Posted on Leave a comment

The Joy of the Island Ferry

One dodgy home video of the trip across – bit of dad video!

I am enjoying one of the great boons of island life today, a trip on the ferry from the Isle of Lewis to Ullapool on the Scottish mainland. It’s a trip I’ve been making for nearly 13 years now and a trip that is certainly more comfortable now that the “Loch Seaforth” ferry is taking me over. We used to ride on the “Isle of Lewis” ferry and a view of the toilets in bad weather was almost guaranteed!

Today is a typical murky day in February and the ferry is reasonably steady as she rides across “the Minch”, a piece of water with a serious temperament. On a good day, the scenery is wonderful and the ferry trip most enjoyable as you stroll on the upper deck. On a bad day, you stagger around, huddled inside from the elements, hoping the seasick tablets will work to their full effect.

The ferry is an integral part of island life, it’s the most common way to get off-island and the only way to take your car with you. Many of the islanders work on the ferries, even if they are not the ferries serving their own island. In my novel “Surface Tensions”, Donald, one of our heroes, is a ferry worker and the first encounter of the mermaids happens from the ferry. It is major news when there’s a ferry cancellation, and in winter, this occasion caused by the weather is not uncommon.

Le Mans start to leave the ferry!

The ferry also brings the freight to the island, including our groceries and any of the materials in the local shops. If the freight ferry fails to run, then we often see the buying of copious amounts of milk and bread as everyone panics, leaving the shops looking like a Cold War day in Russia.

Living in one of the remoter parts of the UK, you find things you take for granted in other parts suddenly become more important, more controversial and hopefully more appreciated. In my novels I try to include these little pieces of Island life, as they are part of what makes the way we live out here. In some ways life is freer out here but we depend on the regular trips of the ferry to keep us stocked with our daily dose of the mainland normals.

Posted on Leave a comment

It’s Right Windy!

This week the weather on the Hebridean island where I reside has been, as a guest at my wedding once commented, right windy. We’ve seen the power of nature once again up close as causeways were closed, and roads and streets flooded. Thankfully everyone seems to have stayed safe.


Living with the more extreme weather up here becomes part of life. I belong to an archery club who, if we shot outdoors at this time of year, would have to shoot sideways to let the arrow return to the target. We cancel meetings when the conditions look rough and non-essential travel is not advised.

Here’s a few youtube clips to give you a flavour.


I’m currently writing my second Highland & Islands Detective novel and the extremities of the weather are going to feature quite heavily. We’re on the Black Isle this time but with winter comes snow, sometimes in a mere dusting, other times in large dollops. The changing features of the season and the frustrations it causes make writing about the landscapes of northern Scotland fascinating. Linking them to the problems suffered by my two detectives helps bring a realism to the stories and gets past the simple picture perfect beaches and moors the brochures sometimes show.


Whilst I stretch the detail of how people misbehave in the Highlands, I never feel the need to “big up” the weather and its impact. For a writer, the elements and how they deal with the landscape and us mere humans give a tapestry to write against that is second to none. From water to land, snow to rain, wind to sun exposure, it all happens here in one of the most dynamic weather patterns there is. They say up here, if you don’t like the weather just wait an hour. And they’re right!


Change is always rife with the Highland weather and that means challenge, picking your time for whatever jobs you have and taking the moment when it comes. No wonder it paints a great scenery to write a story over.

Posted on Leave a comment

My First Detective Thriller

One of the joys of living in a place for a long period of time is that you get to see it in its fullness, good and bad, different and passionate. Couple this with a desire to write a different genre of fiction than I previously had and you begin to understand the genesis of my new novel “Water’s Edge”. But little did I know where the writing process would take me.


I live on a conservative island where changes that cut against both traditional and religious views can dominate the debate. Yes, there are extremes in this, but there is also a vast number of people who simply want to get on with life and learn how to get by with everyday necessities. But often the extremes of the argument do not allow this to happen. And it was this effect that was to dominate my main character.


