Welcome to my blog. People sometimes ask me how I came to start writing. Some people express surprise at the idea of a mathematician becoming something as creative as an author of fiction. Some people wonder why I write. and then there are the people who say, “I don’t know how you manage to do it!”
The plan is to attempt to answer some of those questions. It’s going to take a while, because writing about writing isn’t as interesting as the writing itself. If you’re interested in the answers to any of those questions, then be patient and read on and eventually you may find some answers.
If you have other questions about my writing, then feel free to ask them in the replies below, and I’ll try to answer.
“Victim Statements” is finally written, revised, checked, type-set, proof-read and sent for publication. You can pre-order the e-book editions through Amazon or Kobo. The paperback, Large Print and audiobook editions will be available soon. The official launch date is 1st September, but you can read and listen to extracts from the book now.
This book completes the story of two families who have lost sons through murder from the day of the crime through to the trial of the killers. It’s a long time, because of repeated delays in the court system, and that takes a toll on everyone involved. Kenny Hughes was a young police constable, killed in the line of duty. As the trial is repeatedly scheduled and postponed, his parents long for closure. PC Stella Gilbert was a witness to Kenny’s death. She worries about giving evidence at the trial – if it ever happens! Yvonne Whittle, son Harry, was killed by the same criminal gang. She resorts to alcohol to numb the pain. Her husband, Trevor, is forced into new roles as his wife’s mental state deteriorates, and their younger son, Leo, feels that his home and family are falling to pieces.
How will it all end? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
This book is dedicated to a small UK charity called “SAMM” (Support After Murder and Manslaughter), which provides peer support to families and friends who have been bereaved through murder or manslaughter. Their strapline is “You are not Alone”. It’s only a small charity and relies on donations. One way to support them at no cost to yourself is to nominate them as your charity on https://smile.amazon.co.uk/. That would be particularly appropriate if you buy any of my murder mysteries, including “Victim Statements”.
It’s been a hell of a year for police officers in this country.
Twelve months ago, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, policing stood accused of institutional racism. And it wasn’t the first time that had happened.
Three months ago, in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard, policing stood accused of institutional misogyny.
Yesterday, following the publication of an independent inquiry report into the murder of Daniel Morgan, policing stood accused of institutional corruption.
Yesterday, police officers up and down the country had their heads in their hands.
Because, while all of this has been happening, police officers have also been in the frontline of the response to:
a global pandemic – trying to make sense of rushed legislation, trying to implement imperfect guidance, trying to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones, all while trying to keep the rest of…
The second part of the Kenny Hughes Memorial Trilogy launches on 1st April 2021. These three emotionally-charged books follow the journey of two families bereaved by the actions of a gang of drug-dealers. Gavin and Chrissie mourn the death of their police officer son, crushed while attempting to make an arrest. The only witness who might reveal the identity of the killers is teenager Harry Whittle. His parents struggle to cope after finding him dead in their own home a few days later. But that is only the beginning …
Weed Killers, subtitled Christmas Mourning, is set in December 2020 as both families prepare for Christmas. The police work tirelessly to bring the killers to justice. Eventually they take the gang into custody.
But before they can be tried and convicted, the COVID-19 pandemic intervenes. Crown Courts are closed. Jury trials are suspended. As the months drags on, it seems that the killers are getting away with murder. In Lost in Lockdown, May Mourning, we see how the two families face up to the news that the suspects are to be released on bail, as part of a scheme to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons, and how being confined by the national lockdown affects each person differently.
The third part of this trilogy, Victim Statements, Cold and Frosty Mourning, will focus on preparing for the trial when, after many delays and cancellations, it does eventually come. Young police constable Stella Gilbert worries about giving evidence for the first time. The Whittles worry about what to say to the court about the impact of Harry’s death. Chrissie worries that her work as a Special Needs teacher is suffering. Gavin … well Gavin has a mysterious corpse in the woods to worry about, but that’s another story!
The paperback, Large Print and audiobook editions of “Lost in Lockdown” are already available and the e-book editions can be pre-ordered for delivery on 1st April.
This is an extract from “Lost in Lockdown”, the new novel that’s coming out in 1st April. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a dream in one of my books. I think it would work rather well on the small screen: a hospital corridor with people in uniform appearing from all sides shouting instructions. Have a listen and tell me what you think.
