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Action! Take One. A thriller that captures post-WW2 London

 

Reg Calloway strides through life carrying bruises, cuts and several other wounds like a jazz-hating colossus. Pills & Soap is wildly accurate depiction of post-WW2 London, a city of spivs and muscle-bound ex-servicemen (I’ve read some history books, and lived through almost all the 50s!).
From the trackside dirt and deaths of Blood & Cinders, Calloway has moved on. He is head of security at a film production company where his imposed day off is torn apart by a bomb – a device that tore apart his boss’s prize Bentley.
The Troubles of Northern Ireland are in their infancy, but Centurion Pictures is filming an IRA-based shoot ‘em up, and a politically motivated Irish actor has gone missing. An easy target for Special Branch, so Reg Calloway is brutalised into finding him.
This follow-up thriller is defined, again, by great, measured and fast-paced writing, but also in terms of capturing 1950s East End of London – complete with Mosley, rabid nationalism and anti-Semitism, and rampant prostitution. Pills & Soap is a big step up. The atmosphere is a fog of menace that switches into physical violence, political rioting, and instant sexual satisfaction. Through it all, Reg Calloway is fighting for justice and right, but with so many wounds and so many battles on different fronts, success is always a long way off.
PS. Lay off the saxophone! While others played air guitar, I was always wielding an air-sax.

Lay it on the line – Derbyshire is brilliant and beautiful

The box car with benches slithered quietly along the railway, gently rocking and rolling, bumping and swaying, through majestic verdant countryside passed heavily-uddered cows, one or two of whom gave a dismissive ‘Oh, it’s you again’ turn of the head, and desultory sheep who couldn’t have cared less.
This is what heritage railways is all about. Ecclesbourne Valley Railway in the Derbyshire Dales is loved, cared for largely frills-free. It doesn’t have the majesty of those historic lines with thundering express steam locos and big diesels, it doesn’t need them and it’s all the better without them.
The way the railway is run is just one of the big factors of this relatively newly, rescued line. It is one of the very few that is directly linked, platform-to-platform with a mainline station. Alight at Duffield, cross the bridge and be welcomed by smartly attired, smiling volunteers on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway platform, where awaits your train.
I, and my bit-of-a-railway-fanatic mate Tim, met at Leicester railway station, travelled to Derby on an Inter City, and stood on the platform watching the dirtiest big diesel (a Class 37, but I’m no expert) spewing out foul-smelling smoke as it hauled a line of pristine new locos – presumably built by Bombardier in Derby – to begin life with South-West Rail. We boarded the immaculately clean, comfortable train to Matlock and alighted at Duffield.
What makes E-V-R so special is its simplicity and lack of pretentiousness. They have steam locos and powerful diesel haulers, but for me, at my age and with my youthful history (dad worked for British Rail, and he and I have sat on a park bench over the buffers of a steam loco going up the Khyber Pass!), there is little better than sitting at the front looking out almost directly on to the track. We sedately rolled along to small stations at Shottle and then Idrigehay before arriving in Wirksworth where there is an obligatory gift shop, but also a carriage serving as a buffet and bar.
Our trip north was on a 1957-built Metropolitan-Cammell Class 101 that last saw passenger service around Darlington and Middlesboro. Not actually built for comfort, but fun in the Dales.
Tim and I trudged up the hill and entered The Red Lion. There were a group of four walkers, young men, probably in their 60s. They had a dog, cunningly disguised as a sheep, which, in Derbyshire, takes courage! The Red Lion is a well-stocked real ale pub – a proper pub – with a friendly welcome.
“Do you do any food?”
“No, but there’s a pantry across the yard and you can bring food back in.”
The ‘pantry’ was a little shack with a short and fascinating menu. We ordered an Indonesian curry and it was delivered to our table in the pub a few minutes later. Delicious doesn’t even get close: it was fabulous, and easily washed down with exceptional beers.
Our return to Duffield was aboard a Derby Lightweight, again built in the 50s, which served Bletchley and Buckingham before ending its ‘paid’ days as a test car.
This was my first ‘out-out’ day for 18 months. The day had begun nervously, but gradually dissipated into confidence. On the mainline trains everyone wore a mask and was spaced out, on the heritage railway, most were masked, but with windows open and acres of space, I felt safe and secure.
Heritage railways come in all shapes and sizes, and each has a uniqueness that usually means a great day out. Ecclesbourne Valley Railway has two big pluses: firstly, it’s accessibility by mainline rail; secondly, the line takes the traveller through some of the most beautiful Derbyshire countryside and terminates in a small town with a long and fascinating history, an arms-round welcome, and at least one top class pub. Then there’s the railway itself and the feeling of being drawn into a family, without the hassle of actual relations.
There are bigger, longer, heritage railways, but Ecclesbourne Heritage Railway offers a handful of peace and relaxation. It is a little bite of countryside, not a plateful of a stupendous past.

Gabba Gabba Hey – an emotional rollercoaster anthology from Fahrenheit Press

Twenty-four short stories on a theme that invites every emotion imaginable. Gabba Gabba Hey, the Fahrenheit Press anthology centred on the massive influence of the Ramones, hits a plethora of peaks.
Every tale has a different angle, be it violence and death through to poignancy and the pain of lost love. This book squares up the reality of a musical era that signifies major changes in the lives of the acolytes who listened and were captivated. They might have been adolescents, rebellious youths, struggling professionals, infant computer wizards, or just lost in a whirlwind world and looking for somewhere to hide.
Few, if any, of the stories have as much as a review of the band, though some of the authors saw them perform live in the 80s, but each and every one has an unbreakable link to the music and its effect on their lives at a pivotal time. As a whole, Gabba Gabba Hey opens the window on the emotions triggered by the brash, thundering inclusive rock of the band; individually, each author has a mastery of the English language and weaves a tale to captivate the reader..
Confession: these authors are the ‘children of the 80s’, while I was a teenager of the 60s and a rock lover into the 70s, but the carefully-fashioned rawness of the Ramones emerges in three dimensions. Their sound had none of the pretentiousness of strutting punk and anti-prog rock. The Ramones captured hearts and minds – as is blatantly evident in this anthology.

