MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Excerpts

Here you will find various excerpts - the most recent addition (as linked from my newsletter) at the top, but scroll down for more. Note: some may be from pre-publish drafts and contain errors.
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Excerpt From:

Harold The King (UK edition title)
I Am The Chosen King (US edition title)

The story of events that led to the Battle of Hastings, 1066


Winchester – April 1043

Emma, twice married, twice widowed, Dowager Queen of England, watched her only surviving son dance, tripping and prancing with dainty steps among the boisterous twirl of men and women. With the solemnity of the coronation ritual completed, and the pomp of the banquet ended, the evening celebration and merry-making came most welcome to the guests here within the King’s Hall at Winchester. A pity that the crowned king had to be Edward.

Emma sipped at her wine to disguise the flare of contempt. Edward, her firstborn son, crowned and anointed this day as King of England. She would have to learn to accept it. She took another sip, savouring the richness of the red grape as it warmed her throat, overcoming the taste of bile that rose from her stomach. Accept it, maybe, but she would never come to like it! Edward was as weak and shallow as his incompetent father, Æthelred, had been. How well had the clerics who wrote the history of these things mocked that name! Æthelred, Noble-Counsel – and how soon into his dithering, floundering reign had that been altered to un-raed, ill-counselled?

A thunder of laughter from the far end of the crowded Hall drew her attention. Godwine’s two eldest sons, Swegn and Harold, stood among a group of young men sharing some, no doubt lewd, jest between them. For all their faults and where the earl and his brood were concerned, there were faults a-plenty they were sons to be proud of. Swegn might be wild, more interested in the pursuit of enjoyment rather than the demands of decision making, but these faults were outweighed by better traits. All Earl Godwine’s sons were strong, courageous and manly, aye, even young Leofwine, who was but seven years of age. Where was the manliness in her son, Edward? Unable to keep her thoughts to herself, Emma spoke to the man sitting beside her, his hand tapping out the merry rhythm-beat of the dance on his knee.

“I have been wife, and queen, to two men who have ruled England.” Her words oozed contempt. “You would have thought one of them could have sired upon me a man worthy to be called son.”

“Harthacnut, your last-born…” Godwine began, but Emma irritably waved him silent.

“My second husband, Cnut, gave me a child of each sex, both of whom had the constitution and life-span of a mayfly.”

Briefly, an expression of regret clouded Emma’s face. To be a queen for over two score years, to rule as regent, survive attempts of murder and the harsh bitterness of exile: such a woman needed to shield her weaknesses from those who would, at the drop of an autumn leaf, oppose her. But Godwine knew Emma well, better perhaps than either of her husbands had done.

Harthacnut, her youngest son, she had genuinely adored. A boy like his father, wise and disciplined, with a sense of duty and purpose; strong of body and mind. How much had she endured for that lad! And for what? For him to die of a seizure when he was but three and twenty, and crowned king for less than two short years.

“The life of the wrong son was ended,” she said softly. Godwine assumed she referred to Harthacnut’s untimely death, winced as she murmured, “It ought have been Edward killed, not Alfred.”

Godwine made no comment to that. Emma had borne two sons to Æthelred: Edward and Alfred, and Alfred was a name that still conjured difficult memories that brought the blood stealing into Godwine’s cheeks. As young men, exiled from England, the brothers had tried and failed in a pathetic attempt to claim their right of succession after Cnut’s death. Captured, Alfred had been placed in Godwine’s care. It had not been good care, for the lad had fallen into the clutch of Cnut’s illegitimate son, Harold Harefoot. Imprisoned and cruelly blinded, Alfred had not survived the torture. Ever since, Godwine had carried the blame for that wicked death. But such was the fate of young men who tried to take by force a crown from the one who was already, rightly or wrongly, wearing it.

Earl Godwine’s hawk-sighted blue eyes followed Emma’s narrowed gaze. Edward was an elegant fine-featured man, two years short of forty years of age, tall and slender, dressed in bright-coloured, extravagant clothing.

Disdainfully, Emma snorted. “A pious weakling with neither brain nor balls.

“Give him time, my lady. He has been almost thirty years in exile. He was but eight when forced to flee to your birthplace in Normandy.”

Aye, it must have been hard for the lad and his brother when they left London, muffled by the concealing darkness of night, bundled into a boat and taken, alone and frightened, across the sea to live among those of a foreign tongue and way of life. Never knowing when they would return to their mother, and England. Knowing, later, that when she agreed marriage with their father’s usurper, Cnut, that the when would not come until the Danish conqueror met with death. And even then, only if their place had not been superseded by other sons.


