Five days to go…

It is Friday 21st in five days time and the launch of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ is now just around the corner. Which is all terribly exciting. Except that I don’t yet have a single copy of the book (they haven’t arrived from America). I was getting a bit jumpy about it and so I emailed Createspace who told me not to (worry about it) because my order (and I quote) ” is scheduled to ship with an estimated delivery date of November 18, 2014″. That’s three days before the launch. Great. That put my mind at ease, I can tell you…

LBTV Testcard

LBTV Testcard

I must admit to having made no progress at all with ‘Building 41’ this week due to being so busy with preparations for the launch.  Thanks to Janice Issitt (in particular) to Trish (of course) and to Liz and Steve we now have THE MOST FANTASTIC 70’s window, for which my contribution has been a 1978 Philips G11, colour television set (‘The Battle of Wood Green’ is mostly set in 1977).

MTB Window

MTB Window

The TV is hooked up to a Raspberry Pi computer, enabling it to play 70’s clips etc – it proved quite awkward to convert the Pi’s composite output to the RF required by the TV set. But I managed it in the end (thanks to Daniel at MKARS for helping we with the Linux settings).

MTB 70's Window

MTB 70’s Window

The window is just marvellous. We had crowds outside all day Saturday,  reminiscing about the 70’s. It’s got to be the best window in Leighton Buzzard right now – almost worth a trip just to see it.

The event itself is going be a cracker (if my books do, actually, turn up). I do hope you can make it.

(Photography courtesy of Janice Issitt)

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A trip down memory lane

While in North London yesterday with my friend Janice, I paid a short visit to Vale Road N4. The northern end of this little road, is mostly terraced housing. When I was a kid, the houses were semi-derelict and, on one side, were eventually cleared and replaced by modern (and rather ugly), red-bricked council houses. On the other side, the old houses were retained – I’m not sure why. Perhaps the Council had a limited budget. The southern end of Vale Road is/was mostly industrial. Several well known manufacturers had their factories there including Maynards (the sweet people) and Accoson Limited (who make scientific instruments and who are now based in Harlow, Essex). I say ‘mostly’ because in between the Maynards sweet factory and the ‘Derby Works’, a large factory where The Power Flexible Tubing Company were based, was a special school at which my father was caretaker.

It is rare now to find a school with a resident caretaker – school estates management and maintenance was privatised long ago (more’s the pity), but in the days of my youth most schools had a ‘school keeper’ and often, like us, they had a house on site. In our case, it was a small cottage with three bedrooms – it didn’t gain an inside toilet until I was into my early teens, as I recall. I lived there from shortly after my birth until I was sixteen. Sometime after I left, the school was closed and the whole site cleared.

I have been back a few times since then and seeing the place is always a somewhat surreal and slightly unsettling experience. All of the buildings in Vale Road that I remember as being present when I was a child are still there, looking almost exactly as they were. Except my house and the site of the Vale School which is gone, completely. As though it has been erased, quite deliberately. Even the signs on the walls surrounding the site are still there, along with the strange, black water tank attached high up on one of the factory walls – it used to overlook my bedroom (nice!). And yet the house, the school buildings, the gardens, playgrounds, swimming pool – everything within the site’s perimeter, in fact – has vanished altogether. Very odd.

Anyway, for Janice’s benefit (I think she found it hard to believe that there was ever a house and gardens on the site – which, incidentally, is now a container storage yard and car park) here is a then (1977ish) and now picture: –

vale7b

The lovely young lady on my left is Sandra (now Sandy), my girlfriend at the time. The chimneys in both pictures are the same.

