanor’s scream in his leather-gloved hand, he moved his lips near to her ear.

“Oh Eleanor,” Sebastian whispered. “Why does it always have to end in an argument?”

Sebastian scanned along the length of the bridge, noting that the elderly man had not turned to look at the couple, and had continued along on his way, heedless of them.

Sebastian rotated the knife several millimetres, placing pressure on a nearby nerve cluster. Eleanor went limp as he withdrew the blade. With practiced swiftness he caught her before her knees bent.

“You will not ruin my plans for this evening, my dear.”

Scooping an arm under her armpit, Sebastian carried her off of the bridge as one might a drunken friend. Taking the stairs down the walkway to the river banks, Sebastian propped her against the wall, deep in the shadows.

Digging deep into his overcoat pocket, Sebastian retrieved a set of small keys and unlatched the padlock on a nearby shed. Tucked away under the bridge, the shed was used as a storehouse for seats and deckchairs, placed along the Seine banks during the summer months so that city workers mat enjoy the sunshine during their lunchbreak.

Nodding his approval at the preparations he’d made to the shed’s interior late that very afternoon, Sebastian retrieved his love, lifting her up onto this left shoulder, he entered the shed, pulling the door tightly closed behind them.

∞∞∞

“How many times do I have to say it?” She screams into my face. “I am not her!”

I shove the oily rag back into her mouth, securing it with heavy tape and storm away from her, barely stopping myself from punching the shed wall in my anger.

This won’t do at all.

Leaving the little shed, I stride the few steps to sit on the banks of the Seine, dangling my legs high over the dark waters. The frozen stone beneath is a sharp prompt to cool the heat in my veins.

Why must she always do this? Each and every time.

I breathe deliberately, allowing my stomach to expand as my diaphragm pulls and pushes, inhaling and expelling the chilled air. I feel my characteristic calm return and the stinging disappointment leave me as fog breath on the night air. Once more in control, I return to the shed, taking a kneeling position at her side.

Bound at wrists and ankles, propped against the shed wall, she glares up at me, unjust anger and fear taint her beautiful eyes.

She can see that I am calm once again and relaxes her shoulders a minute sag. She is very far from happy, but this little display of trust regained warms me. Slipping the box from my pocket, I creak open the hinged lid and slide the ring over her wedding finger. The light inside the shed, weak as it is, dances across the gemstone. Blues and purples and violets frolic and play across its surface and reflect onto her pupils.

“Will you do me this great honour?” I ask.

Her eyes are wide in shock. Tears flow freely along her cheeks and across her gag. She’s shaking with excitement.

Finally, the joyful reaction I was hoping for.

Fighting emotion, Eleanor nods her head, forcing a softness into her eyes absent until this moment.

I love you Eleanor. Thank you for coming back to me. To this place, once again to share yourself with me.”

The tears increase in pace as she accepts my love.

Gratefully I hold her to me for many long minutes until her sobbing ebbs.

She’s calming. Her body softens against mine, melting into my embrace.

It’s time.

Pushing gently away I hold Eleanor at arms-length, committing her loving expression to memory that I may revisit this moment at some point in future. Perhaps in the midst of rough times, or during one of her many absences. Eleanor notes the pure love I’m emitting for her and her eyes fill with hope.

I smile warmly, nodding an affirmation that she is correct in what she sees in my eyes.

Sending every particle of endless love through my eyes to hers, I close my gloved hands and tighten the vice they’ve become.

Eleanor’s eyes widen and then haemorrhage and then glaze over as I throttle every scrap of air from her airways. She accepts the coming death very quickly. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes she fights against it. It’s her choice, I am but a witness to her death throes. Watching the life dim and vanish from her eyes I force a final few ounces of pressure into my grip, compelling the cartilage in her windpipe to buckle and then splinter. Finally, releasing her, I cradle her gently to the plastic-covered floor and proceed to untie her bonds and remove the gag.

As Eleanor lies peacefully, I retrieve my work bag, stowed away earlier in the day at the rear of the shed.

