A little thing that I wrote five years ago while sitting at the end of Seatown harbour in Gamrie. My sincere apologies to any Scottish readers, especially those who live there, for my poor attempts to capture the atmosphere of that wonderful place.

DSCF0767The light was fading rapidly now, sapphire to cobalt to indigo. The agreeable sunset apricot tint had faded from the clouds overhead and now they were simply battleship grey. The sea remained calm, but the surface began to chop as a cool breeze picked up, bringing the delicious scents of salt and seaweed to the shore. Gulls, waders and kittiwakes filled the dusk with their last raucous shrieks, whistles and mock laughter.

A maroon smudge smeared athwart the horizon was all that remained of the day’s sun. In the near distance Saltire Craig, a small jut of rock no bigger than a trawler, rose black out of water the colour of molten lead. Pale grey smudges spattered its surface. They swirled and wheeled occasionally about the tattered Bratach na h-Alba, the Banner o’ Scotland, that fluttered bravely atop its lonely pole, as it had since planted there by some hardy Scottish brave some time ago.

High on the lookout platform at the sea end of the harbour pier, Fergus eased his bony buttocks on the rusting bollard and stretched out his legs, feet poking out over the edge of the harbour wall. Inside his clumsy old boots he wiggled his toes, and imagined how good they’d feel with sea-water sluicing between them.

A loud splash echoed across the water, startling him. He peered into the murk, seeing nothing. The sound had originated from the other side of Saltire Craig, out of his sight. What could be large enough to make that noisy an impact with the water? Dolphins, perhaps? Or maybe old friends?

He gazed out at the ending day. Sunset always calmed his mind, soothed his soul, helped him to settle for the life he had now. On either side of the bay the headlands were already mussel-black. The vast dimming sky grew steadily darker.

Fifteen feet below his boots the waves lapped quietly at the weathered stone that protected the vessels safely tucked away behind it. More squealing gulls circled the end of the pier, curving pleasing arcs below his feet. Above his head a tiny red light winked on and began to flash.

DSCF0744A small white boat rounded Saltire Craig, its engine popping quietly as it crossed towards the harbour entrance. The boat was small, big enough only to carry two at most, yet now bearing but one passenger. Fergus could read the name painted on the prow – “Maighdean-Chuain”.

The single occupant raised a hand to Fergus as he passed and entered the placid waters beyond the sea wall. Fergus lifted his own arm in acknowledgement. It was good finally to feel included after all this time. His peculiar arrival in the village all those months ago had caused many to keep their distance at first, yet now even that extraordinary day was fading from memory. Village folk tended to live in the present rather than lingering on what was past. Folk here had finally started to show friendship to Fergus; yes, and acceptance. He scratched his grey beard and pulled the ear-flaps of his plaid charity-shop hat down over his ears. Getting chilly now.

He pushed to his feet, old muscles complaining. He wobbled a little in a gust of wind and steadied himself on the stanchion that held the harbour light aloft, before slowly descending the curved steps down from the lookout point. He ambled along the dock to where the small boat had tied up, and peered down at it bobbing on the shadowy water.

There was enough light left to see that the man in the boat was gutting a freshly caught fish on an upturned blue crate. A sharp knife, expertly wielded, slit the belly open. Fingers were deftly inserted and slid smoothly inside to pull out the guts. These the fisherman flung into the water for the flocking, shrieking gulls to fight over. He glanced up at the dock.

“Fergus,” the man nodded, laying his cleaned fish on a plastic bag beside him.

“Robbie Gamrie, is that you?” Fergus peered uncertainly down into the gloom.

“Aye, so,” Robbie confirmed “Got mysel’ a couple of late haddock.”

DSCF0528Robbie lifted a second wriggling fish and whacked its head on the side of the boat before laying it on the blue crate and sliding in his knife.

“Well done, there,” Fergus said. “What kept you out so late?”

“Forgetfulness. I was miles away, daydreaming like a bairn. I’d likely still be out there, but a noise brought me alert.”

“The splash? Aye, I heard that. Big splash, it was. Did you see what made it?” Hope glimmered briefly in Fergus’ breast.

“Nay, it was behind me, whatever it was.”