As in the first part of the Kenny Hughes Memorial Trilogy (Weed Killers) eating features throughout and, so that readers can share in the protagonists’ enjoyment of food, there are recipes at the back of the book for you to try for yourself. These range from the fruity deliciousness of Peter’s pineapple upside-down cake, to Dean’s strawberry trifle and Chrissie’s multigrain chocolate covered flapjacks. This isn’t the first time recipes have featured in my books. You can find a comprehensive list and download PDF copies on my website.
I’ve made a start on the sequel to “Weed Killers“. It’s set in Oxford during the 2020 COVID-19 Lockdown. Kenny Hughes has been dead for five months, but his killers are still remanded in custody awaiting trial for his murder. Here’s the first chapter to whet your appetite for more.
‘As the number of coronavirus cases in prisons increases, the Ministry of Justice has taken further steps to reduce overcrowding. Last night they confirmed that this included the release on bail of Shane Butler, the man accused of murdering PC Kenneth Hughes in Oxfordshire shortly before Christmas.’
Gavin froze in the act of buttering his second slice of toast. He stared at the teddy bear in police uniform that sat on top of the radio, listening as the news headlines continued, but there were no details. What bail conditions had been imposed? What about Butler’s brother and his other accomplices? The bulletin ended and Zoe Ball’s familiar voice introduced the next record. The music washed over him as he turned over this unexpected news in his mind.
‘Gav!’ His contemplation was interrupted by his wife, Chrissie, calling down the stairs. ‘Can you get that?’
With a jolt, Gavin realised that the landline telephone was ringing. He stumbled out into the hall to answer it. It was only as he fumbled to pick up the handset that he realised he was still holding the toast in one hand and the knife in the other. He put them both down on the small shelf beneath the telephone and picked up the receiver, smearing it with butter in the process.
‘Mr Hughes? This is Arabella McInnis from Binns Barnard Solicitors?’
‘Yes?’ Gavin repeated, struggling to get his sluggish brain into gear. The name was familiar, as was the tendency to make almost every sentence sound like a question, but … ‘Oh yes! Of course! I’m sorry, I was miles away.’
‘I’m sorry to ring you so early,’ his solicitor went on, ‘but I was hoping to speak to you before the news broke? I’m sorry to have to tell you that your son’s killers are being released on bail.’
‘I just heard,’ Gavin told her. ‘It was on the radio just now.’
‘That’s what I was afraid of.’ Ms McInnis sounded apologetic. ‘They only notified me last night. I thought I could leave it until this morning and then, when I got up, there it was on the Breakfast show! So I was trying to ring you before you heard it too.’
‘So they’re all out?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so.’ She paused briefly, then, ‘but the court didn’t have much choice really. It’s all to do with the rules about how long defendants can be kept in custody before being brought to trial. It’s looking as if it could be months before jury trials will be back to normal, and then there’ll be a big backlog to get through. This is just a sort of insurance, in case …’
‘So not just trying to get people out of jail because of coronavirus?’
‘No. That may have been another factor, but basically it’s that it’s better this way. As a police officer yourself, I imagine you know that if the custody time limit expires while a defendant is remanded in custody then they’re entitled to be released without any bail conditions. This way, the court is able to impose conditions on their release.’
‘And what are the conditions?’ Gavin asked anxiously.
‘I don’t know yet, I’m afraid. I’m going to try to find out about that today. That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to ask for – restrictions on their movements, for example?’
‘I’d just like to be sure Chrissie won’t bump into any of them in the street. Where will they be living?’
‘I don’t know. Of course, for the time being nobody’s supposed to be bumping into anyone in the street, but I get what you mean. I’ll see if I can get a court order keeping them away from your neighbourhood. Anything else?’
‘No. I don’t think so.’
‘OK. I’m sorry about how it’s turned out. If it hadn’t been for this coronavirus business, the trial would have been over by now and they’d all have been convicted, but we are where we are. I just thought you ought to know. I’ll send you over a letter with all the details and if anything changes I’ll be in touch again.’
‘Yes. OK. Thanks.’ Gavin replaced the telephone receiver and stood silently staring at the wall, trying to work out how he felt about the news. Then he turned and headed upstairs to tell Chrissie.
He found her on the landing with Craig, their lodger, walking admiringly round him and brushing invisible flecks of dandruff from his collar.
‘Craig looks very smart in Kenny’s suit, doesn’t he?’ she greeted her husband without looking round. ‘And I like his hair better the way it’s grown since Lockdown. I’ve been telling him: he’ll knock them all dead at the interview.’ Then, turning round, she saw Gavin’s anxious expression. ‘What is it? Was that phone call bad news?’