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Excerpt from

A MIRROR MURDER

CHAPTER ONE

Life After School

Summer 1971

Murder, when I was a naïve sixteen-year-old, was very firmly in my uncle and guardian, DCI Toby Christopher’s domain, not mine. But two years after leaving school, in the summer of 1971, a brutal murder was to change my life. For a second time.

It is not the amount of blood pooling over the black and white linoleum, nor its copper-tang smell that clings, these many years later, to my mind or occasionally haunts a restless dream. The other smells are also there – but I’ll not dwell on those for the sake of the victim’s dignity. It is the hollow emptiness of the house that I remember. That stilled quietness, as if the place was suspended on pause, holding its breath – waiting. Waiting for the lonely coldness of death to be discovered, for the stunned silence to be disturbed by those who, by necessity, must intrude...

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As a shy schoolgirl, I knew little of the world, my priority being to not make a fool of myself. Insecurities matter when you are an awkward teenager about to be let loose from the sanctimonious boredom of a girls’ school into the unknown of the grown-up world. My careers talk, in that final term of 1969, did little to boost my fragile confidence:

“What do you want to do when you leave school, January?”

I had sat, staring blankly at the two prim schoolmistresses. No one except those in ‘authority’, or girls who didn’t like me (the feeling was mutual), called me ‘January’. To my family and friends I was Jan. Jan Christopher. I frequently cursed the day I was born because that was why I had been lumbered with such a stupid Christian name. My identical twin and I came several weeks too early, on the last day of January 1953, so we were named for the months we were conceived and born. I got January because I arrived first, my twin got June. I guess it could have been worse: hard to shorten February into a respectable-sounding nickname.

June died when we were three years old. My memories of her are few and fuzzy. One was a Christmas morning, waking up with her next to me and feeling the weight of two present-packed stockings near our feet. I’ve no idea why we were sharing a bed. Perhaps we had been bundled in together because we’d had relatives staying for the festivities? But for most of those early childhood years I can only remember hearing incessant crying in a darkened room. She – we – had been ill. I don’t know what with, we never talked about it. Scarlet fever? Whooping Cough? Influenza? I survived. She didn’t.

So, there I was, a gawky lass who hid behind her curtain of long, non-descript brown hair, trying my best not to be noticed by the girls who had confidence (the bullies), being asked by two teachers what I wanted to do with my life after I finally escaped the long, tortuous, horrid, lonely, hell years at school. (I’m paraphrasing.) I had no idea. My only ambition was to write. I was always writing; fantasy and science fiction stories about space knights dashing from galaxy to galaxy at twice the speed of light. Real authors, I thought, were clever, intellectual people who went to university and got degrees and things. I had three minor exam credits: English Language, English Literature and Religious Knowledge. Even obtaining those had been a miracle, especially the last one, as after I’d finished the questions in the first half-hour of a two-hour exam. I had spent the rest of the time writing a story about an alien who flew through space doing Robin Hood-type deeds. It was a good story. I got a poor C for the exam.

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Excerpt from
Sea Witch 
1715

Shipwrecked on the Florida coast, Jesamiah Acorne spent a disturbed night, then heard some interesting news: 