What lies behind the plot, places and people in Tony R Cox’s latest crime thriller

I have been asked by Writing Magazine to spray a few words about my new book, Deathbeds to be published by Fahrenheit Press/Fahrenheit 13). I’ve tackled three specific areas – Plot, Places and People.
As a former journalist, I was taught to write as much information as possible in the fewest possible words. Being an author demands different skills: pictures in near three dimensions have to be painted using words alone, and that calls for many more disciplines.
My first news editor, possibly on my first day in 1970, told me: “Imagine you’ve gone home to your mother. She’s busy. In one short, punchy sentence you’ve got to tell her that story. That, young man, is your newspaper story’s first paragraph.” To a great extent, those strictures are also true of writing crime fiction: tightly composed, with no wasted words, but fully descriptive and lot more rounded.
Deathbeds is the fourth in my Simon Jardine crime thriller series. First Dead Body was self-published several years ago, followed by A Fatal Drug and Vinyl Junkie, which have been published by Fahrenheit Press, who are also the publishers of the new book. Simon Jardine, is still a regional newspaper reporter with a deep interest in the rock music of the 1970s, as I was, but that’s where the similarities end.
The 1970s were an era that included crimes such as police corruption, prostitution, and mind-altering, illegal drugs. The news media, meanwhile, tracked stories of insurrection that threatened the very existence of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland had been an unstable tinderbox of sectarian hatred. The fuse was lit and the 1970s became a decade of murder, executions and bombs.
The plot of Deathbeds is inextricably linked to The Troubles, not just the IRA’s war to win some form of independence from the rest of the UK, and especially removal of the army, nor the retaliatory actions of the Ulster Defence Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force, but the criminal funding through extortion, corruption, prostitution, gun-running and drug-dealing.
I travelled to Northern Ireland several times in the mid-70s for personal reasons and heard many horror stories, the veracity of which was apparent with every visit to any graveyard.
I also blagged a lift from a Derby transport firm so that I could write a feature on how trade continued despite the tension. Such a trip is central to the fictional plot of Deathbeds. Why did I go on that trip? For the same reason that scores of regional journalists asked to go to The Falklands to report on a ‘real’ war in the early ‘80s. Not for fame and glory; it was for the adrenaline rush of writing exciting news. It was natural to base part of the fictional storyline on something I could reach back and resurrect from my memory.
The plot of Deathbeds is from my imagination; some of the locations exist, although the action is also from the inner recesses of my head.
Characterisation has been more difficult this time than previous books. The aim has been to create three-dimensional sentient beings out of the ether. Readers of the previous books will already have met Simon Jardine, Dave Green, Tom Freeman, ex-DCI Adam Ludden and, possibly, Janie Caton. All these characters have a basis in some sort of reality, but they are amalgamations of physical appearance and personalities. In Deathbeds, the readers meet new characters. My aim has been to develop all of them in the hope that readers will relate to them. A fictional world is still populated by people whom the reader must believe in.
Over the years I have encountered drug addicts, drug dealers, and several prostitutes. There have been corrupt councillors and public servants, and the rare senior policeman, as well as several shady people running even shadier businesses. I was once sold cheap car insurance by a chap called Con O’Sullivan. I suppose I should have questioned it based on his first name, but the policeman who told me was sympathetic! Perhaps I’ll write about him in a future novel?
Music plays a key role in all my books. The 1970s was an era of great rock and some delicious jazz and blues. I want Simon Jardine to flourish in this environment: not only does music provide a chronological setting, the clubs and seedy dives offer locations where crime can flourish at the same time as characters seek refuge.
Most authors I know have had some academic training. I haven’t. I was editor of the school magazine in Buxton, I wrote every day, almost without a break from joining the Derby Evening Telegraph in September 1970, through several years at the Nottingham Evening Post, followed by a 25-year career in public relations. I haven’t stopped. I hope readers enjoy this latest crime thriller.
Fahrenheit Press is an independent publisher that has given me the opportunity to reach a wide audience and they continue to support my writing.

We’re back rockin’ with the Don Powell Band

If rock music were horse racing, my wagers would be on the back of the Don Powell Band. The pedigree of these musicians is ‘rock world’ impeccable and their debut single, Back On The Road, is not just an anthem for the soon-to-be end of Lockdowns, but a thunderously strong, foot-banging launch.
Don Powell went through a dreadful hiatus when both his knees decided they’d had enough of the music scene. Many thought the renowned drummer would never again sit behind a full kit. Back On The Road, from the very first bars, is Don’s tumultuous answer. The drive, the power and the intricacy is all there, much more so than the latter days of Slade. The Don Powell Band may eventually play some Slade tracks, but if Back On The Road is the benchmark for the future, we can expect solidity and originality. Rock on.
The Don Powell Band is a collection of proven rock musicians who play as if they have been mates for eons. The closeness and joy resounds in guitars, vocals and, of course, drums. Back On The Road is simple and straightforward; it is rock music, it leave pretentiousness in the garage while the band hits the accelerator and powers down the motorway.
Oh how grateful we will be to see Don, Craig Fenney, bass, Jon Briscoe, guitar, Curly Davies, lead vocals, and Bob Wilson, guitar and vocals in reality back on the road together, and back in some rockin’ venues.