‘I’m not sure. It was the solicitor. She says they’ve let the Butler brothers out on bail while the crown courts are closed because of COVID.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ Craig exploded. ‘The bastard confessed for fu-.’ He stopped abruptly and looked guiltily towards Chrissie, ‘for goodness sake! I thought murderers were supposed to get life!’
‘He’s admitted to being responsible for Kenny’s death, but he’s claiming it was an accident,’ Gavin reminded him. ‘There has to be a trial – unless the prosecution decides to accept his plea and not even try for murder. He’ll be hoping to get away with manslaughter or even death by dangerous driving. And there are the other two as well. They helped to cover it up and …,’ his voice trailed off as another thought struck him.
‘What’s that got to do with it?’ Craig remained unconvinced. ‘He killed a policeman. He admitted it. So he ought to be in jail. It’s a simple as that!’
He pulled away from Chrissie’s ministrations and clumped noisily downstairs. Chrissie looked enquiringly up at Gavin.
‘I was just thinking,’ he muttered. ‘What about the Whittles? Someone ought to tell them too.’
‘I could ring Yvonne,’ Chrissie offered. ‘I’d be glad of an excuse. We haven’t had a chance to talk since Lockdown started.’
‘Maybe later,’ Gavin shook his head. ‘I’ll call in later this morning and tell them face to face.’
‘Yes. I suppose you’re right. It isn’t the sort of thing you want to hear over the phone.’ Chrissie started downstairs. ‘Come on! We’d better get on with breakfast or Stella’ll be here before you’ve finished.’
The music coming from the radio was a cheerful song aimed at helping listeners to beat the Lockdown blues. Craig clicked it off irritably before sitting down and pouring himself a cup of tea from the stainless steel teapot in the middle of the table. He sat staring into it, contemplating the day ahead. He wished that he had never mentioned to Gavin and Chrissie that the warehouse in which he had been working for the last six weeks was looking for a new supervisor. He wished that he hadn’t listened to Chrissie when she had urged him to apply. He wished that he had not been selected for interview. And he wished above all that Chrissie had not insisted on lending him this suit belonging to her dead son.
He was grateful to them for taking him in off the streets – really grateful – but sometimes he wished … Gavin always said they owed him, because he’d helped to find the guys who’s killed Kenny, but … He hadn’t done anything really, and now he had this big burden of gratitude. He had to make something of himself to show them they’d made a difference. And Chrissie was convinced that he’d get the job. She’d be so disappointed when …
‘Toast, Chrissie? – Craig?’
He looked up to see Gavin holding out two slices of fresh toast. He shook his head. ‘I’m not hungry. I’ll just finish this tea and then I’d better get off.’
‘Nonsense!’ Chrissie took both pieces of toast and put them on separate plates. Then she set one of the plates down in front of Craig and pushed the butter dish towards him. ‘You can’t go into an important interview on an empty stomach. It’s been scientifically proven that the brain functions better all day if you start off with a good breakfast. That’s why we run a breakfast club at school. The kids can’t settle to learn if they’re not well-fed.’
Craig bit back his reflex retort: that he was not a child at her school; that he was used to marching for days on army rations or even, when required to do so, on what he could forage for himself; that if she’d seen the children he’d come across in Basra she wouldn’t be worrying about kids coming to school without having had a bowl of cereal and a round of toast! Chrissie could be incredibly patronising at times, but she meant well, and the last thing he wanted was to upset her after the news she’d just had.
How could it have happened? How could a man like Shane Butler have been allowed out on bail? A man who admitted to having run down a police officer, smashed his body against a brick wall, and then driven off with no thought for the devastation he had wrought! How was it justice that he was going to be sent home to the bosom of his family, with no sign that he was going to be tried for his crimes any time soon?
He jabbed his knife into the butter, imagining that it was a bayonet and he was stabbing it into Butler’s stomach, as he had learned to do during his army training. In his mind, he could hear the frenzied shouts of his fellow-recruits as they ran at a line of targets with their weapons gripped in trembling hands, fearful of being found wanting in the ability or the desire to kill. Butler had better keep away from Gavin and Chrissie or he’d have Craig to answer to! And unlike Butler, he’d been trained to slaughter his enemies – and not from the comfort of the driving seat of a powerful car but hand-to-hand. Compared to the Iraqi soldiers that he’d encountered during the Gulf War or the Taliban fighters that he’d faced on his tour of duty in Afghanistan, Butler would be easy prey.