And here is me standing in what was the drive up to the main school. In 1977, about ten feet in front of where I am standing, and about ten feet up, was my bedroom. Very weird.

vale6

 

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The Battle of Wood Green – almost there

The Battle of Wood Green

The Battle of Wood Green

Well, I’ve just finished another iteration of the manuscript, which now includes a prologue and uploaded it to the publisher for checking. It is an exhausting process because, call me over cautious if you like, but even minor changes can lead to errors in the uploaded script, so I check every page (all 387 of them) – every time. To make matters worse, of course the cover has to re-done when pages are added, because the spine needs to become wider. Files have to be uploaded in pdf – which means converting them from png (as well as converting the text), at which point I always check again for inconsistencies. The whole process has taken me best part of six hours today (I stopped for Doctor Who and for something to eat). Once Createspace have checked the submitted files, then it will be time to order a second proof and back round the process we will go. Please God, let there be no errors or typos, or I will be doing it all over again in a weeks time.

If all I had to do was write my books, I would be a very happy author indeed!

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A first look at Building 41

Building 41

This is Building 41 at Bletchley Park, from which the third book in my Harry Stammers series (coming in 2015) will take its name. Building 41 is located on the northern edge of the Park (outside the BPT museum and, presently, behind the fence that isolates derelict G-Block from the rest of the site). More… much more, about this building soon.

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Harry’s office at Bletchley Park

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

The archive was located on the first floor of a large concrete building at the centre of the Park. It was accessed via a flight of metal steps which, so far as Harry was concerned, made no sense at all.  Whenever equipment or documents were donated, they would be brought to the archive for investigation. Lugging boxes of paperwork and heavy equipment up the metal stairs was a distinctly perilous enterprise that Harry could have lived without.

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Taking it easy at Bletchley…

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

(Photo by Janice Issitt)

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The Battle of Wood Green Promo

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update: – I’ve been working on ‘Building 41’, the third and final instalment of The Harry Stammers Trilogy, so not much time for anything else. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions and to everyone who has bought ‘The Shelter’. I can’t believe how well it has been doing! The Battle of Wood Green is almost there – so watch this space and, in the meantime, here’s a trailer to whet your appetite:

More news of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ soon…

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For those of you who were wondering…

Here, for my amateur radio friends, is the full CW (Morse Code) message that is embedded in the promo video.

For my non-amateur radio friends, I cannot claim to have keyed this by hand. My CW skills are rudimentary at best. The clip is machine generated, I’m afraid. If you’d like to try decoding it and you are using a Mac (like me) try ‘Morse Decoder’ from the App Store. There will be similar apps for iPad, iPhones and other devices. Just play the clip while you have one running.

(if I’ve piqued your curiosity in Morse Code or amateur radio or both, check out www.mkars.org.uk)

The relevance of this to ‘The Shelter’ (if you are wondering) is that Martha Watts and Elsie Sidthorpe were both log readers, initially at Beaumanor in Leicestershire and then at Bletchley Park. The job of the log readers was to analyse radio communications received by the intercept operators, in an attempt to identify the patterns and networks used by the German forces in the field. German communications consisted of both ‘chat’ (in plain German) and the more important ciphered messages (for which the German’s used their Enigma machines). These messages were sent in Morse Code and would have sounded much like the message in the clip – albeit that on the air, there would have been a lot more background noise (static and interference), sometimes making accurate reception and logging very difficult work. The intercept operators recorded (in text) the received messages on log sheets which were passed to the log readers for analysis. There will be a much more detailed description of the work of the log readers in the post script to ‘Building 41’ (Book 3 in the series).

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The Shelter – Promo Trailer

Another productive day doing everything but writing…

I’d been reading about promotional book trailers on the Goodreads authors’ forum, so I thought I’d better give it a go. Since I already have iMovie on my iMac, it was the obvious choice. Although I have used iMovie once or twice before, I’m something of a beginner when it comes to video editing, so I was fairly dubious about the likely usefulness of the exercise. However, as with most things, once I got stuck into it, I couldn’t give up and I’m reasonably pleased with the end result. Mind you, it took me best part of NINE HOURS to produce two minutes of trailer. It is just as well that I wasn’t attempting a feature film.

