I was driving in the country minding my own business when by chance I came upon a little church. It was only a shed really, but it had a cross on the gable and was parked on the edge of a large grass field and had a very large parking area. What interested me was the fact that there were no houses any where near this place. Instantly I thought ‘mystery’ and possibly intrigue.
As it happens I had just finished The first Bill Reyner book, ‘Fiend’s Gold’ which at that time was not intended as a series. But there it was, a mysterious church that begged Bill to investigate. The railway crossed the road just a little way beyond the church and at that moment a long and very boring train decided to block my progress. With nothing to do but wait for the lumbering freighter to clear the way I sat and dreamed. Before the train had passed, the plot and story line was clear in my head. It was obvious that this church housed a sinister and very dark collection of bizarre worshipers.
I could hardly wait to get home as the story was buzzing around in my brain and needed to be recorded – Bill was really going to be in for it this time, I could see the danger awaiting him. The week before encountering the church I had been to Tew Falls, it is a beautiful waterfall in a wild park run by the Niagara Escarpment Authority, as I left we decided to come home a different way and low and behold I passed an excavation right on the edge of the park. Someone was building their dream home with a view. The church and the new house just fitted together like hand in glove – the connection being a murder.
Mania is an exciting ramble through the unlikely but presented as very believable way. A lunatic fringe religion that ceremonially murder people. It’s a good mystery and Bill does his best to solve it. If you haven’t read it you should check out the first chapter on my website.
I see that some people found it exciting, there a couple of excellent reviews on Amazon.com and at Barns Noble. Why not pop over to Amazon and look up Mania by Wentworth M Johnson and read the reviews, it’s free and it’s fun.
I’ve made a few errors in my time and I’ve witnessed some doozies. Once when I worked in air traffic control we had a naval aircraft carrier come in for major repairs. The sea base or port had no facilities for aircraft – the obvious thing was to send the planes to us so the pilots could still fly while the ship was being fixed. The aircraft were anti-submarine Fairey Gannets. A strange looking thing with turbo prop contra-rotating propellers. I’ve nothing against the navy, except they have a rather stuck up attitude. Being the so called senior service they have this dream that other people are merely there for their benefit. We did get the last laugh as the commander thought his men should show off their prowess as fliers. But we had a concrete runway not a ship’s deck. Brilliant as the navy must be, they came up with a solution.
We used one meter square concrete blocks with rings in the top for planes to be tied to in high wind conditions. Sort of a way to stop the planes from blowing away. The sailors painted a section of the runway to look like the deck of a carrier, then they placed two rows of our concrete airplane anchors at about 75 meters apart and connected a steel cable along the top. With great interest we observed these diligent jolly Jack tars build this magnificent device. The last two blocks, one at the end of each row were joined with a cable representing the arresting wire on an aircraft carrier. The theory being that the plane would land between the two rows of concrete blocks and catch the wire on the first pair thus being brought to a stop as if aboard the ship. On first sight, this device looked as if it might well do the thing. Though now I’m sure air arm commanders have physics included their curriculum.
The very first Gannet approached making its strange sound as it gently lowered and levelled out for the landing. Flaps dawn, wheels down, arrester hook down. She teetered gracefully in the air then the hook hit the runway. Flames and sparks flew like the devil’s own grindstone. The hook caught the wire perfectly. At this point the experiment went awry. With sixteen thousand pounds of airplane coming in at a about seventy miles an hour the physics of the equation meant the concrete blocks took to the air like fleeing giant crows – well not so much fleeing as converging. They landed on top of the once pretty little aircraft and turned it into so much scrap metal. The pilot escaped with only minor injuries and major embarrassment. The experiment was not repeated.
The trick is to be there and make sure you don’t miss any of the action. I have always been “lucky,” and managed to be on time for the main event. For example:-
I took all three of my boys on a touring holiday of the British Isles and on this particular day we were at a place called Wells Next the Sea. Wells is a small port that takes fishing boats and some coastal tramps. On this occasion I had just stopped the car near the quayside which is also the main street of the town. The river is at a right angle to the main street and dock. I happened to look up and there was a ship speeding down the river towards the town.