He watched Gavin pouring a second cup of tea for himself and then topping up the teapot with water from the kettle. The big policeman seemed calm enough, but something about the way in which he kept glancing towards his wife suggested that the news from the solicitor had been unsettling even for his placid nature. His hands shook slightly as he brought a pan of porridge over from the hob and poured it into his bowl.
Chrissie waited while he wandered over to the sink, filled the pan with cold water and left it there to soak. Then, when he returned to the table, she handed him the milk jug and he poured some into the bowl so that the porridge became an island in a small white lake. Refusing her offer of the sugar bowl, he went over to one of the wall cupboards and took out a tin of syrup. Now, Craig knew that he was rattled: as Chrissie had explained on a previous occasion, syrup was what Gavin’s mother had put on his porridge when we was a child, and it was what he reverted to in times of stress.
Craig bit viciously into his toast, tearing off mouthful after mouthful as he discovered that he was hungry after all. Chrissie smiled across the table at him and pushed a cereal bowl in his direction. ‘Is it cornflakes or Weetabix today? Or how about living dangerously and trying some of my sugar-free muesli?’
Craig poured a helping of cornflakes into his bowl, patted them down with his spoon and added milk from the jug, which Chrissie placed near his right hand.
‘Don’t worry about the interview. You’re bound to be nervous, but all the other candidates will be too. Just don’t let it get to you.’
‘I’ll try,’ Craig promised through a mouthful of cereal, ‘but I’m really not sure I’m the sort of person they’re looking for. I don’t have the experience.’
‘You were a corporal, weren’t you?’ Chrissie argued. ‘You had men under you. You’ve been a leader. And you’ve performed under pressure. Tell them about that.’
‘It’s not the same!’
‘No, but there are parallels. How many of the other candidates will have had to make split-second decisions while they were under fire?’
‘How many of them throw themselves to the floor every time someone drops a crate in the next aisle?’ muttered Craig, remembering an incident from a few days earlier. ‘The guys all think I’m a nutter. How would I ever have any authority if they did make me supervisor?’
‘It’s just a matter of believing in yourself. You tell him, Gav: so long as you don’t let them know how terrified you are inside, people will respect you.’
‘That’s right,’ Gavin agreed dutifully. ‘I remember the first day I went out on foot patrol on my own. I wasn’t even turned twenty then and I felt everyone was staring at me and wondering what a kid like me was doing all dressed up in a police uniform; but then a tourist stopped me to ask the way and I got a call to sort out a couple of youngsters who’d been sniffing glue round the back of some flats and I discovered that the uniform made them all believe in me even though I didn’t!’
‘That’s right,’ Chrissie agreed. ‘It was the same when I started teaching. The kids used to run rings round me while I was a student, but after I qualified and I stood up in front of my class on my first day in my real job, they all accepted that I was in charge.’
‘I suppose so.’ Craig tried to force some sincerity into his voice while remaining unconvinced. If he did get the supervisor’s job – which of course he wouldn’t – he would be in charge of men that he’d been working alongside for the last six weeks, most of whom had been there a lot longer than he had. They’d seen him mess up orders; they’d watched him struggling to understand the system; and worst of all, they’d seen how jumpy he was whenever there was a loud noise or a sudden movement. There was no way they’d knuckle down under his authority. And why should they? He wasn’t leadership material. If he had been, four men would be alive now instead of having been blown apart by an IED.
He finished his cereal and gulped down his tea. Looking down at his watch and pretending to be surprised at the time that it showed him, he got to his feet.
‘I’d better get off: it won’t make a good impression if I’m late.’
‘Just stand still for a moment and let me give you a final once over,’ Chrissie insisted, standing up and walking round him. She flicked a few toast crumbs from his jacket and straightened his tie before standing back and declaring him “ready for anything”.
Craig headed for freedom. As he reached the door, he turned and gave a brief nod in Chrissie’s direction then he raised his hand towards Gavin in a semi-salute before escaping into the back garden. He walked briskly over to the garage and got out his bike – or rather Kenny’s bike: Chrissie had pressed him into accepting it when he landed the warehouse job and needed transport to get into work.
He put on his helmet – Chrissie had insisted on buying one for him – and pushed the bicycle down the side of the house and out on to the drive. Just as he reached the front gate, another cyclist drew up in the road outside. He recognised the slim figure, dark-skinned face and short, tight curls of trainee police constable Stella Gilbert.