I pour myself a cup of coffee from the little flask within and fish out the almond Croissant I bought from a charming little patisserie in Saint Germaine earlier that day.

Seated with my back up against the interior wall, legs straight out in front to act as a tray for my snack, I fill my stomach and warm my bones whilst I wait for gravity to have its way with her blood.

∞∞∞

Groggy awareness crept on him. Starting as he realised he’d fallen asleep, Sebastian checked his watch. Two hours had passed since he’d strangled Eleanor to death. Thanking no-one in particular that he hadn’t slept so very long, Sebastian rose to his feet before moving towards Eleanor’s prone body.

Crouching low, Sebastian lifted the side of Eleanor’s top, exposing her side which had become striped with a purplish hue towards her back where the blood had pooled and clotted. He pinched her fingertips, watching for any flow to blanch the area.

Certain that lividity had taken place, Sebastian removed her top completely, followed by her bra.

Smiling sadly, he placed a hand gently on Eleanor’s abdomen for a moment, feeling the coolness of her skin before retrieving his work bag once again. Producing a rolled piece of canvas, Sebastian unrolled the bundle parallel to the left of Eleanor’s body, exposing rows of very sharp blades and saws within. The final item pulled from the bag, Sebastian placed alongside Eleanor’s right side.

Seating himself in a straddle across her hips, Sebastian selected a small-bladed electric saw the size of a hand drill. Positioning its blade where her ribs and breastbone met, Sebastian activated the mechanism sawing smoothly from lower ribcage to clavicles.

Sebastian nodded at the neatness of his cut before placing the little saw onto the plastic around them. Reaching into the canvas bag, he selected a mechanism designed to open the chest cavity, placed it into the opening he’d made and began the process of rotating the wheel, watching with interest as her chest began to open, resembling a large toothy mouth.

Sebastian smiled at his practiced, smooth movement. Leaving the retractor in place, he selected a scalpel with which he cut through the pericardium sac, exposing Eleanor’s heart.

Over the next few minutes, Sebastian’s sure hands and clever fingers worked with accuracy and haste, disconnecting veins and arteries and removing connective tissue until Eleanor’s heart finally lifted free of its natural place. Checking his watch, Sebastian noted that he’d performed the removal one full minute more quickly than previously.

Pride widened his face into a smile.

Transferring the heart to the little clip-lock Tupperware box at Eleanor’s side, Sebastian, stripped himself naked, carefully folding his clothes onto a little box nearby. Working from neck to toes, and with the aid of two mirrors, he checked for and obvious scratches or tears in his skin. He’d been unaware of any opportunity for Eleanor to have taken a swipe at him, but experience had taught him to be prudent.

Discovering a very shallow scratch on his right forearm that hadn’t even broken the skin, Sebastian sighed at the additional tasks now required.  Selecting a Japanese chef’s knife, Sebastian began with the right thumb. Fearful of any trace DNA scratched from his skin being found underneath her fingernails, Sebastian removed each finger from the second joint, placing them in a thick hospital bio-waste bag which he would later incinerate. The Tanzanite ring he simply removed from the ragged end of her finger, placing it back into its case.

Sebastian folded his latex gloves from the wrist, turning them inside out and over the end of his fingers. Absent-mindedly, he dropped them into the open chest cavity then clipped the lid onto the boxy Tupperware.

Moving around the room, the killer carefully cleaned and packed away all of his tools, placed the Tupper-ware into a waiting ice-box, then set about the task of preparing Eleanor’s body for disposal.

His face took on a hint of disdain. He’d got what he came for and was done with her, but tasks remained to be done, regardless of any distaste he felt for them.

Blank-face and in auto-pilot, Sebastian placed some lead weights inside Eleanor’s chest before reversing the Retractor, closing and sewing her chest tight, and then wrapping her tightly in the plastic, secured by more tape.

Eventually, he slipped her cocooned body into the Seine, relief plain on his face.

