Car-eening

You might think that some of Bill Reyner’s escapades are a little far fetched. No, not really. His car accidents for instance, yes I’ve been there in every one. Once I end-over-ended a French Peugeot. Unfortunately it was on a hill and the car tried to make like a golf ball in the rough. Backwards, end-over-end she descended the hill with me clinging onto the steering column for dear life. At the bottom of the hill it stopped and a very dizzy and disoriented driver sat up to discover the car had landed the right way up, no windows, no doors, rear cab roof crushed flat one road wheel missing, no lights, battery or fuel tank. Climbing out I looked back up the hill and saw a trail of debris reminiscent of an airplane crash. My only injuries were a very bruised back and a severely bruised knee.
Another time as passenger we went off a curve in a military truck at just over 75 miles per hour. I remember the edge marker posts bursting off the front of the vehicle like machinegun bullets. We slipped into the ditch and ended up at a tree that stubbornly refused to move. The front of the vehicle buckled and the front window exploded. Again I staggered out, the only member of the three man crew able to walk.
Talking of military vehicles reminds me of the time I was driving an armoured car in Africa coming down a fairly steep and long hill the brakes suddenly failed. Oh boy! Fortunately I had two things in my favour, one; I had been trained to drive properly and two; the gears were manual. Remembering the drill I popped the clutch raced the motor and jammed it into a lower gear. As my heart raced and the bottom of the hill came closer and closer I did it another three times. Fortunately the gearbox took the punishment and I reached the bottom at only thirty miles an hour.
The most amusing was when I was in Africa. At a little shop in Ruiru One of the lads thought it would be a grand idea to buy 5 pounds of Chinese Crackers. For fun we would light one and toss it at a local African as we passed. (I know, hooliganism.) But the laugh was on us. I sat next to the driver with the bag of fireworks on my lap, Tony the driver was the instigator and had the most fun. I would break one off and hand it to him; he lit it with his cigarette and gleefully tossed it out his open window. This particular time the fuse snapped off and still alight blew back into the car, landing in the bag that was on my knee. I looked in with the intension of retrieving it but all I saw was a mass of fire. In panic I handed the bag to the policeman sitting behind me. It was at that time the world ended. In an instant the car was filled with fire and explosions and choking smoke.
All I can say is – we all survived.

Murder most real

The ninth Bill Reyner book seems to be coming along quite well. I’ve reached chapter 12 and typical of Bill, he’s already in too deep to get out without someone getting hurt. This time he’s in search of the fabled King John’s treasure.
Talking about books, I find that factual stories are sometimes more amusing and engrossing than fiction. Although Bill Reyner’s activities are loosely based and actual occurrences and real places, for a real laugh you should read ‘The Torso Murder’ by Brian Vallee. Although murder is not a humorous subject, I think you’ll find that Evelyn Dick’s antics are more than worth the read.
Unfortunately it is a historical fact that in those days the Hamilton Police were – well to be polite – slipshod. I’m sure if you read the book you’ll figure a few other people who should have gone to prison. Today of course our police are among the finest and best trained in the world.

The World’s gone mad

I was walking down the street when suddenly I saw this young lad – his hair had been died vivid green and formed into a crest of spikes. He looked like some bizarre cockerel with a green 30-centimetre crest – or if you wish, a crest of some one foot in height.
“Wha’ yah looking at,” he smirked in a non-too-friendly way.
“Your head.”
“It’s a statement,” he proclaimed proudly.
“You got that right, kid, it’s telling the world there’s nothing between your ears.”
Then you get ‘Fashion,’ which is only another word for ‘moron.’ Why anyone would wear baggy trousers with the crotch hanging round their knees defies human intellect. It looks, stupid, it’s hard to walk in, you have to constantly hitch them up, it chaffs, and apart from that a ten-dollar pair of ill-fitting knickers cost $75 bucks. Sure, I can see the sense in that. You just have to look as stupid as the other idiots. There is one advantage I see for other people; if he’s a purse-snatcher or hold up artist, he won’t get far. No one can run in that garb, therefore I suspect if he wears baggy oversized pants, he must be honest.
Another thing that totally defies my understanding is tattoos. There you have a beautiful young woman with perfectly smooth and delicate looking skin, and suddenly she sticks what looks like bird droppings on her shoulders or legs. Oh, close up you can see a bird didn’t do it, at least not the feathered variety. But why would you mar such lovely skin with so-called art scratching in dull ugly colours that looks like filth at a distance? There again men started the fad, but they were pirates anyway.
I was doing a show at Joyceville Prison in Kingston Ontario, now that’s a scary place. The first thing I noticed was the tattoos, yup everyone – except the guards – walked round looking like an advertising hoarding for an ink factory. I asked one guard, “Why so many tattoos?”
“It goes with the mentality,” he said with confidence. “If you’re stupid enough to be a criminal, then you’re obviously stupid enough to have tattoos.”
And as for piercings, I can only imagine it has to be a total lack of either self-respect or intelligence. I absolutely hate it when you see, male or female with stainless steel zits, or more spokes in their ears than a bicycle wheel has.
Why not dress like a normal person, have beautiful admirable skin, be polite and courteous and for crying out loud enjoy life?