Jokingly I said to the boys,” Wow! Look at that, at his speed he’s going to finish up on the highway.”
It certainly looked as though he would never make the 90 degree turn at the end of the river. We watched intently as this quite large ship came rushing down the river at a good thirty-five miles an hour. He did make the turn, but as he was running with the incoming tide he could not stop at the quayside. At the far end of the harbour is what the locals call the pool, a large open expanse of water where they are able to turn ships round and it also happens to be the place where hundreds of privately owned pleasure boats were parked and anchored. The ship dropped anchor and put the engine into full astern. Needless to say it could not stop and ploughed into the crowd of private boats. Most moved aside but two or three were damaged by the impact and one began sinking.
A woman standing beside me suddenly yelled, “I’m going to kill someone.”
The ship stopped and the engine was still at full throttle in reverse. She backed up dragging her anchor. Almost cartoon like one 30 foot private cruiser suddenly upended and then in seconds dived below the water. The ship’s anchor must have caught her mooring chain and pulled the thing to its doom. The private vessel vanished from sight.
“That’s my boat,” yelled the woman beside me.
The fiasco was not quite at it’s conclusion. A sailor coiled a rope and on the instructions of a very agitated dock worker attempted to throw it. His puny effort resulted in the rope dropping into the water as the ship ploughed helplessly into a reed bank on the far side of the harbour, there to remain for several days. That was an exciting demonstration of incompetence I would have happily paid to watch.
Later I spoke with a dock worker and he told me that the ship came in without the aid of a pilot and also came in with the running tide, apparently that’s a no, no.
One question I’m often asked is, “Do you base you characters on real people?” In reality it’s a silly question. Of course you have to base your characters on something real. Each invented personality must be believable and the most believable people are real people. Always when writing I imagine the character is here with me. I can hear them speak and see the silly faces they pull and of course they always look like someone I met, or know.
Real people are so much fun if you carefully observe them. One slightly humorous story I recall was my nephew. At the time he was only seven and I was visiting England. On this occasion I found him scooting down the street using a bicycle as a scooter. He had one foot on a pedal and was virtually riding beside the vehicle.
“Why don’t you ride properly?” I asked.
In his funny but sweet Fen accent he said, “I in’t big enough.”
“Can you ride a bike?”
“Oh yes, uncle Malcolm.”
Being the good uncle, I held the bike while he climbed aboard. A slight push and he was on his own. He certainly did know how to ride it. After a while he came back and I caught him and allowed him to climb off again.
“That’s great, in’t it, uncle Malcolm?”
“Yes it is. I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you how I used to get on a bicycle when I was little.”
I showed him how the bike could be leaned up against a wall or a lamppost and without difficulty a young lad could easily climb up using the crank as a step. Once balanced, just ease away frown the wall and off you go. With excitement and gusto David followed my instructions and in seconds was haring down the street on the slightly oversized bike.
Pleased with my afternoon’s work I walked to my brother’s house and continued my visit. About an hour passed when there came a loud banging on the outside door. Being the closest I got up and answered the frantic banging. Opening the door I saw David standing there with mud from head to foot, his shirt was torn and his trousers ripped. His glasses were lopsided and one lens broken.
“What the heck happened to you?” I asked.
With a beautiful smile and in his quaint accent he said. “Wull, you didn’t show me ‘ow to get off.”
When I wrote the story ‘Him’ I could imagine young David for in my mind’s eye this was the character. ‘Him’ is not yet published, but it most likely will be sometime next year. The real David was gentle and kind and had a deep interest in the Middle Ages, but unfortunately some years later he was killed by a drunk driver.
Many moons ago I was young and foolish, now I’m old and foolish. Not far from where I lived was an area of the shore where the Royal Air Force practiced live firing. They would tie half a dozen empty oil drums together and anchor them. When the tide came in the thing would float. This was the target that fighter planes would attack with live ammunition. Being children, inquisitive and daring we often cycled to this forbidden place and when the tide was out collect unspent ammunition. Airplanes have electric guns and to prevent awkward jams whilst in combat the gun loads a shell and fires it then ejects it whether it fired or failed. Walking over the sands we found dozens of 50 caliber cannon rounds, complete and un-fired.