One month later…

I chew on the last of the dried meat as intently as I chew on the decision in front of me. With my back resting against the newly-clean sandstone of the Opera national de Bordeaux, I feel the warmth trapped from the afternoon’s sunshine inside the stone, seep into my back, relieving a few knots that have developed there these last few days.

My eyes dart busily along and across Place de la Comedie, searching for her. As the notion that I may have missed her floats to the top of my thoughts, I abruptly catch her from the corner of my eye.

Dressed for the pleasant weather, Eleanor looks a vision. Her hair, brunette with a hint of auburn, as ever, is loose and swaying with the familiar rhythm of her walk. She looks relaxed, happy. My heart spills over with love for her. My hand strays to rest atop my little satchel. I can feel the shape of the box inside. Reassurance floods me as surely as courage does.

The power love holds surely is a wonder.

Bordeaux, so unfamiliar to us. We’ve never had a moment together in this city. Never explored our love or its streets here. Idly I fetch another strip of heart-jerky from my lunchbox, laid on the ground aside me. Tearing a piece off with my teeth, I watch Eleanor as she leaves the open area where people congregate on a summer’s day such as today.

It’s a fine place, to people watch, but inadequate for a marriage proposal. That will come later today in a more private part of this fine, beautiful city. Eleanor’s heart will once again be mine.

Skeletal by Emma Pullar – Review

Book Description:

Gale City is the last city in the world and under the strict control of the illusive Centrals.

When females reach adulthood, they’re given the chance to compete at Showcase for the honour of becoming surrogates for the Morbihan – a highly intelligent, obese race of people, unable to procreate naturally. All the other girls are excited to become hosts, all except Megan Skyla.

Convinced there’s more to life, Skyla teams up with an unlikely friend and they go in search of a cure for the Morbihan condition. Things don’t go to plan and their journey becomes a harrowing quest fraught with danger and deceit.

How can Skyla discover the truth when everything she’s been told is a lie? Can anyone in Gale City ever really be free?

Skyla is about to discover that freedom has a price and she’s going have the fight to survive.

Skeletal is a disturbing vision of the future and a literary thriller unlike any other. 

 

Emma Pullar - Skeletal_cover_1

 

Skeletal is available now from Bloodhound Books and Amazon

 

My review:

Skeletal, for me, was a real surprise of a novel. Set in a dystopian future, but one that is entirely plausible, Skeletal isn’t your typical Bloodhound novel, at least not on the surface.

Drawing on the influences of Philip K Dick, Suzanne Collins and Koushun Takami, Pullar has succeeded in forging something entirely new and utterly engaging in Skeletal.

Pullar’s dystopian world is well-drawn, desolate, threatening, dark in tone and seemingly hopeless, but somehow the reader is pulled along the narrative with hope and even humour as the string tugging them along despite the apparent bleakness of the setting And circumstances of the main character.  

In Skeletal, Pullar presents her readers with a world that smacks of her obvious influences; but whilst Pullar’s dystopia runs parallel to that of the worlds explored by Collins or Takami- presenting a split society of have and have nots, rich and poor, gluttonous and starving- unlike those authors mentioned previously, Pullar tackles these familiar settings, the social commentary associated, and the juxtapositions with a refreshing, often deliciously-dark humour.

Pullar’s main protagonist is downtrodden, for sure, she’s suffered and is aghast at the life led on the other side of the fence, but what she has in spades is vigour, the darkest of dark humour and a self-awareness that the much grimmer Katniss’s of the world have never possessed.

Utilising first-person, present-tense throughout, Pullar’s narrative coveys an urgency to the reader. It’s an excellent choice of narrative and suits the plotting perfectly, drawing the reader into the ever-present danger and fear of sky’s world and her position in it. For me, it lent a degree of suspense the novel may have lacked if written in a different Point of view or tense.

Pullar writes like a screenwriter. She introduces characters and scenes in a very visual manner, presenting them in their current circumstance or setting with no preamble or forced exposition. She asks that the reader accept unfamiliar terms and places and hierarchies and rules. She demands that the reader trust her and lose themselves completely in what’s unfolding. This works beautifully for Pullar and- for me- was a particular strength in her writing style.