Seoras Macleod, born and raised on the Isle of Lewis returns after a long time away, forced by his job to make a return to the scene of the worst moment of his life. The death of his wife years before has dominated his personality, and left in him a conflict with his God and his view of life. Through the resultant clash, I was able to throw the newer way of seeing things against the older conservatism and hopefully find the good and bad in both.


In societies the unspoken, lying beneath the veneer of normal life, shows where things are really at and I use the murder of a young woman to drive my detectives through this layer, exposing the lies beneath. This caused my murder mystery to become more of a thriller, events becoming less of a conundrum and more an act of social discovery. But still some have said they didn’t see the perpetrator coming.


Ultimately the book explores how wholly different characters can find support in extreme circumstances to drive through their mission when the house of cards around them starts to kick when toppled.


“Water’s Edge” my first Highlands and Islands detective thriller is available in paperback right now in my own store, or at Amazon (UK / US / AUS / CAN). If the eBook is your preference then you can pre-order here until the 1st Dec 2019 when it goes on full release. Check the 3 chapter sample out here. And let me know what you think. Book 2 is underway because all things come to the surface eventually.

Posted on Leave a comment

Beware the Brandished Torches!

One of the hardest things in writing is telling a story about a place everyone knows, The fact is they live there…, with you…, and like you they know everything about the locale. Except they don’t. And neither do you, the writer. This is because everyone views any place they interact with and contribute to through their own experiences. This is what makes stone-walling seem like honourable defence, one person’s bigotry seem like justified anger and one person’s paradise another folk’s hell.


As a writer taking on the challenge of story telling about the area around you, even if the characters are fictional, though based on various people one knows or has had experience of, you have to be careful. Not in case they come for you in the night, pitch forks at the ready and dipped flaming branches giving the night sky an eerie glow and your feet a hot toasting. Not in case some people don’t speak to you, offend by who they believe themselves to be in your story. No, the part to be careful of is to say what the story wants to say.


Stories are generated from thoughts and deeply held observations or beliefs and therefore deserve to be written in their entirety, not altered for passable consumption. And should the writer fear having caused offense if they are actually describing what is? Surely worse happens. They could simply put the book down in boredom. Now that would be devastation. So write to your observations, your revelations, your take on this life.


And so remember me, when you see the brandished torches, or the small boat with the man, hands tied behind his back and walking a modern day plank into the sea. They will say, he wrote to his convictions, he called it as it was. Short career though!

Posted on Leave a comment

Helping Hands

One of the best things in life is when you get an unexpected boost with something you are trying to achieve. And when it comes from an unknown source who simply liked what you were doing, it’s quite uplifting.

Gamebooknews.com


I was fortunate enough this week to have that feeling when an Australian named Michael decided that he would show my Kickstarter, a new choose-your-own-adventure style book, on his game book website. Now I didn’t know Michael from Adam but, as he said himself, he set his website up to help others who had a love for game books as he does, and to promote their efforts across the globe.


Sometimes we get focused on what we are doing and all goals and efforts are directed along the lines of ourselves. My wife says that one of the best ways to get along in business is to help others and that climbing together makes things much easier. In the world of books, I tell fellow authors that we are not in competition but rather there are just so many readers to satisfy, the demand for food never slackens.


So this week I am determined to be on the lookout for those I can help and give a boost to. It would be a joy to think someone got the feeling I had this week, due to efforts of my own. And I need to remember that when the dark thoughts cloud my view, the efforts become too much and I feel like just chucking it all in, there are people out there, like Michael, ready to help and keen to encourage. Thank God for them!

Posted on Leave a comment

A Change will do you Good!

One of the ruts to fall into with writing is to simply write the same thing over and over again. I’m not talking about when you have a good series and you need to keep churning out the books for the readers who are keen to read more and more. Rather, when times get tough and you stay put on your favourite genre and keep doing the same thing. Terry Pratchett spoke of reading other genres to keep the writing of your own material fresh and I think it’s productive and refreshing to try another type of writing, even if your love for a particular genre still burns strong.