‘Hi Craig,’ she greeted him. ‘You’re looking extra smart this morning. I can see my face in those shoes of yours!’
‘You mean the old spit and polish?’ Craig smiled. ‘That’s one thing that never leaves you after you’ve been in the forces.’
‘Going somewhere special?’
‘A job interview. Chrissie persuaded me to put in for the new supervisor job.’
‘Good luck – although I’m sure you won’t need it!’
‘Thanks. Well, I suppose I’d better be off – don’t want to be late!’
He stepped forward and was about to push his bike out into the road when a car sped round the corner and nearly clipped the front wheel. Craig stopped dead and stared in amazement as it hurtled on down the road and round another bend. There was a gasp and a clattering sound from behind him. He stood for several seconds gazing after the vehicle, silently cursing himself for not having caught its number.
Then he turned round and saw Stella cowering down against the low wall that separated the front garden from the pavement. Her bicycle lay beside her. He looked down at her and she looked up at him. He wondered whether he ought to say something. Should he tell her that he recognised the rush of adrenaline, the pounding heart, the sticky palms and racing brain? Should he tell her that he understood about flashbacks that set you reeling physically and mentally? Should he tell her …? But no, what good could he do by sharing the fact that four years on he could still be spooked by a sudden noise or kept awake by recurring thoughts that refused to be suppressed?
Stella looked up at him with the embarrassed smile and nervous laugh that he understood so well. ‘My! That was fast! It gave me quite a shock.’
‘Yes,’ Craig agreed. ‘He should lose his licence, going at that speed in a residential area.’
He did not tell her that he knew what she had seen just then, and that it was not a silver Skoda speeding recklessly along a quiet backstreet, but a red BMW heading straight towards her with murderous intent and deadly consequences.
‘Fine police officer I’m going to make,’ Stella went on with another little laugh. ‘I didn’t even get his number!’
‘Neither did I – and I was standing right here watching him go.’ Craig bent down and picked up Stella’s bike with his left hand while still holding his own machine in his right.
Stella scrambled to her feet and took it from him. ‘Thanks.’
Craig nodded. ‘Well, I’d better get off. Gavin won’t be long. He’s just finishing his breakfast.’
Stella stood on the pavement holding her bicycle and watching Craig’s muscular figure as it disappeared round the corner. She concentrated hard on breathing: deep, slow breaths in and out the counsellor had said, and look round and ground yourself in your present surroundings. She looked down at her hands, gripped tightly round the handlebars, and forced herself to relax the muscles so that the nails of her forefingers were no longer digging into the base of her thumbs. Her heart was slowing now and no longer felt as if it was hammering against the side of her chest.
She walked slowly up the drive, still breathing deeply and concentrating on taking in her surroundings, here and now. The herbaceous border that separated the drive from the small front lawn was bright with many different colours of aquilegia: deep maroony-red, purple that was almost blue, creamy white, and soft pink. What was it her grandmother called them? Granny bonnets – that’s right! An early-rising bumble bee pushed its way into one of the flowers; there would be plenty more of those as the day grew warmer. It looked as if it was going to be another scorcher.
‘Put your bike in the garage,’ Gavin greeted her as she approached the kitchen door. ‘We’ll do a walk-round of the roads near here this morning. There’ve been a few reports of teenagers congregating on street corners: we’ll do a bit of engaging, explaining, -’
‘- educating and enforcing,’ Stella finished for him. This was the mantra that they had been taught as the correct way of dealing with anyone who appeared to be in contravention of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.
‘And there’s a family I could do with calling in on, just round the corner,’ Gavin added. ‘I’ll tell you about it as we go.’
In many ways, the new world of Lockdown suited Gavin’s style of policing. Walking a familiar beat in the fresh air, providing the reassuring sight of the familiar uniform to law-abiding residents fearful of antisocial behaviour, was much more to his liking than being stuck in the confines of a stuffy patrol car, unapproachable and largely ignored. Let others race through traffic, siren blaring to be first on the scene at the report of a crime, Gavin was more concerned with building a rapport with those members of the public who might be tempted to stray across the line from legality to lawlessness through disaffection, discontent or even boredom.