This type of episodic, scene writing doesn’t always work in a novel, and can be difficult for some writers to pull off; Pullar makes it look easy and my God, it worked perfectly for this character and this plot.

Skeletal was, as I said earlier, a real surprise for me, simply because the genre is a slight (but welcome) departure from the type of novel I’ve come to expect from Bloodhound’s rapidly growing catalogue. What remains consistent though is Bloodhound have yet again discovered a skilled writer, who has crafted a very accomplished, imaginative and skilled novel.

 

 

 

Skeletal is available now from Bloodhound Books and Amazon

Author Bio:

Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, went to number four on the national bestseller list and was named best opening lines by NZ Post. You can read her SJV Award shortlisted horror story, London’s Crawling, in the Dark Minds charity collection and her dystopian sci-fi story, Old Trees Don’t Bend, in The Anthropocene Chronicles. Emma has also written three shortlisted stories for Create50 which are awaiting the winner announcement. Her debut novel SKELETAL published by Bloodhound Books is due for release 27th October 2017.

Links: 

Twitter: @EmmaStoryteller

FB Page: Emma Pullar Storyteller

Instagram: @emmapullar_storyteller

Website: http://www.emmapullar.com/

 

Death Parts Us – Guest Post

Today I have a guest post from Alex Walters, discussing the setting for his latest work, Death Parts Us:

Book Description:

Twenty years ago, Jackie Galloway was a senior cop with a bad reputation. Then he ended up on the wrong side of the wrong people, and his career was ruined. Sacked and with no pension, he ends up eking out his last days on Scotland’s Black Isle, his mind lost to dementia, supported only by his long-suffering wife, Bridie.

 

Then Galloway is found dead. The police assume the death to be accidental, until Bridie Galloway reveals that her husband has been receiving apparently threatening letters containing only the phrase: ‘NOT FORGOTTEN. NOT FORGIVEN.’

 

DI Alec McKay is struggling to come to terms with life without his estranged wife Chrissie, and is living in isolation on the Black Isle. As a junior officer, McKay had been allocated to Galloway’s team and has bad memories of the man and his methods. Now he finds himself investigating Galloway’s death.

 

But when suspicion falls on him and more police officers are murdered, the pressure is on for McKay to solve the case.

 

Why would the killer seek revenge twenty years after Galloway left the force?

 

As McKay fights to link the events of past and present, he realizes that time is rapidly running out…

IMG_8017

Links:

Available now from Amazon and Bloodhound Books

 

Website: www.alexwaltersauthor.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexwaltersauthor/

Twitter: @mikewalters60

 

Guest Post:

MURDER IN THE BLACK ISLE

 

The Black Isle, as DI Alec McKay would be the first to tell you, is famously neither black nor an island. It’s the peninsular that juts out into the North Sea just north of Inverness, bounded by the Beauly, Moray and Cromarty Firths. As for the ‘black’—well, no-one really knows. One theory is that, because of its local microclimate, the Black Isle tends to be less susceptible to snow than the surrounding Highland region. Another, more intriguing theory is that the name refers to the area’s historical associations with witchcraft and the black arts. McKay, with the typical suspicions of a city boy, thinks the latter is more likely.

 

The area is less remote now than in the past, particularly since the opening of the Kessock Bridge over the Moray Firth in the early 1980s provided easier access from Inverness. But the Black Isle still carries an atmosphere all of its own. When I was seeking a location for a new crime series, I felt no need to look any further.

 

Although I was born in the English midlands, I’ve been making regular visits to the Scottish Highlands and Islands since I was a child. Quite what possessed my parents to drive up there so frequently in the days before motorways, I’ve no real idea, but they did it frequently. I have childhood memories of glorious scenery, empty beaches and—well, fairly mixed weather.