On the writing front, ‘Building 41’ (Part 3 of the Harry Stammers Trilogy) is progressing, albeit slowly (mainly because I’m still putting so much effort into promoting ‘The Shelter’).    and then, of course, I’ll be doing it all over again with ‘The Battle of Wood Green’. I think I need a social media secretary… or an agent (!). Offers on a post code please…

For those of you who have read ‘The Shelter’, some of the early chapters of Book 3 take us back to The Galleon, the little pub beside the Grand Union canal at Wolverton. It is there that Elsie Sidthorpe does something that she lives to regret and, indeed, which drives the underpinning story across all three of the books (but I’m not telling you what). I’m presently in the middle of writing this and am having great fun with Elsie, Martha and a rather drunk Royal Navy petty officer.  Once that it is done, I’ll be catching up with Mikkel Eglund, Jane Mears, Ellen Carmichael and, of course, Harry Stammers who seems, already, to be developing quite a following.

I’ve been talking about Harry with some of you and others have mentioned him in their messages. I wanted Harry to be a likeable and engaging character. I tend to tire of books in which the main character is morose (with the exception of  Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole, of which I am a big fan – although that particular Harry will never be a Hoh-leh to me, he will always be a HOLE). 

It is weird to hear people talking about Harry Stammers, as though they know him like I do. And weirder still to hear their thoughts on his character. A couple of you have had me wondering whether you might know him better than I do – which is a very strange idea when you think about it. But, more than anything else, it gives me tremendous pleasure that, having read the book, he was real enough for some of you to be thinking about the kind of man he is and to want to know more. I’ll be using some of your thoughts and, hopefully, answering some of your questions in Book Three (incidentally, almost without exception, readers want to know more about Harry’s relationship with Ellen and, particularly, what attracted her to him. So expect more on that front).

If you have any thoughts or questions about Harry, or any of the other characters in The Shelter, please feel free to contact me. I spend half my life thinking about them all, but they can be illusive so-and-so’s at times. So if you can help to throw any light on them, you’d certainly be doing me a favour!

 

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Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to…

I have been particularly busy at work this week (the day job) with a long-haul trip to Exeter on Wednesday to deliver a training session to a group of staff, and then one thing after another today, leaving me too tired to write terribly coherently this evening. Exeter on Wednesday meant getting out of bed at 4.45am (I can’t remember the last time THAT happened) and onto the 5.45am from Leighton Buzzard into London Euston, a transfer to Paddington by Tube and then onto the fast train to Exeter which wasn’t that fast, to be perfectly honest. It arrived, in Exeter, just after ten.

I tried – I really did – to use my journey time constructively, but I find working on a packed train, with a Blackberry (which is the extent of the mobile technology provided by my employer to lowly individuals such as me) next to impossible. So I soon gave that up and attempted to finish Stephen Smith’s book, ‘Underground London – Travels Beneath The City Streets‘.

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It is a fascinating book, though at times a little heavy going. Mr Smith is a journalist and the book reads, in places, a little like a very long newspaper article or a script for a television documentary. But, if you persist, it is full lots of fascinating details on the hidden wonders beneath London’s streets. Including, of course, the deep level air raid shelters, which was the reason I picked up the book in the first place. If you’re interested in such things then I recommend it.

I do have to report, however, a failure to finish it, even though I devoted both the outgoing and return legs of my journey to the task. This was in no way due to Mr Smith’s journalistic style, nor indeed to the content of Underground London. Rather, it was due to the fact that, like Harry Stammers, I can rarely survive longer than twenty minutes on a train, without falling asleep.

The trouble, I find, with sleeping on the train is that I always feel completely wrecked afterwards. Not at all refreshed. And I must therefore express thanks to my Exeter audience who endured my session with admirable (and quite miraculous) stoicism, given the subject matter and the fact that I was probably still half asleep for at least the first hour. Quite why they gave me a round of applause at the end was a mystery to me, but I was and am nonetheless grateful.

Incidentally, the venue for this miracle of endurance was the boardroom of Exeter’s cattle market (no connection with my work). It was a most unusual venue. Certainly the only place at which I have ever been asked to speak, with a sign on the wall stating “PIG PENNAGE, THIS WAY”.

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