For many years, single-crewing of police patrol cars had been a cause of discontent among officers; now the idea of spending a 10-hour shift in the confines of a small vehicle with a colleague who might perhaps be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 made lone-working suddenly a more attractive proposition. There had been no difficulty in allocating all available patrol cars to officers for whom the risk of approaching violent criminals with nobody to watch their back now felt less serious than the chances of contracting the disease by too much close-contact. Gavin’s sergeant had been only too pleased that Gavin was content to continue his mentoring of probationer PC Gilbert on foot or bicycle, and he was happy to leave the exactly location of his activity very much to his discretion. Gavin’s arrest-rate was always well below average, but Sergeant Appleton had a sneaking conviction that this was at least in part because of his skill in diverting potential offenders away from crime (even if that did sometimes involve ignoring minor misdemeanours). And young Stella Gilbert could do with more time to settle to her work following that horrendous experience back in December. A few months with the staid and steady Gavin would give her time to recover from her trauma and to see that there was more to policing than violence and danger.
Gavin neither knew nor cared about his sergeant’s assessment of his character; he was more concerned with bringing Stella up to speed with the latest developments regarding the man whom she had witnessed smashing her previous mentor’s body against a brick wall.
‘Shane Butler was on the news this morning,’ he began cautiously as they set off down the road, maintaining some distance between them and avoiding turning towards one another to speak. ‘Did you hear it?’
‘No? What’s he done now?’
‘His lawyers have got him out on bail: him and the other two.’
‘But why?’ Stella’s heart began to beat faster and she forced herself to breathe slowly and deliberately.
‘According to our solicitor, it’s because of the trial being delayed. There are rules about how long someone can be held on remand.’
‘But a murderer? And he admitted he’d done it.’
‘But the law says he has to have a chance to prove he didn’t intend to kill anyone,’ Gavin explained patiently, trying to convince himself as much as Stella that this did not represent a serious failure of the justice system. ‘You wouldn’t want an innocent person to be kept in jail for years just because there wasn’t a slot in court for their trial, would you?’
‘No-o … but he’s bound to be found guilty of at least manslaughter, so why can’t he be kept in prison because of that?’
‘I suppose he hasn’t been sentenced, so nobody knows how long that ought to be. He might have mitigation that he’ll ask to have taken into account. And apparently it’s part of this drive to get prisoners out of jail to stop the virus spreading there. Anyway, that’s what the court has decided so we just have to live with it.’
‘I guess so.’ Stella did not sound convinced. ‘How does Chrissie feel about it?’
‘I don’t know,’ Gavin sighed. ‘She wasn’t really listening when I told her about it. She was too busy getting Craig ready for this interview he’s got this morning.’
‘Yes. He told me about it. Do you think he’ll get the job?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t be able to do the job, but who knows what the interview panel will think of someone who’s been living on the streets for three years.’
‘Does he have to tell them? He’s got a proper address now. Why do they need to know?’
‘They’ll want to know what he’s been doing between leaving the army and getting the warehouse job. It’s a long time to be out of work. They’ll want to know why, and if Craig doesn’t tell them honestly they’ll probably just assume the worst anyway. I’ve seen it all before.’
‘But he’s been working for them for six weeks: surely they’ll know he’s a good worker?’
‘I hope he is: he never seems that sure of it himself!’ Gavin sighed again. ‘But, getting back to Shane Butler and co., I’m worried about how Harry Whittle’s family will take it when they hear about them being let out. It’s worse for them: Harry was killed in their house!’
‘You mean: the gang knows where they live? But surely they wouldn’t dare come anywhere near?’
‘I’ve told our solicitor to make sure they aren’t allowed to, but I don’t suppose that’ll be much of a reassurance to Trev Whittle and his wife – not to mention young Leo!’
‘So we’re going round there now to tell them not to worry?’
‘I wouldn’t go so far as that: I just want to see how they all are and to let them know they aren’t on their own. I hope they won’t have heard the news yet and I can break it to them gently, but … Well, we’ll just have to see: they’re not particularly fond of the police at the best of times.’
They walked on down the unnaturally quiet street – together, and yet not together – keeping as far apart as the width of the pavement would allow, looking ahead when they spoke instead of turning to look at on another, conscious all the time that one of them might be harbouring the virus and might be capable of passing it on.
Stella pondered on Harry Whittle: the other victim of the Butler brothers and their heavy man, Stuart Hatton. He had been there too: in fact it may well have been Harry at whom Shane Butler had directed the car that crushed Kenny against the wall. Not yet turned seventeen, he was just a tiny cog in the vast machinery of the Butlers’ illegal drugs business. It may even have been true what he told them when they questioned him at the police station: perhaps he really didn’t know what the plants were that he was tending in that empty house in Kidlington.