 

Even so, the Black Isle was unfamiliar to me until about ten years ago. It was just a name I’d driven by on the endless A9 heading even further north. Then, on a whim, we booked a holiday house in Rosemarkie and spent a couple of weeks falling in love with the place. We’ve spent a lot of our time there since, and we’re now in the process of making a permanent move (we’d already be there if it weren’t for the vagaries of the English house-selling system—suffice to say that an unreliable buyer may well come to an unpleasant end in one of my future books).

 

Location has always been an important element in my writing. My first three crime novels were set in the exotic environment of modern-day Mongolia. My subsequent Marie Donovan and Kenny Murrain series were located in and around Manchester, making use of both the urban settings and the surrounding Cheshire and Derbyshire countryside. I soon realised that the Black Isle offered a range of atmospheric backdrops that would provide the perfect setting for a new series.

 

The area packs extraordinary diversity within its small boundaries. Rosemarkie itself offers a strikingly beautiful beach, backed by woodland and fossil-filled cliffs. The village of Avoch (pronounced, with typical perversity, simply ‘Och’) is a working fishing village. Fortrose has its own ruined cathedral. Cromarty is an atmospheric jumble of narrow streets and vennels, offering striking views of the beauties of the Cromarty Firth and, more unexpectedly, the huge constructs of oil rigs being restored or dismantled in Nigg on the far side of the firth.

 

Apart from the sleazy Caledonian Bar, virtually all the locations described in the Alec McKay books are real (although sometimes lightly fictionalised to protect the innocent). The first book, Candles and Roses, begins in the eerie setting of the Clootie Well, a supposedly holy stream where the surrounding woodland is festooned with faded and rotting scraps of cloth. These are offerings left by visitors in the hope of securing improved health for ailing relatives or friends—the cloth has been wiped on the brow of the sick individual and, as the cloth rots away, so the illness is supposedly cured. Whatever the truth of that, the whole place has a disturbing atmosphere. Kelly, a young woman who appears in that scene, thinks ‘…the place was infested by ghosts, the spirits of those who clung on, earthbound by their last dregs of hope’. That was my feeling, the first time I visited, so what else could I do but leave a murder-victim there?

 

Of course, the real Black Isle is a tranquil place, untroubled by anything much more than the most trivial crimes. I’ve already managed incongruously to locate two serial killers in this most peaceful of rural environments. But that’s what crime writers do—think of Morse’s Oxford or Midsomer, apparently the murder capital of the UK. It seems to me that, for the reader, one of the incidental pleasures of crime fiction is often the contrast between the beauty of the settings and the horrors that are being enacted within them.

 

In this case, as in my Manchester-set books, the reader’s suspension of disbelief is helped by the proximity to an urban environment. McKay and his colleagues are based in Inverness—not a large city but one which offers a useful contrast to the quiet of the Black Isle and surrounding Highland countryside. The stories tend to have their roots in the city, even if the consequences play out in the country. In this fictional world, the Black Isle is somewhere people go to hide their secrets or to lose their past. Even McKay himself, in the latest book Death Parts Us, seeks bleak sanctuary there as his marriage disintegrates.

 

And, of course, like all locations that attract tourists, the Black Isle is a different place out of season. In summer, the place has a striking beauty, bathed in long light nights and wide translucent skies. In the winter, as the darkness closes in and the rain and wind whip in across the firths, the atmosphere is different again. Then his becomes a community closed in upon itself, focused on its own interests rather than the needs of visitors. That’s when secrets can breed and fester, and the seeds of future crimes are sown.

 

As I say, that’s what we crime writers do. We imagine what hidden truths might be lurking behind the curtained windows we pass, what dark thoughts might be crossing the minds of those we encounter in the streets. And from that we construct our narratives of murder and revenge, exploiting the otherwise-innocent world around us to help render them plausible.

 

It goes without saying that this is simply fiction. I hope that the good people of the Black Isle will forgive me for making use of their home in this way. The killings aren’t real. But the glorious, atmospheric settings are genuine, and I hope that in my writing I’ve managed to do them some justice.