“Hmm,” said Fergus, slightly disappointed. “Too big for a bird, anyroad. Could it have been dolphins, think you?”

“Maybe. They… or silkies, eh?”

Fergus could hear Robbie’s grin in the tone of his voice. Robbie didn’t believe in silkies, despite the name of his boat. Not many did, nowadays.

“You’ll have had your supper?” Robbie asked him.

“Ah, no. I’ll have a rollie when I get in.”

“Rollie be damned. You’ll need warmth inside you if you’ve been perched up there for long. Here, catch.”

A dark shape flew up from below to hover briefly before Fergus’ eyes, shimmering a little in the harbour light. Fergus snatched out a hand to catch it before it fell back. The fish was cold and oily, the flesh yielding beneath his fingers as only fresh fish does.

“Got milk, Fergus? Butter and pepper? Get that inside your oven, then get it inside you. It’ll do you a sight more good than cold bread.”

“Thanks, laddie, I appreciate it.” Fergus nodded farewell to Robbie and walked off the harbour, taking the shore path towards his tiny cottage, the haddock hanging limply from his fingers.

Fish for supper. He remembered a time long ago when supper had always been fresh fish. He did not eat it half as much these days, and the gift from Robbie was a pleasant surprise. Fergus was not inclined to take Robbie’s advice on how best to prepare the haddock, however. He would not bake the fish in milk. Tonight he would eat the fish raw, just like the old days.


The Raven’s Wing characters, #5: Moss, the fire-dancer

Character visualisation sketch by Kit CooperSarcastic, manipulative, and with a mysterious past, Moss is a jongleuse, dancer, and mistress of fire. John first sees her performing at The Angel Inn in Northampton, little suspecting how tightly her fate will become bound to his.

John stared wide-eyed and gape-mouthed. The young woman was fiery in every sense of the word. The hair that tumbled about her bare shoulders was the colour of an autumn sunset. She danced nimbly, bare-footed, to the rhythm of the audience clapping, the nails on her toes crimson-painted.

The woman’s features were soft and attractive, yet dragged askew by a scar that tore down her cheek. But the scar was not what gave him pause. More startling was the eye beneath that scar. That it was false could not be in doubt, for a strange eye it was. It looked to be made of amber, or some other ochre-tinged material, and in the centre, where the pupil should be, sat a small black spider.

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) and Kindle here.

Other character posts (click to read):

John the MinstrelWynifreed, John's wifeRalf, the gongfermourAilred, the smith

The Raven’s Wing characters, #4: Ailred the smith

Character visualisation sketch by Kit CooperA black man of enormous beard and heart. The gruff Ditchford smith smells of hot metal and pie crust. The village gossips say that Ailred is descended from African nobility. He remains silent about such things.

“Hens!” shouted Ailred, waking suddenly. He sat up and looked around with a startled expression, resembling a bewildered owl in the orange light thrown up by the now merrily burning fire. Smoke swirled into the blackness of the roof. He scratched his black beard, dislodging a small bone, which he inspected closely. He descended into a fit of deep coughing. Eventually he achieved some sort of resolution with his lungs and spat copiously in the fire, which hissed a complaint. He threw the bone into the flames.

Ailred’s growing romance with the widow Rohesia provides a gentle backdrop to the growing turmoil of The Raven’s Wing.  One day I shall write his backstory.

“Kumis,” Aildred said. “Fermented mare’s milk with added honey.”
“I call it milk-mead,” Rohesia said. “And isn’t it just the tastiest thing? Ailred makes it.”
“Not often,” he said. “It’s not so easy to get mare’s milk. You can use goat, or cow, but the taste isn’t quite the same.”
“Apparently, it’s quite the thing back in Ailred’s homeland, and he learned to—”
“This is my homeland now,” Ailred said, squeezing Rohesia’s podgy hand.

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) and Kindle here.

Other character posts (click to read):

John the MinstrelWynifreed, John's wifeRalf, the gongfermour

The Raven’s Wing characters, #3: Ralf

Character visualisation sketch by Kit Cooper

A shock of red hair explodes from beneath a ragged wool cap, shading Ralf’s smiling eyes. John the Minstrel’s best friend is tall and clean-shaven. He is gongfermour for the village of Ditchford, which is to say he digs out and removes human excrement from privies and cesspits, disposing of it into the river below the village. He lives across the lane from Wyni and John, with whom he shares a horse, Molly.