Without getting deep into the science of ammunition, the 50 cal, is literally huge and has three explosive regions in the cartridge alone. The percussion cap when struck by the firing pin would discharge into the primary, which is Mercuric Fulminate. The fulminate then sets off the main charge, which in our cases was some black crystal stuff that looked like black sugar.
As ingenious kids we had a use for all the components of the cartridge including the missile. The percussion cap was fun to place under someone’s chair leg, which resulted in a large bang when some poor unsuspecting individual sat on the chair. The fulminate was useful for making small bombs. You merely place some in a nut and screw a bolt into each end. Tie a string to it and launch it into the air. On hitting the ground it would explode most violently. The black crystal was neat stuff for making homemade fireworks, just add iron filings or magnesium, or copper and you could create a marvellous display.
All sounds simple enough, but the problem was dismantling the weapon to extract its glorious parts. On this particular occasion I was with a friend who will remain nameless. We were in my father’s workshop where I had a 50 cal neatly restrained in a metal vice in order to perform the usual operation of extracting the goodies. To start with a very special flattened and sharpened nail was used to ease off the brass cover and expose the percussion cap.
I remember suddenly finding myself on the floor, my hands and chest felt as though a million bees had stung them. The room was filled with smoke and all the windows had vanished. Somehow I managed to walk out of the building though I don’t remember it. I looked at my hands and found that a stream of blood poured from each finger like a miniature tap.
My next recollection was the grinning face of the doctor who removed some three hundred pieces of brass shrapnel from my arms and hands. The only lasting damage from the explosion was a fractured eardrum. I did however learn one lasting lesson. Never tamper with explosives.
For some strange and intriguing reason, whenever I go to a new publisher they always give me a questionnaire to answer. One of the dimmest questions that always appears is – Why did you write that story? Good grief !!! Well, I equate it to this. There are three cookies on the table, one a raisin cookie, one is a marshmallow and one a chocolate. I eat one. Why did I pick that one?
The answer is simple, it was there. I’ll get to the others in good time. As for why did I write that story? Well, like the cookie, it was there, not on the table, but flying around in my head. They say that everyone could write one book in their lifetime, and a few could write two. I have to admit that I do not fall into either category. All in all I have published thirty stories, but I have written and completed some 60 full-length novels, twenty short stories and have the beginnings of about 45 other stories that I haven’t got around to writing. I have actually published 2.8 million words and have more than double that amount standing in the wings.
The question should be – Why did you submit this particular story? Rather than why did you write it. I always boast that I can rip off 500 words on any subject in less than half an hour anywhere anytime. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to talk about rockets – their use or history. Likewise with any subject, all you need is an opinion. As for writing stories, the world is full of them. Everywhere you go – keep your eyes open and you’ll see a tale on every street.
If you’ve read any of my books you will have noticed I don’t like to go into great detailed descriptions. The reason for this is I believe anyone who reads a book must have some imagination or they’d be watching TV. When I say so-and-so met a beautiful blond woman, there is no need to describe every curve and every detail. If you don’t have an inkling of what a beautiful blond woman looks like I suggest you must be either dead or in a coma and the book wouldn’t interest you anyway. That actually relates to another question they usually ask. Did you model your characters on a real person? Doh !!!
Dim question. If I’d never actually ever seen a real person then I wouldn’t know what they were like, but like most people I live on planet Earth where there are millions of people. Of bl—y course I modeled it on a real person. I like to think my readers are smart, worldly and have enough intelligence to apply their own judgment. (Pssst- that was a clever statement, because anyone who writes to say I’m wrong has to be admitting he or she isn’t smart or worldly.) Ask Newf, he’d be the one to put his foot in it.