 

An open letter to Nicola Sturgeon (from a teacher desperate to love his job again).

A departure from book business today:

Ms Sturgeon.

I voted ’Yes’ in the Scottish referendum. I’ve voted SNP (as well as Labour, Lib-Dem and Greens) I’ll probably vote SNP again. I’ve even been a member.

I’ve admired you as one of the most socially-conscious (and shrewd) politicians of modern times for several years. I’ve also been a Secondary school teacher for almost sixteen years and I implore you, in the strongest possible terms; utilise the resources, the well of skills and experts you have at your disposal, and please, please save our education system from the disaster that is CFE.

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In last six years I’ve witnessed, and been unwilling party to, an unprecedented decline in the organisation and standard of Scottish education. Simply, the system as it stands is not fit for purpose. It is demoralising, hobbling and utterly failing the children in our care; as well as lowering attainment and widening social inequality in our pupils.

 

For my own subject, Biology, the vast changes made to date have resulted in a course that is unreasonably difficult, lacking opportunity for practical activities, far too prescriptive, overly concerned with inconsequential minutiae and extremely content-heavy. In its present form the Nat 5 Biology course is a joyless, intimidating and gruelling experience for those who choose to study it. Success in the course is also only achievable for the very best of our pupils, leaving students who would have formerly attainted at a Standard Grade 3 or even a 2, with little hope of passing, and in many cases, unable to even sit the final exam.

In implementing CFE, Teachers were put to the task of designing and writing courses for the new Nat 4 and Nat 5 qualifications with no clear guidance on standards, or assessment structure. This resulted in every department in every school in Scotland designing their own versions of this course. The pupils’ experience of Biology Nat 5 in Scotland will be vastly different in standard depending on where they attend school and the course-writing skills of their teachers.

The powers that be, not happy with furnishing teachers with an ill-conceived structure and content, have further compounded this basic failure by changing that content and structure continually for the last five years. This means teachers haven’t taught the same material two years running yet.

This affects pupil experience in a drastic way. We simply don’t have the experience of the courses to suitably prepare our kids. On many occasions the course guidelines have been changed at the mid-way point of the year, severely hobbling the teachers’ ability to advise the pupils, and the pupils’ ability to pass the criteria demanded.

With Standard Grade, each pupil had an opportunity to sit exams at two levels, a chance to have a good day and attain a higher grade than they’d perhaps demonstrated throughout the year. With National 5, a large portion of our kids simply aren’t permitted to sit the final exam, dropping instead to the coursework-based Nat 4.

In an ideal world the National 4 qualification would be recognised as well-earned. The kids do indeed have to work to gain this award. The skills and knowledge needed to pass national 4 Biology are comparable to a good general grade pass under the old system. Despite this, as National 4 is currently unexamined, employers fail to recognise this achievement, and frankly so do the pupils’ themselves. National 4 is essentially the equivalent of a Grade 3 in Standard grade, but isn’t valued at all. Indeed, some of the kids pigeon-holed into Nat 4 would’ve been permitted, not just a general exam under the old scheme, but also a go at credit. Some may have stretched themselves and attained a grade 2. Now they don’t even sit the exam. Instead, they are in effect categorised as not academic and sat to one side as the certificate kids get taught how to pass the exam. This elitist approach is counter to any good teacher’s desire to provide the best opportunity for our children to succeed. I didn’t become a teacher to tell a portion of my kids hey aren’t good enough to sit an exam.

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Teaching in schools is a special privilege and a role that I’ve felt honoured to perform for most of my adult life. I love my job. I love being a good teacher and giving the kids the best chance I can provide for them to reach their potential and move onto the next phase of their lives with the academic and social skills I’ve assisted them in developing. Most teachers feel this way. At least they tell themselves they do because that’s the way they’ve felt in the past. Until CFE.

Today, right now in schools across Scotland, teachers are losing morale on a scale I’ve never seen and didn’t think could happen.

