Books

There have been several false starts in my writing life. Although I have always kept diaries of various sorts, my effort at meaningful prose in book form was woefully inadequate. Stephen King, stated in his book On Writing, that to write well one must read a lot – so I did. I chose all genres and since then read some twenty to thirty books a year. At one point my obsessive reading reached 86 books two years in succession.

All roads lead to the ROF

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ROF Bridgwater photograph by Jeanne Bradban LRPS

In 2007 I was asked to write a book on the history and recent culture of Royal Ordnance Factory Bridgwater, and accepted the challenge as a chance to test my ability. The book was written in long hand, illustrated with cartoons by me, and beaten into publishable form by a friend, Jeanne Bradban. To have done this in 13 weeks was hard work, but the resulting 250 copies of All roads lead to the ROF were snapped up and well liked.

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The book is a contemporary account of the people and natural history of an isolated square mile of the Somerset Levels. All processes within the factory took place in scattered facilities which meant one had to travel along quiet lanes and tracks throughout a shift. The security fence had retained the countryside within as a 1940s time capsule, with high tangled hedges and clear ditches. It was a rich island of protected ecological diversity.

For me the wildlife, the people and the isolation helped define a large part of my life. I worked there for 29 years and miss it still.

Mr Gupta goes to the sea

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Mr Gupta vignette by Angela Jane Swinn

Mr Gupta goes to the sea is my first novel and originated from an idea I had whilst climbing in the Indian Himalaya. That journey was also a pilgrimage to cover the ground my late father walked whilst a soldier of the British Raj. Apart from travelling to Leh, a city high in the mountains, I took time to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal. My journey there was by Shatabdi Express where my ticket was checked by a train superintendent with Gupta on his name badge. Later I crossed the plains back to Delhi by bus, watching India, old and new, from the window. In a drainage ditch I saw many layers of silt: a layer of black soil; a layer of rubbish; a layer of soil – and so on. It struck me then that India had absorbed everything thrown at it and has thrived. In India a simple life could be intertwined with both the contemporary and the ancient. Anything was possible. I then wondered what Mr Gupta’s life was like. The book formed very quickly. I had a beginning and end – the exciting part was letting the writing form the journey.

Mr Gupta goes to the sea is set in modern India. It is a tale of discovery from four perspectives: Mr Gupta, a dying man who faces the task of protecting his family from a serial killer; Kāla-Vaz a psychopath who believes himself to be a god; Olaf, an Irishman, who is a  tormented special forces soldier; and the wilding of an escaped tiger. Their destinies are inextricably intertwined. Gupta is not alone – he has the help of William MacKeeg, a 19th century 78th Highlander who died in Lucknow.

Mr Gupta’s journey becomes a voyage of personal enlightenment and MacKeeg gives him a great advantage. Slowly he lifts from despair to revelation as he begins to see, with MacKeeg’s help, what life is and the greater things beyond metaphysics. Yet he knows Kāla is pursuing him and death leaves a bloody trail.

Each string of the tale gives the reader insight to how probability, rather than destiny can shape one’s life and affect one’s future. It is a tale of hope from despair without the need for gods; a tale of gentleness overcoming the horrors of life. It is a balance of violence with passivity, allowing the death of Mr Gupta to be a triumph rather than a tragedy. The content can be graphic, but India has seen far worse and has survived.

Yiannis and the seal

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Vintage Greek fishing vessel, Gerakas, Alonnisos. Photograph by Angela Jane Swinn

I find that inspiration for stories cannot be forced. Yiannis and the seal grew from my love of the Greek islands, the Northern Sporades in particular. People on islands cooperate more readily than most, welcoming strangers and sharing what they have.

Alonnisos is the most special of the Sporades to me. I had visited it briefly back in 1993, and had always wanted to return to explore the whole place. This I finally did in May 2017, and it did not disappoint. I decided that my ‘Greek’ book would be set on Alonnisos.

Yiannis Kalogiannis is an old fisherman who has lived on the island for most of his life. He married there, raised children there and has no wish to leave. His comfort has been upholding the traditions of the fishermen, living with superstitions and never tempting fate. Yet when the book opens, he is dealing with loss and he carries a secret. He believes his actions have cursed his family. He broke a taboo, but it manifested in terrifying form, and now he has to put things right.

What happens when legends are real and  still live with us? How can an old man fight ancient gods? Are they real, or is Yiannis mad? Yiannis and the seal explores all possibilities, but at all times Alonnisos is there to help her children.

This book is my gift to the most friendly people I have met.

The Fisherman

The Western Highlands and Islands draw me back every year. The bedrock is more than three billion years old and the mountains are ancient relics of deep time. What better place to set The Fisherman?

Everything starts with the ancient Viking Saga of Skórr Skjaldborg and the discovery of a stone. The Skórr Skjaldborg is the king’s shield within which the stone is placed. It becomes the totem of the Lord of the Isles, but is lost at sea before the Battle of Renfrew in 1164.

The Fisherman is Michael Macleod. He has lived in the coastal village of Tullaggen longer than anyone can remember, but has hardly changed at all. In reality he is the guardian of all mankind’s possible futures. He has waited for the stone to return, and when a young boy, Sam, finds it, Michael has to explain who he really is, and what is in store for the world.

But all is not well. The Coniuratio Lupos Venatium, an old cell of fanatical monks, are bound by oath to destroy those who protect the Stone. What power can it hold? Is its secret still hidden in the mountains? What it shows terrifies the established way of things, but its destruction may remove a civilisation.

FUTURE TITLES

Racing the Reaper Man

Olaf

Echo’s Children

The Iceman Trilogy

The Seventh Civilisation

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