Fear

Fear is something all normal people experience at one time or another, but not all people respond in the same manner. As a writer my characters often experience fear. How do they handle it? Well the same as most regular people. Fear is something I have experienced many times, I don’t relish it, but it happens.
On one occasion my boss said to me, “There’s an anti terrorist conference at the local hotel, we are providing monitors for the audience. I would like you to be our man on the spot.”
Why not, I get paid for it. I took a crew and we set up all the monitors, then I left for home to have a rest and put on my best togs as I had to be “the man on the spot.” On returning to the hotel I should have realized there was something suspicious about the whole affair. Someone else had set up monitors beside some of mine on the stage.
The conference began and a gentleman dressed in military attire started explaining how terrorism was the bane of the modern world. Yak, yak, yak, like we didn’t already know that. I wandered around the room making sure all my monitors were working and everyone had a good view. Eventually I found myself close to the exit.
Suddenly and only a couple of metres from me the doors burst open and three men rushed in wearing ski masks and bearing sub machineguns. It felt as if the world had gone into slow motion. I heard the stutter of fire and saw the lecturer collapse on the stage. Monitors exploded and people screamed. I dropped to the floor pretending to be dead and hoping it was a good impersonation. Hot empty cartridge cases fell all around me, and my heart rate exceeded 200.
Silly me it was only a demonstration of how an attack could occur. The monitors that were not mine were theatrical devices made to explode at the sound of machinegun fire. Had it been a real attack I’m sure we would have all died. Lying there on the floor with the world apparently in chaos around me, I had made up my mind that if any of the assailants came close to me I would try to take his weapon, though now I shall never know if I really would have had the courage.
Did I tell you about the time I was fired at by a six-inch deck gun or the time I was in a room when a man was attacked by a leopard? Oh well never mind, maybe another time.

Pet Peeves

Everyone has some things that really bugs them; mine are mostly to do with writing. Publishers – yes, now there you have the ultimate in brainless dogmatic, stuck in groove simpletons. Many of them couldn’t even see any value in Harry Potter, of course not, the dark glasses makes any decent work impossible to read. So what do they print? Well please excuse the expression, but ‘CRAP’ comes to mind. For example have you ever read ‘The Elephant and Castle,’ by R.C. Hutchinson? It’s a rambling nonsensical foray into the realms of despair. It took twenty years to write.
I read a great deal, as a writer you have to. One book I read was ‘When Worlds Collide,’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Surely he’s a respectable writer. I reached a point in the story that made it silly. A sealed ancient city gushed air when the explorers opened it, BUT, next page describes how the “sealed” city has a smashed dome. Oops. I put it down can’t read a book that makes no sense. ‘The Trouble with Tyco’ an interesting tale of moon exploration. Would you believe the author used tubes in the radio? Would you believe vacuum tubes? Rockets that can carry men to the moon and they use Marconi’s leftovers.
Strangely I found publishing houses where the editors are female seem to be the best. They are polite and mostly they actually read what you submit. As a final note for today, have you read ‘Go the F—k to Sleep’ by Adam Mansbach? Absolutely amazing !!!. What can I say? I suppose the idea is original, but so is blowing up a toilet on a train, neither are very practical or satisfying, but – that’s life, or should I say publishing?

In my own defense I would like to show you a copy of a rave review I got in the USA.