I’ve sort of neglected the blog lately as I have been very busy moving Bill Reyner and company over to I & W Johnson Books, from the old publisher. It takes me about 20 hours to get one story transferred and into e-book formant. Good news!! In a week or so all Bill Reyner books will be in e-book and paperback at a slightly lower price than before and available worldwide.
At the same time I have been writing the tenth book in the series. Wow! If I got paid the minimum wage for this job I’d be rich. The more people who know me the more e-mails I get. It’s imperative that I answer my fans even before I start my day’s work. I get communications from India, Indonesia, Malaya, and even France, not to mention USA, UK and Canada. I’m not complaining – I love to hear from you wherever you are.
I think this week I would just like to complain for once – things I don’t like. The funny thing is the things that upset me most is people who distort the language, even though I have poor old Newf with his murdered English. For example my hair stands on end when people, particularly radio and TV personalities who will pronounce the ‘L’ in walk, talk, chalk, palm and almond. In English and these words the ‘L’ is silent, just like the ‘P’ in swimming. Ha, ha. Another one that raises my hackles is English or American people who say ’erbs. Take note and check your pronunciation dictionary. The word is Herb with an ‘H’. Only French people drop the ‘H’. Otherwise we’d say ’ouse, ’appy, Uncle ’arry, if you see what I mean. So, you could say ’ang your ’at in the ’all ’arry and we’ll all ’ave a cup o’ ’erbal tea. Doh !!!
Before I leave this subject, never to return. There are two other hackle raisers. Many American’s say semi, pronounced sem-eye. Check your dictionary, it’s semi pronounced semee or semy. Then you have mobile, pronounced by many as mobeel – should be mob-isle as in the ‘Isle’ of Man.
Now if I haven’t lost all my followers !!! Have fun and keep reading.
We all need fire as long as it’s under control, however there is fire and fire. One incident that comes to mind is when I learned to use a Bren gun. We were on the two hundred yard range, which had a nice cover to protect the gunners from the weather. “Should your weapon jam,” yelled the instructor, “you will draw the bolt and pull the trigger twice, if the weapon remains jammed you leave the weapon on the ground and leap to your feet yelling ‘weapon jammed.’ Now is that clear?”
We all agreed and the ammunition was handed out. The guy next to me was, how should I say it nicely … Well how about not very good at taking instructions. Ten of us lay there each with a light machine gun in front of us and now they were loaded and ready for action. “At your targets in front, FIRE.” Yelled the instructor.
Oh boy! A few short bursts from my weapon when the guy next to me leapt to his feet with a 14 pound loaded machinegun in his arms. He screams, “Gun jammed.” Pulled the trigger and blew the roof of the range. Glass and splintered wood flew in every direction.
Another time I lay in my bed and swore I heard artillery firing. Boom – kar-thump. This repeated several times. It sounded as if the artillery piece was fairly close. Puzzled for an explanation I got out of bed and walked to the window. Nothing, nothing at all. Even the sound had ceased. Back in bed, is started again. Boom – kar-thump.
“What’s that?” asked the wife.
“No idea. I couldn’t see anything.”
She climbed from the bed and drew the curtains for a look outside. “Good heavens!” she exclaimed astonished by what she claimed to have seen.
Reluctantly I arose again and looked out the window. Now I’m sure I know what the resurrection will look like. The entire horizon was lit up and flames from hell were reaching into the sky. We dressed rapidly and at three in the morning went to investigate. An entire factory almost a mile away had erupted with oxygen bottles acting like firecrackers – an amazing sight to behold.
As a child I had a similar experience looking out the window in the middle of the night I saw the entire horizon lit up like a grand summer evening. This time it was a large wood storage yard that burned beyond control.
One summer we decided to take a look at all the castles in Britain – not really practical. However, myself along with my three sons set out on a six-week jaunt to visit as many as possible. We surely had loads of fun, but two extraordinary things happened along the way. We started out on the south coast of England with a first visit to Pevensey then worked our way round westward and up into Wales.