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available in paperback (with free postage, in the UK at least) and Kindle here.

Other characters: No.1 Minstrel John, No. 2 Wynifreed

The Raven’s Wing characters, #2: Wyni

Character visualisation sketch by Kit CooperJohn the Minstrel’s recently-dead wife, Wynifreed. She was thin, a result of growing up through the Great Famine, with brown hair in a short bob. She had thrilled John’s heart with a lopsided smile, joyful laughter and a love of nature.  “He remembered how beautiful she had looked the day that they had wed, a circlet of daisies about her brown head, her smile dazzling in the sunshine.” Perhaps surprisingly, she still has a lot to say for herself.

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available in paperback (with free postage in the UK) and Kindle here.

Other characters: No.1 Minstrel John

The Raven’s Wing characters, #1: John the minstrel

Character visualisation sketch by Kit Cooper

Our handsome hero, Minstrel John, who plays a gittern and sings at fairs and festivals around Northampton. He is cheerful and inquisitive, and enjoys riddles and puzzles. His dream is to earn the patronage of the local lord, Baron de Leycester. Currently in mourning after the recent death of his wife.

The Raven’s Wing, a medieval adventure set in 1322, is available in paperback (with free postage in the UK) and Kindle here.

Gosh, Wombie, that’s a big one

It me!Yes, that’s me. Never ashamed to use blatant innuendo to trick people into reading about my book.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that, six years after I first scribbled a rough version of a possible plot (after listening to Steeleye’s “John of Ditchford” – beware of spoilers if you listen), The Raven’s Wing has finally seen light of day. Over that time it has grown and evolved, taking on new directions as lively characters became real and dragged me away from my plotted path into wild, unexpected country. Eventually the tale decided it was over after around 140,000 words – twice the length of Fog. CharactersOn top of that, I included around fifty pages of notes – historical trivia, interesting stories that I’d gathered along the way, and lyrics for all the medieval songs I used.

This became a sprawling, BIG story about little people, and was always going to be a substantial book. The paperback weighs in at 835g. Was there any way I could have made it less likely to break your toe if you dropped it?

  • Back coverI could have made the trim size smaller, say 5” x 8” rather than 6” x 9”, but then it would have been WAY fatter and harder to hold comfortably when open.
  • I could have squidged up the line spacing a bit, but that would have made it too claustrophobic.
  • I could have used a smaller font, but I wanted to be able to read it myself, and you know how bad my eyes are.

So, it is what it is – a mighty tome, full to the brim with medieval fun and frolic. Look on it as an exercise for your wrists. No, Dawbes, not like that.


Despite the weight of the paperback, P&P from Amazon costs nothing. And of course, the Kindle version weighs next to nothing. You can buy that here.

Magical and magnificent, bewitching and beautiful

bring back home - digital coverA review of Bring Back Home, by Ange Hardy.

First of all, that cover by Michael Cook. Absolutely a work of art. You can’t tell from the picture there, but it shines luxuriously with gold leaf on willow-leaf and moon-crest. You’ll want to have a bit of a fondle, and why not?

When you’ve finished pleasuring yourself that way, you big weirdo, surrender yourself to the music. With the addition of Lee Cuff on cello and Peter Knight – a long-time hero of mine – on fiddle, Ange’s sixth studio outing has an extra, beguiling layer of complex beauty over and above the mesmerising song-writing and rhythmical nous of her preceding albums (the glorious Esteesee is a standout album that everyone should own).

These are songs by a master-songwriter, performed with flair and confidence. I’m not going to bang on about every track individually, but I must single out the album opener, Sisters Three. It’s three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of sheer, bloody, untrammelled joy. It had me leaping and dancing like an eejit, not a sight oft seen in these days of dry age. It also begs to be written as a short story, and I’ll be on that like a tramp on chips, if Ange doesn’t mind. From the haunting, violin-wail strangeness of The Hunter, The Prey (part of Ange’s ‘mother Willow Tree’ sequence of songs) to Chase the Devil Down (a song to give strength to all of us who find our loving hearts pierced occasionally by the steel teeth of the uncaring modern world), every song here is equally strong, equally stirring, and each an instant classic.