Author Wentworth M. Johnson has written and published more than twenty books in his prolific career, a remarkable feat that he accomplished after spending 12 years in the RAF, five years in a munitions factory and laboratory, and 28 years in television. His most popular books, the Bill Reyner Mystery Adventure Series, chronicle the adventures of amateur sleuthing trio: Bill Reyner, Newf, and Gran.
Readers were first introduced to Reyner in Fiend’s Gold. Since then, he has appeared in seven more novels: Mania, Edinburgh Cuckoos, Damp Graves, Lions and Christians, The Canadian, The Dutchman, and The Mermaid. The fast-paced series takes readers around the world, where stories of dangerous criminals, exotic treasure, and beautiful women unfold on the page.
Johnson draws on his unique life experiences in writing his heart-racing tales. In the RAF, Johnson worked with the Ghurka regiment reclaiming Borneo after it had been invaded by Indonesia and, later, chasing pirates in the South China Sea as a navigator with the 1125th Marine Craft Unit. He has been shot at, shipwrecked, in a plane crash, been in a room with a wild leopard that tore the other person apart, and has been involved in many other dangerous scrapes and accidents throughout his life. In writing the Bill Reyner series, Johnson physically went to the locales to which Bill and company travel, lending to the detail and realism with which his stories are depicted.

Hamilton Canada

My Hamilton

We have every reason in the world to be proud of Hamilton – Steel Town – even if we have little or no steel left. I have lived in big cities all over the world: Birmingham, Nairobi, Norwich, Singapore to mention just a few.
When I first came to this great city I knew this was the place I wanted to stay. My uncle drove me down Main Street and the excitement began building. The mountain looks impressive to a first-time viewer and then there was the glimpse of the bay as we passed northbound streets. The whole city was frozen and piles of snow lined the roadway. Electric buses ran on almost all east-west streets and the stores, shops and houses seemed to go on forever.
Of course, in those days we had steel industries, which gave us a canopy of sulphur gas that could be seen for miles (we didn’t have kilometres then,) and you could smell it anywhere in town. As Beverly Hillbilly Jed Clampett said, ‘The air was so good you could see what you were breathing’.
Annoyingly we had trains that constantly blocked Ferguson Avenue and always when you were in a hurry and Barton Street Jail looked like a jail with its ugly Victorian stone construction and imposing walls. Tim Horton’s was a comparative rarity and the Jockey Club still stood at the corner of Ottawa and Barton.
We have had our days of fame and infamy. Evelyn Dick, Rocco Perri and Plastamet to mention but three. There were good things, too: the CNE started in this town and the Empire Games; we even had a crystal palace. We process almost all the world’s mustard and have more magnificent waterfalls than any other city. The one thing I did notice and I suppose it’s the reason I decided to stay here is the people – helpful, always ready to volunteer and cheerful. We had the largest Boy Scout parade in the world, the largest Christmas party in the world. Man! this has to be the place. We even had an Eton’s store once.
Bygone days have gone by but now I find Hamilton more magnificent than ever. We have one of the best library systems in the world and although I complain about it the public transport must be up there in the top ten – you can always get a bus to go anywhere except Waterdown.
It is disappointing that Toronto has the University of Toronto and we have McMaster University. It really should be the University of Hamilton, McMaster. That sounds much better. I love Hamilton so much so that I wrote an entire series of mystery-adventure books and based my hero here in this wonderful city. Now anyone anywhere in the world can read about us – just go on the Internet and using any search engine look for Bill Reyner or me and bingo! there’s the Hamilton boy and the city I love.
Our new mayor will do a fine job, as most of our mayors have in the past, as long as they can decide where to put the stadium. I would think the only real niggling point is the pedestrian lights. Why do I have to press a button to cross the road, when the thing cycles through all three colours anyway? If I press the button to cross, I still stand the same chances of getting run over by drivers who turn right without looking. But there again we have several really splendid cemeteries.
Remember: the next time you raise a glass it’s not really drinking, it’s a toast to Hamilton, my city. But don’t drive home – the person you run over might be me.

Wentworth M. Johnson

You asked

The question I am asked most of all is,
“Do you intend to write any more Bill Reyner stories?”
Ah, an excellent question with a simple answer. “Yes.” As it happens I have two stories in the works. Bill always seems to find the gold whether he’s looking for it or not. As you may have noticed he gets older with each successive tale. Now he lives in a huge house with his new wife and retired grandmother and of course Newf.
One new story leads Bill into danger (of course) and to hidden gold (of course), but not in the way you would expect. In this one both Bill and Newf deliberately set course to search for long lost treasure. So what’s the complication? Ah! Now that would be telling. Hopefully everyone will know the truth in about a year.
The other story? Slightly different. I had hoped it would be the conclusion to the series, though Bill is almost impossible to kill off. What you will find are all the answers you must have asked when you read all the other stories. Why does he seem to find all this gold? How come he never gets killed in the most dangerous of situations? How come Jane Overland has had so many husbands?
All these answers and more, but you’ll have to be patient, even Bill didn’t know until someone told him why he’s so lucky.