The book purchased from Jonathan Green


I used to love the Fighting Fantasy books back in the eighties and I was lucky enough at the UK Games Expo, to meet a man named Jonathan Green, author and one of the biggest names behind that type of book. I bought a copy of his latest book, based on the wizard of Oz, and as much as I enjoyed playing it, it actually got me thinking, maybe I could write this kind of book

If you’re not familiar, these books allow you to make different choices in the story and this directly affects your hero journey. Decisions come back to haunt you and often there are a number of endings. They also tend to be highly varied in topic, from fantasy adventures to star ship captains, ninja warriors to explorers and wild west cowboys.

Cover art for the new novel by J Caleb Clarke


I decided to write a spy story but based in the second world war when many female spies were sent by the allies to France. It’s a classic set-up as you make decisions that could cost you your life, based on scanty information and guesswork.


And so I set about mapping out the adventure, writing the paragraphs for each option and winding various paths back into each other, desperately trying to hold the whole thing together. I don’t need to tell you, it was a lot of fun, a lot of work and an education in seeing things from all angles.

The cover for the book


Now I have a first book in what will hopefully become a series of books, suitable for teens and young adults but perfectly enjoyable for any age above. Testing so far seems good, not just in the number of errors but in the enthusiastic responses of the players.


In order to fund the book I have also begun a kickstarter, a place where fans and interested parties or people can put up funds in return for rewards. These funds will ensure the book will be launched successfully, and with a little advertising revenue to go with it. You can check the action out at the Kickstarter website. Please do and support this new venture of mine, it’s a right good ripping read and a lot of fun as you replay situations you initially made a mess of.


I’m already thinking of book 2 and the nautical theme it’s going to have. But only if we float this first book. But then that’s what it’s all about. Branching out, learning more, so that when I turn to my traditional fantasy writing, I’ll be a better story teller and a more accomplished writer.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Changing Face of Evil

Don’t panic, you’re not about to get a lecture on the current terrible state of the world, rather a bit of an observation on the dark characters we seem to be getting on the screen and in our books.

Nice Tie

I think it all started when we started taking what would have been traditionally evil characters and creatures, and made them a bit more friendly, more human (if indeed we are friendly). Suddenly werewolves were simply shape shifters following a social change agenda, wronged and mistreated. Vampires were just unlucky people who didn’t want a break in the summer sun. And ghosts were actually helpful, misunderstood souls who were in the wrong place due to some supernatural accident.

Noone knew his years on the dole


I remember growing up and evil was evil. Often there was no understanding of why the bad stuff was happening, why these dark things of the night wanted to do these horrible actions to us. They were simply evil. It seems with changing times and the acceptance that old ideas about different lifestyles, race and social classes are erroneous, our characters seem to reflect that. In fairness I remember it starting in “Cabal” by Clive Barker, a super novel I thoroughly enjoyed but one that invoked sympathy for the dark things, even if they were all far from perfect.

“Don’t you just love him and his lights!”


Maybe it is a good thing that art mirrors the times we are in, but forgive me if I crave that unfathomable entity that simply wants to destroy because that’s what it is. It has no understandable social make-up, no difficult back story, no sad tale of its own – it is simply evil. And it is distinctly un – human, bearing nothing of our qualities, unfathomable. I guess it’s because against such a thing we can throw the full weight of our aggression and defence, knowing there is nothing to understand, nothing to rectify in its past. Today’s depictions don’t allow us that luxury and in truth, neither does real life, and it really should not.


But this is fantasy so give me one more malevolent, undeniably evil being to pit my fragile heroes against. You know you want to.

Posted on Leave a comment

Just the Time of Day

The focus was sharper in real life!

I’m looking across at a harbour, late at night after the sun has gone down, and the dimensions of the port are not as I remember them in the daylight. There’s a series of white markers that link to some low level uplighters, standing proud and indicating something of importance. To the left of this, and after a period of drab pipes and beams, are a dazzling array of white beacons, broadcasting their resilience into the night. In front of this are long tubular rays, shimmering like warning markers before the industry behind them.


What I find remarkable is the change between this view and that of the daytime where the actual structures that stand out are those that are not lit up this evening. There’s a whole building that stands as an impressive roundhouse, iconic to a degree but which at night looks like a failed bus shelter. And the water in front of the structures in this dark becomes part of them, increasing the visual depth and warmly leading us to the dazzling lights beyond.