Stella found her heart speeding up and her breathing becoming shallower as she pictured the scene. She was standing behind Harry, fumbling to fit the handcuffs on his wrists – her very first arrest! And then came the roar of a fast car, a shout from Kenny and suddenly he was pushing them aside … and then everything seemed to slow down as the vehicle struck Kenny and pinned him to the wall.
She forced herself back to the present, studying each house as they passed, counting off the numbers in her head, noting which had cars on the drive and what colours and ages they were, observing the well-trimmed hedges and lawns that bore witness to the extra time that some of the residents had for gardening now that they were no longer travelling to work every day.
‘Do you see much of the Whittles?’ she asked, trying to make normal conversation and prevent Gavin from noticing her agitation. ‘With you living so close, I mean?’
‘Not really. I try to bump into the younger boy every so often, just to check he’s OK, but, like I said, they’re none of them all that keen on the police. Chrissie’s quite friendly with Yvonne Whittle – or she tries to be.’
They turned into the next street. Stella focused her mind on the sign attached to the wall of the end house: Chichester Road. This was where the late Harry Whittle’s parents and younger brother lived. More deep breathing and she was ready to face them, but she was glad that Gavin would be the one to inform them that their son’s killers were about to be set free.
 Improvised Explosive Device: a “homemade” bomb, typically used by terrorist groups or non-government fighting forces.
Here’s the blurb for my next novel. I’m hoping to publish it in Spring of 2021.
About Lost in Lockdown
It’s been more than four months since young PC Kenny Hughes was run down and killed while trying to arrest a suspect, but his parents, Gavin and Chrissie, are still reeling from the shock. To make things worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has closed down the crown courts and it’s looking as if the trial of Kenny’s killers will be delayed for months.
Meanwhile, Gavin has an increasingly difficult job as a police officer with responsibilities for enforcing new social distancing regulations and Chrissie is stretched to the limit trying to provide an education to her special needs class while some are shielding at home and others are still in school.
Then, to cap it all, a young boy goes missing from his home. As Gavin joins in the police search for nine-year-old Carl, he is haunted by memories of the day that Kenny went out and did not return.
I’ve taken the plunge and made my next Bernie Fazakerley Mystery available for pre-order in the Kindle and Kobo stores for delivery on 1st October. That means that I get regular emails from Kindle reminding me to upload my finished e-book by 27th September. Every time I discover a new typo, I have to edit both e-book version and upload them to the relevant website. Then some checking is need, just in case I’ve accidentally introduced errors in the process! This is what the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) preview of “Crowd of Witnesses” Kindle edition looks like.
The Kobo Writing Life website relies on authors downloading the converted EPUB book and checking it using their own e-reader or software.
After submitting the e-books, I had to settle down to the task of typesetting my manuscript for the paperback editions (standard typeface and Large Print). Printed books follow different rules from e-books: they need page numbers and headers and care has to be taken over making the margins wide enough that nothing get cut off during manufacture and the reader can see the text on the inside edge without bending the book back and breaking the spine. Fortunately, KDP provides and automated checking system which alerts authors to gross violations of the rules and an online preview that enables you to do a visual check of each page.
Paperback books also need a back cover as well as a front cover. The back cover typically contains the blurb, which describes the book in a way that aims to entice readers to buy it. By now, I have a standard design for both front and back covers, so the design isn’t too hard. What can be tricky is putting the front and back covers and the spine into a single PDF file which will become the cover when printed and wrapped around the inside pages. The spine width depends on the number of pages, so I have to adjust the size of my template for each new book.
After you upload the manuscript and cover, it takes a while for all the automated checks to be completed:
Here’s an example of what the KDP preview looks like (after a few false starts!). All text and any part of the images that needs to appear on the final cover has to be within the red dotted lines or they could get cut off when the book is trimmed. The white dotted lines are where the trimming is supposed to happen.
Footnotes and images often cause problems, so I go through carefully checking that they are all in the right places and don’t extend over the margins. This time I found a problem I’ve not experienced before: one of the pictures appeared fine in my Word document and in the print-ready PDF, but not in the KDP previewer: it covered up some of the text with white space. This was because I’d carefully edited the “wrap points” of this illustration so that the text curved gracefully round it. I tried several different way of fixing it, but it remained stubbornly un-fixed, so in the end I had to revert to a vertical edge to the text in order to make it readable. Then I had to go through the same procedure with the Large Print Edition.