The current conditions for teachers are so gruelling that we are beginning to hate, to dread, stress over and now depart a role we loved so much but are growing to hate the manner in which we have to perform it. It’s not easy to demotivate teachers in this way, we’re virtually pre-programmed to toil on in hard times and make the best of our working conditions, because we need to perform at our best for the children in our care. We’re good at making do. Still, CFE has succeeded in making us feel as though we’re failing our pupils continuously.

No-one likes to feel like they’re failing, not at home and not at work. That feeling is especially crushing for teachers who have so many young people depending on their guidance. Knowing that you are not being permitted to do your job to the best of your ability is devastating to a teacher’s morale.

This isn’t a bleat from a teacher about pay, workload or lack of development time to write and rewrite courses continuously. It’s a simple fact. Teachers are demoralised, stressed and being ground down because we know that we are not doing the best that we can for the kids in our care.

We are being prevented by a sub-standard curriculum and never-ending bureaucracy from educating our kids properly. We are failing these kids. That is why we are growing to hate the job and the system that is forcing us to work so much less skilfully and effectively than we should be.

This is why teachers are leaving the profession. This is why prospective young teachers are taking one look at the profession and deciding against it, and why schools are struggling to fill key vacancies as evidenced by Trinity High’s recent attempt to recruit parent helpers. 

Recruiting a slew of young teachers trained for five weeks in the summer will not even begin to fix this. The issues with recruitment and retention of teachers stems from the fact that we are not empowered to do our jobs effectively.

Nicola, you must turn your face from the never-ending cycle of sound-bites, argument and counter-argument and endless campaigning, and begin to address the logistic and practical mess that CFE has become.

I implore you, recruit actual, practicing teachers, rather than educationalists to provide solutions for the current issues. Get them in a room and use their insight and expertise to fix the massive problems with CFE and give the children of Scotland an opportunity to enjoy and benefit from an education that will engage them in an inclusive way.

The disparity between the opportunities being offered to children from differing backgrounds, affluence, and academic ability is a disgrace. We must have more equality in the system. We absolutely require a school system that makes its children feel valued and provided for. That empowers its teachers to do the job to the standard we know is required and is not currently being attained.

What we require, right now, is a genuine, honest to God, fit for purpose education that all children can access. Head teachers, Principal teachers and classroom teachers (and many others across local authorities) are working very hard to try to make the best of CFE, but we need help. A lot of it.

Simply give us the means to do the best we can for our children. We don’t mind working hard for those kids. We generally thrive on that pressure. That teachers are losing heart, motivation and morale should scream loudly to your government how futile our efforts seem to us and how concerned we are that our education system is utterly broken.  

Let us do our jobs properly. Let us love being teachers again.

Mr Wilson

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Further reading.

http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/schools-facing-major-crisis-as-teachers-reach-breaking-point-1-4559526

All views are my own and do not represent the views of fife Council or Dunfermline High School.

Alice – Tequila Mockingbird Blog Excerpt

The following excerpt is taken from Mark Wilson’s (under the pseudonym CP Wilson) upcoming psychological thriller ‘Alice’ due for publication via Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in Winter, 2016.

The primary character, Alice, is a serial killer who targets abusive spouses. After each kill she posts a blog entry. The following excerpt contains one such entry. Happy reading:

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Blog

Kill 17

Michael McKenna died tonight in his home in Edinburgh. His life was brought to a relatively peaceful end. A more serene exit than he deserved, and certainly more humane than the manner in which he treated his family for seventeen years.

A habitual abuser of his wife, Mike employed very few, but expertly-effective methods of torturing his children and spouse. Mike enjoyed his family’s fear. He thrived on their dread, gleefully and ruthlessly taking every minute scrap of independence or self-esteem from them.  A long-term gambler and adulterer, Mike McKenna created a domain in which he ruled supremely over his dependents. A child-man, Mike demanded and expected his every need and whim to be not only catered for, but anticipated. Mental and physical abuse his preferred tools; vindictive domineering and manipulation his most cherished entertainment.