My old Hometown

Did you know that March is virtually unique as far as town names go? When everyone packed their bags and sailed to the Americas they called their new towns by the same name as the ones they had just left behind. It looks like nobody from March, Cambridgeshire, bothered to move, as there are no towns called March on any American maps. Being a Fen Tiger I always tell people I was born in March but my birthday is in October.
Ah! long gone are the days when we were young and played in the fields while our mothers earned a living doing farm work. March used to be a farming town until the railway moved in. Oh, I know it’s supposed to be a market town, but when I was little most people either worked on the land or the railway. Though, we did have a market twice a week and a cattle market.
I was born in a little shack on Shaftesbury Avenue; in those days they could spell Shaft-E-sbury. Would you believe our only water supply was a standpipe across the road! Though amenities were poor you could catch a train almost any time of the day to Wisbech or Peterborough; they even had a line to Wimblington and beyond. Buses parked in the middle of Broad Street and ran to Ely, Chatteris, Wisbech and Peterborough and there were no traffic lights; but there again, there was no traffic.
Haradine used to deliver milk with a horse-drawn cart and sometimes electric trucks which they called floats. Modern things like murder, abduction, rape and robbery only happened in the big cities. Our greatest adventures were watching The Fenman or The Flying Scott as they sometimes passed though our town; diesel trains were unheard of.
In the old days we had one fish and chip shop for every 1,000 head of population. A typical order would have been one-an’-three, meaning one piece of fish and threepence worth of chips. We had one pub or drinking establishment for every 185 head and a bottle of Vimto cost sixpence. We used to go to Saturday matinee at The Hippo or The Regent, which also cost sixpence, and a bag of crisps was only threepence.
How many youngsters today know what the Status is or the Mart; Stanley Thurston or Bertram Mills? When was the last time a circus visited town?
My first school was Dartford Road Infants, where Miss Cullage was the headmistress. I learned to swim in the Chain River, which is really the Middle Level 20-foot drain with sheds on the bank. Today’s swimming pool stands on the land once occupied by Hovis Mill. You couldn’t swim in the Nene; we had no sewer system then and everything was dumped in the river untreated. Gas Lane really had a gasworks, which you could smell for miles. At that time Horis Rose had a penny-farthing, the bike that is, and Henry Morton drove a 1909 belt-drive Enfield motorbike.
Although reminiscing sounds wonderful, it wasn’t really all that great – times were hard and living difficult; I think that’s why people enjoyed things more. St John’s Church used to put on an annual fête and the whole town ground to a halt when the Statute Fair (Status) visited town. Broad Street, High Street and the market were clogged with tents, roundabouts, stalls and noisy generators and there was no bypass and only one town bridge.
I left the Hereward School in ’55 and went to Wolverhampton to be educated by the RAF. Since then I have travelled the world: Singapore, Malaya, Africa and a brief interlude in Norwich, finally settling in southern Ontario, Canada. Having made my way in life and become a well-known Canadian novelist I took a trip back to the old homestead. It felt like being the condemned man and as it says in the song, ‘The old town seemed the same, as I stepped down from the train, and.’ But it wasn’t. And though I could still hear my old school pals, in reality they were merely ghosts and long gone.
My house had gone, my school had gone, almost all the rails and trains had gone, but the fountain is still there at the head of Broad Street and that lump of rock they call the Stone Cross, it’s still there. Today’s residents should be proud of our little town. Although almost all my ancestors are from Wisbech, I still have a soft spot in my heart for March. Now, you can look me up on the Internet – just use any search engine and look for me by name: Wentworth M. Johnson.

Vote for Edinburgh Cuckoos until May 31 2012

One of my books has reached the finals in the Peoples Book Prize. You can vote for Edinburgh Cuckoos, just go to www.peoplesbookprize.com  click on Fiction where it says vote now for the finalists, click on Edinburgh Cuckoos and then register. Registering is only to ensure you vote only once. Please get all your friends to vote too. Thank you for your support.
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