Caernarfon Castle was our first really big and almost complete castle with many towers, rooms and displays. The staff has a set practice when closing. A bell rings continuously warning visitors to evacuate the premises. One member of staff is sent to each tower where they climb to the top and as they then descend he or she locks all doors after shooing out the stragglers. In this way over a period of about thirty minutes the entire castle is secured. The guests are then ushered out the main gate and then it too is secured for the night.
I was with my youngest son when we heard the bell. It took us about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach the courtyard where we saw crowds of people exiting through the main keep; my other two boys were nowhere to be seen. I sent the youngest to see if the lads were already out in the street. By the time he returned it was clearly closing time and only myself and a couple of workers remained. The Castilian came over to me and said, “I’m sorry, sir you’ll have leave now.”
“I’m not moving until I know where my boys are.”
“There’s no one in the castle, sir, all the doors are locked, you’ll have to leave.”
I stood my ground determined to go nowhere until I found my boys. With a sudden inspiration I stuck my fingers in my mouth and whistled very loudly. Sure enough I was answered by my second oldest lad, who could whistle as loud as myself.
“Goodness, me,” exclaimed the Castilian. “There’s someone in the Queen’s Tower.”
If I hadn’t been so stubborn the boys would have had to spend a cold night locked in a castle tower.
The second unusual thing that happened on that same trip was at Brody Castle in Scotland. The manager of the campground suggested we visit the place. Brody Castle was at that time owned and operated by an order of monks. They were a little spooky but otherwise pleasant and accommodating. There were no guided tours, you merely paid a donation and wandered about unhindered.
Somewhere on the third floor I found myself alone wandering through a somewhat Spartan room with unknown paintings on the wall. As if the devil himself was chasing him, my youngest came rushing into the room exclaiming, “Dad, Dad, I’ve found a dead guy.”
I mean, as if. “So where’d you find him?”
He led me through a couple of rooms and stopped in front of a huge fireplace. There was of course no fire. Beside the grate on either side was a walk-in cupboard. Stephen opened one cupboard and pointed in. Unbelievably there in the depths of the dark closet lay the remains of a long dead person. I walked in and examined him, it was real enough.
Moments later I found one of the monks and reported the find.
“Oh,” said the monk, “it’s no problem, he was there when we moved in.”
The castle in now owned by the Trust and they have removed the unknown sleeper.
I like to visit odd or peculiar places. Throughout my life I’ve made a special effort to see it, go there or experience it. For instance, have you ever been to the Men-an-tol. Most people have never heard of it. When I was in the Caribbean I met a person from Zenor. “Oh, I said, I’ve been there, did you ever visit the Men-an-tol?”
“The what?” she replied.
Hmm. I ask you, some people. The Men-an-tol is a hole, literally. Thousands of years ago some enterprising ancient Brit found or made a hole in a rock. It looks like the world’s largest doughnut – probably a metre or three feet plus in diameter and with a hole through it. Legend says; pass through the hole and it brings luck. Needless to say I climbed through and immediately fell in a mud puddle. How about Logan’s Rock? Another oddity – it’s a huge bolder on top of a stack at the very edge of the coast, several hundred feet high. It’s special because it tilts with the mere push of a human hand. It’s hard to find and even harder to get to, but it’s worth the trip.
The Wookey Hole is another oddity. It is in reality a dried up ancient underground river, but in places it’s not so dry and has a raging river running through it. I’m not a potholer, but again this place is well worth the visit. Then you have the Boggle Hole, another odd place. It’s a cave on the seashore close to Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire England. One place was a little too much for me it’s called Grey Cairns and all it is, is a stone version of the West Kennet barrow. However this one you can go in through a little hole just large enough to accept a medium sized dog. I don’t like closed spaces, especially that old. I crawled in the first couple of feet and backed out again. Another one that made my pulse race at close to three hundred beats per minute was Unston Cairn on one of the Orkney Islands. It’s something like a pyramid and dates back to about 3,500 BC. It is an ancient tomb that has a small entrance followed by a long, narrow corridor with a very low ceiling, which eventually leads to the actual tomb.