Across fifteen years, Mike beat his wife on thirty seven occasions that I am aware of. During his tenure, Sadie McKenna suffered six broken ribs, a ruptured kidney and numerous arm breaks as a result of displeasing her husband, or failing to foresee one of his many and unpredictable needs. Most recently, Sadie was hospitalised due to a ruptured kidney, a vicious blow delivered with gusto by a coward, relieved her of an organ. Good thing you have two ay thum, Mike had sing-songed to her upon her return home. The damage to her internal organ was convincingly blamed on a fictional mugging in the park.

Sadie endured her husband, absorbed his blows, wilted under his deeply personal criticism of her body, her mind, her spirit.

She forced herself to survive, to remain in order to shield her children. Her eldest, also Michael, intervened more than once. A fractured cheek bone and a broken finger did not ultimately prevent the laddie from placing himself in front of his mother time and again. Mike’s control of the twins hadn’t graduated to physical yet, emotional blackmail and fear served him fine.

Sadie and her children played no role in his death. I acted alone. 

I know these things about Michael McKenna because I watched him for a long time. I saw how he controlled and victimised those he should have loved and cherished. 

Mike will never harm Sadie, or anyone else again. I opened his carotid artery and removed his eye. I looked into the remaining window to his rotten soul and watched the vindictiveness, his rage that Sadie had escaped his world colour his last moments.

Sadie and her children are safe. Never again will they flinch from a step on the floorboards or the voice of their jailer. 

Press In,

Tequila

End of Excerpt

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Mark is the author of ten works of fiction. You can find Mark and his books at Amazon.

Networking For Authors. 

Networking can be tricky for a writer, especially for Indies. Here’s my top tips on how not to be an asshole.

How to Network

Incorrect:

1) Email a writer you’ve never read telling them you love their work and asking them to read your book….cos it’s yours.

2) Just email a writer your book.

3) Add on FB or Twitter. Make no attempt at conversation. Post requests or links to your book or page on their timeline.

4) Propose a ‘read mine and I’ll read yours’ deal to someone you have no existing relationship with, especially if the genre they write in is not connected to the one you write in.

5) Propose a ‘review mine and I’ll review yours deal. (Reading said books not required).

6) Invest time in gathering reviews from other writers solely for cross-review purposes.

7) Asking other writers to proof or edit your work (hire an actual editor or proof-reader).

If you get constructive feedback you don’t like, say thank you and read it again a week later. Chances are you’ll find that some of the comments you’ve been given will improve your book in some way you hadn’t considered. When someone invests hours to give a good, honest critique of your work, you should be nothing but grateful that they valued it enough to do so.

I love your books

Correct:

1) Never network for the sake of sales.

Form relationships, have actual conversations. You might accidentally make a friend.

2) Never request that they read your book. If they ask after it, offer a free copy, no review requested.

3) Read books you genuinely think you’ll love. If you enjoy it, email the writer telling them so. Review it if you feel like it. Leave it to them whether they choose to respond or seek out your work.

4) Offer any skills you have to fellow writers for free. Expect nothing in return, do it to see others succeed and produce the best work they can. Success for one of us feeds into the collective.

5) Do not pester readers, but do pursue readers instead of other writers. Engage those you genuinely think will enjoy your work. Do this by placing your categories and keywords with some informed insight and by marketing in appropriate genre and forums and linking your book to similar titles. Give lots of copies away with only a gentle request for an honest review.

6) Occasionally construct a list of readers who have read works similar to yours. Email them a free copy stating that you’ve noticed they read X and think they’d enjoy yours also. Do not request a review.

7) Write. Lots. Produce a shit load of quality books that you’re proud of. More than anything this will increase your discoverability, assist your books in being linked to others that compliment and increase sales and aid in finding readers who care about your books. you’ll also encounter other, likeminded, writers who you can work and develop with.

8) Don’t be a needy, narcissistic sycophant.
Find Mark and his books at Amazon….Or don’t. He doesn’t give a fuck.