More than anything, I love the landscape of Ange’s songs – in her own words, “Willow trees and streams interspersed with dense woodlands, immense trees with tremendous root structures.” It’s a land of wonders. Join me, and let us adventure in that country with a smile on our faces and dance in our steps. The rewards are legion. I love this album so much that my inner editor even forgives the occasional spelling error in the booklet, and so will you. wombicon5It’s right champion, this music. Makes my old blood sing. Five wombats out of five.

The Train Now Arriving

'Dead End' by Keith AlexanderI open my eyes. The train is moving slowly, the steady, paced rhythm of the wheels doing its damnedest to lull me back to sleep. In the afterdoze, I wonder where I am.

“Ah, you’re awake!” my companion says.

“Yes,” I say. My tongue is dry.

“Here, clean your mouth.” The man sitting opposite hands me a small plastic bottle of water, which at least refreshes my tongue, if not my dream-befogged mind.

“You looked dead to the world when you got on,” he says, “and just collapsed into the corner there. Don’t worry,” he gave me reassuring smile, “you didn’t snore.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t …” I look around. The compartment seems fairly nondescript, though rather old-fashioned. Bench seats face each other, and above them are luggage racks and faded paintings screwed onto the wall. To my right a sliding door gives onto the corridor. To my left, through the sash window, a wide expanse of sunglinted mirrorwater reflects a steel-blue sky. The only other person in the compartment smiles, lines crinkling his periwinkle-blue eyes.

“My name’s Charon,” he says.

“Ah, after Pluto’s largest moon?”

“In a way, yes,” he says, his eyes flashing. “You’re an astronomer?”

“I’m not sure,” I say honestly. I try to think. “I can’t even remember getting on the train.”

“Oh, dear. Mind you, it looks like you came a long way to catch it,” he says, pointing at my feet. They are filthy; bare, blistered and bleeding. “You should clean them.” He passes me a white handkerchief, almost dazzling in the intense sunglare that streams into the compartment. I pour a little water onto the cloth, squinting against the brightness.

“It’s not that bright,” Charon says. “You just have the dust of too many memories in your eyes, refracting the light. You should clean those, too.”

I begin to rub at the grime on my feet, staining the pristine cloth brown and black.

“The handkerchief’s a metaphor, clearly,” Charon says. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. I think it was Chekhov that said that, wasn’t it? Oh look, we’ve arrived.”

I look up. I am alone in the compartment. Outside, a railway station glides into view, all picket fences, milk churns, flowerbeds, waiting rooms and porter’s barrows. As the train slows to a halt, I see Charon standing on the platform in a guard’s uniform, holding a red flag. Behind him an ornate metal sign displays the name of the station, and suddenly I realise where I am. Charon blows a shrill whistle.

“All change!” he shouts. “Purgatorium! This is Purgatorium!”

Recruitment – a sample chapter from Rollie

DCP Scan_068, 4/19/04, 4:24 PM,  8C, 7490x10116 (289+418), 100%, A.I. Basic,  1/60 s, R93.7, G87.6, B104.2The firm-jawed young man gazed at a distant blue horizon. The bright sunshine narrowed his eyes and made his cheeks glow. The goggles perched on his head glinted dazzlingly, holding the flying helmet snugly about his head. His fur collar, and the absence of perspiration, indicated the cold of his surroundings. A radio mask hung loosely below his chin, and parachute straps criss-crossed his khaki flying suit. The pilot was confident and determined, looking ahead to a bright future. By his right arm sat a roundel, the circular identification mark of British aircraft, but with the red inner circle replaced by a Canadian maple leaf. Next to this the words ‘Royal Canadian Air Force’ stood proud, while above the young man’s head flew the jolly enjoinder “Join the Team!” Rollie yelped as a fist punched his shoulder.

“Quit staring at that poster, you fat-head. Let’s get inside!”

[CLICK HERE to read the whole chapter free on Patreon]

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