Chapter Fifteen

“Rue! Rue? Wake up!”
   Had anyone been awake to witness Jesamiah’s self-indulgent misery during the night they would not have believed the man urgently shaking his friend’s shoulder to be the same person.
Rue was stretched out beneath the shade of a palm, legs crossed at the ankles, the wide-brimmed grass hat he had fashioned pulled low over his eyes, arms folded across his chest. He shoved the hat from his eyes, stared at Jesamiah squatting beside him, closed his eyes again and resettled his hat.
   “Go away.” He added something crude and explicit in French.
   “Listen! I have news! Bloody superb, gift from God news!” Jesamiah’s excitement was unmistakable. Like a boy on his birthday.
  “It ‘ad better be,” the older man growled, removing the hat and waving it ineffectually at the irritating buzz of insects. “I do not take kindly to being woken from my afternoon nap.”
    “Three more survivors have straggled ashore, down in the next village.”
   “Très bon for them! As long as they find their own shade I am most ‘appy for them.” Annoyed, Rue replaced his hat. 
    Jesamiah snatched it, tossed it away.
   “Merde!”
   “Will you damned listen? They are Spanish.”
   The Frenchman was unimpressed. “Unless they are natives, so is everyone along this stretch of coast. Even you are ‘alf Spanish, your mother was Spanish you are able to speak the language. In case you ‘ad not noticed, we ‘appen to be idling in Spanish territory.”
   “They were from a Spanish vessel. One of a fleet.” Jesamiah ignored the sarcasm, had his hands on Rue’s shoulders attempting to shake sense into him. “A convoy of galleons. Galleons, Rue. The entire fleet went down. Carrying gold from Mexico; packed to the fore-deck, bloody great, treasure
carrying galleons!”
   Interest was twitching. Rue uncrossed his legs. “You are serious?”
  The grin swept over Jesamiah’s mobile face. “As serious as a duck’s arse, mate! Word is spreading as wild as fire in the hold; they were on their way to Spain from Havana, were hit by the same hurricane that did for us. All of them Rue, all laden with gold bullion and silver, precious gems and barrels
of indigo. The wrecks are scattered along God-knows how many miles of reef.” Hunkered on his heels he rested his forearms on his thighs, giving a moment of quiet silence for the implication to sink in.
   The wind scurrying in from the Atlantic was strong on the far side of the dunes, among the scrub and vegetation its bluster dropped considerably. Here, it was more of a whispering breeze, its voice a very quiet, continuous, sssss, a muted harmony whispering with the muffled whissh of the ocean.
   “A fortune’s in the holds of those ships, Rue. A fortune run aground an’ sitting there with only fish and crabs to shit on it.”
   Slowly the Frenchman smiled, a sweep that split his face from ear to ear. “Or for someone with enterprise and skill to salvage it, non?”
   Scratching at his beard growth Jesamiah pondered the genesis of a plan. “No Rue, for someone with a fast ship and the savvy to go one better. I’d wager the Spanish are already running around like their arses are on fire. The stuff was destined for the King’s treasury, wealth he cannot afford to lose. They’ll be all over the Florida reefs these next few months, reclaiming what they can. Plenty of sharks too – and I am not talking of fish. Pirates ‘ave as much a nose for the smell of gold as do our finned friends for blood.”
   Rue sat forward, his eyes gleaming, hooked. “So what is it you propose?”
  Rising to his feet, Jesamiah strode a few paces to the top of the dunes, thinking.   Unprotected, the wind hit him in the face and the sound of the surf churning on to the beach and roaring in his ears was startling. He stood there, legs widespread, hands on hips staring into the emptiness of the wild Atlantic. The air smelt heavy with salt, was humid, with an undertone of damp earth. He drank it all in, breathing it deep into his lungs the sight, sound and feel of the sea.
   Turning his back to the ocean Jesamiah spoke his thoughts aloud, the wind streaming through his hair and blue ribbons laced there. “They will have to store what they salvage somewhere. Build a warehouse along the coast? Somewhere easily accessible from the sea but with fresh water, and practical to defend. Probably near to where the main body of the fleet went down.”
   Remembering the torn carcass of the Salvation added, “I’m not going to risk the hazard of shallows, reefs and the more deadly type of shark for nothing more than a few pieces of eight. Not when all we have to do is let the Spanish do the collecting while we bide our time, learn where this storehouse is, then sail in and take what we want.” There was no trace of the despondency of last night in his eyes. Nothing but an eager alertness.
   “Mon ami, Capitaine, it is an excellent plan but are you not forgetting un petit matter?” Rue lifted his hand, held finger and thumb close together indicating something very small. “We are not in possession of a ship.”
   Jesamiah stood there, his bare feet sinking into the white sand. Stood there grinning. He spread his arms, palms uppermost. “So we get one.”
   “D’où – from where?” Rue climbed the dune joined him on the top. With an extravagant sweep of his hand, he gestured towards the wormriddled jetty that served the village. Pointed at the two leaking fishing boats and their own battered longboat. “Are we to use one of those? What do we do? Beat a merchant crew to pulp with the oars?”
   “Our longboat will take us to St. Augustine. From there we find a passage to Virginia, we can talk ourselves aboard or something. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to do so.”
  “Virginia?” Rue spluttered, raising his arms in the air, exasperated. “‘The sun ‘as got at you? Why, in the name of God, do we wish to go to Virginia?”
  “To get us a ship – keep close-hauled, man!”
  Rue brushed sand from his bare legs. “I ‘ave a feeling I do not wish to be knowing this but tell me anyway. Why do we need to go all the way to Virginia to get us a ship?”
   Folding his arms Jesamiah smirked. “There are eight of us. Eight men to find and take a suitable vessel. We need to get something easily, something sleek and fast, and preferably something that has a cargo we can sell immediately to entice a full crew. We might strike lucky and find what we want in St Augustine, but we would have to get out past the fort. With that battery? We do not have the men or time to sit on our rumps and wait for something to come to us, therefore, we go to where I know there will be what we want.”
   “In Virginia?”
   “In Virginia.”
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