The most frustrating part of the whole process on this occasion was after I’d clicked “approve” on both paperback editions. I received an email from KDP saying that they couldn’t publish the Large Print edition because it was too similar to another book that was already published. Yes, well, it’s traditional that the Large Print edition of a book is very similar indeed to the standard edition!
It took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with emails to get this sorted out. Half the time the responses from KDP appeared to be automated messages that completely ignored the points I was making. Here’s an example:
Thanks for your message regarding the following book(s):
Crowd of Witnesses: Death at the Demo Judy M Ford (AUTHOR) ID:PRI-MGR353XDV5S
We appreciate you taking the time to confirm your publishing rights/your current publishing agreement. We’ll review the book(s) and provide an update to the publisher with the results.
Because you’re not publishing the book(s) through your personal KDP account, we’re unable to provide information about the results of our review. For an update on the status of our review, please contact the publisher directly.
Thanks for contacting Amazon KDP
Hang on a minute! I’m a self-published author. I am the publisher. And I am using my personal (i.e. my only) KDP account.
It is about the first stages of grief for Gavin and Chrissie Hughes when their police officer son is killed on duty. The others books were intended to be following them six months on and as they approach the first anniversary of Kenny’s murder. The second book was going to centre around the victim impact report that Gavin and Chrissie would write for the judge at the trial of Kenny’s killers. That was all de-railed by COVID-19, which led to Crown Courts being closed down and jury trials suspended indefinitely.
So Book 2 is now going to be about the coronavirus lockdown and how different families experience it: Gavin still in frontline policing; Chrissie teaching her school children remotely, Bernie, Peter and Jonah confined to their home; Wayne and Dean struggling to keep their two lively adopted boys happy and occupied in a small house and garden; the Whittle family grieving the loss of their older son and facing financial problems with Trevor’s taxi service no longer able to run. There’s going to be a police investigation included in the plot, but Jonah can’t be involved because he’s being shielded at home, so Anna Davenport will be the Senior Investigating Officer. And the investigation is going to involve Wayne and Dean and their adopted sons, Carl and Harry. Yes, you’re right, it’s going to be horrendously complicated, but simplified by the fact that all the families are segregated by being confined to their homes for the duration.
Book 3 is tentatively entitled “Victim Statements” and will be written after we know when Crown Courts will open again and how long the backlog is likely to take to be dealt with. I’m hoping that it will be before the end of 2020 so that it can cover the anniversary of Kenny’s death. The subtitle is currently “Cold and Frosty Mourning”, so those courts had better get back to work before Spring 2021!
The reason that I can’t leave all that completely on the back burner until after I’ve finished writing the next Bernie Fazakerley Mystery “Crowd of Witnesses” is that the action in “Locked Down: May Day Mourning” is all scheduled to take place this May and I need to have Bernie writing about it in her blog. You can read it all here:
So, at the same time as planning how to tell a story that dates back to 1982 (safely away from any unexpected twists to the COVID-19 saga!), I’ve got to think about how all of my characters are going to react to the daily Downing Street briefings, the news about lost lives and lost livelihoods, and the continuing stresses of limited freedom and an uncertain future!
As I said in my previous post, my next detective novel is going to be about a crime that took place nearly forty years ago, when Our Bernie was still a postgraduate student and DCI Jonah Porter was a mere Detective Constable. The idea is that he decides to write his memoirs to while away the time during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, when he is confined to the house because his spinal cord injury makes exposure to the virus high risk for him.
I planned to interleave current events, such as discussions of the case between Jonah and his friends, Peter and Bernie, with past event pertaining to the murder case. The next question was how to do this.There were three main options:
Write both current and past events from the point of view of an omniscient narrator (my usual approach);
Write current events as third person omniscient, but use chapters from Jonah’s memoirs (written in the first person) to tell the story of the past case;
Write both current and past events in the first person, possibly changing narrator between Jonah, Bernie and Peter.
When I read fiction, I’m not a great fan of first-person narratives, but I have to admit they do sometimes work really well. Jonah is a bright guy and quite capable of writing up a case in a way that would make a good story. In a fit of enthusiasm, I got him to write some case notes for Bernie website. They never got very far, because he’s a busy man and writing is time-consuming when you only have two fingers to type with, but you can read about one of his very early cases here, if you’re interested:
I think I’ve decided to go for third person omniscient for the present-day and to allow Jonah to narrate the past – perhaps with interventions from Peter (who was there and may remember things differently) and Bernie (who was very much on the periphery and may have questions about what happened from the point of view of an outsider. I’ve planned out the chapters. Now all I have to do is write them!