So what, you say? The what is that depending on the time of day when stories are set, the whole ambience and the perceptions of the characters are changed, producing different levels of fright, perception, awe and awareness. Approaching this harbour during the day it looks like a Scottish ideal, whereas at night it becomes more of an unknown, a journey of discovery and has senses more on edge.


This brief tableau has made me think more about when things are happening in stories and to couple that onto the what is happening to produce a more accurate and pleasing tale. Placing myself in situ has become an even more involved task than it already was and in my mind I need to swing around more before jumping into the action.

Posted on Leave a comment

Write Apocalyse Now!

I’m just starting out on writing an “end of the world “ thriller and have been thinking about how these will compare to my dark fantasy adventure novels. The term apocalypse for me has always brought up great heavenly battles, four horsemen (updated to persons these days of course) racing across the sky, the world gathering at Megiddo and such like. So are the apocalyptic tales in the pandemic / zombie / EMP / natural disaster genres really any different.


One thing that comes straight to mind is that the old magical / fantastical element is gone. The days of a learned genius waving his hands and opening portals or creating hellfire will have to go and more pragmatic solutions will have to be found. This causes a greater emphasis on tactical or mechanical solutions, or simple butchering in the case of zombies. Transformations of people may have to be kept to a low variety instead of the many magical forms that characters take.


Another point spotted while reading these genres is the technical detail, sometimes far and beyond the grasp of many characters: you need to be an expert to survive. How far this is the case and how far the human spirit and determination will get you is another question but certainly the science (or at times pseudo-science) needs to be to the fore and loaded with the best bullets.


But overall this one thing remains although it has been lost in a few tales from the genre I have read. The character remains the thing. The human conflicts, the dreams hopes and aspirations and then the devices that thwart these goals, must not be simply there but must drive the tale. As I read across many genres, the best stories always resonate around the person whether it’s a woman stuck at a train station in the middle of nowhere (Absent in the Spring, Agatha Christie written as Mary Westmacott), a captain of the guard holding together a magical and manic city (Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett) or a woman fighting to reunite her family after a nuclear holocaust (Point of Impact, Kyla Stone).


So whatever I come up with, it will certainly take my characters and break them as ever, only to have them claw their way back. But this time it will be in the midst of a pandemic, lawlessness and a country falling apart. It almost feels like home! My writing home that is, the Outer Hebrides hasn’t got to that stage yet!

Posted on Leave a comment

Who is Mr. Kirkgordon?

As an author I am often asked where my ideas come from for characters and plots which makes me pause and actually think, where have they come from? In response to this feeling, I’m taking a few blogs to discover for myself which bit of this dark mind of mine has produced my main characters.


Mr. Kirkgordon is the one of feuding duo who had their relationship first formed on paper in “Crescendo!”, although a later short origin story, “Footsteps”, takes us back to their first actual meeting under a grave. Agile and a former bodyguard, Kirkgordon can handle himself in trouble and is ideal to look after the volatile eldritch genius that is Mr Austerley.

Kirkgordon comes from that part of us that knows what the right thing to do is, and that we’re going to have to do it despite the hardship that comes from doing it. He cannot walk away, even if the people he’s involved with do the exact opposite to what he would. Having a faith in God, Kirkgordon is not a religious nut but rather is the atypical believer struggling with his faith as well as his behaviour to others he loves and those he loathes.

“Death? That’s it? Indy, everywhere we go there’s a general implication of death. Do you mean death here, in the corridor, or death in a more widespread sense?”

From Ship of Doom by G R Jordan


As a man of faith I wanted to have Kirkgordon put under pressure, both from the outside darkness but also from his own darker sides. He has a wandering eye when it comes to women and when Calandra comes on the scene, they have to fight the immense attraction between each other while working closely together in front of her former lover Austerley.

The archer in Kirkgordon comes from myself and was a lot of fun to write, although I doubt anyone in the real world has handled a bow like him. One of the sides of Kirkgordon brought out to me by a reader was how harsh he is on Austerley. Constantly pilling on the banter and sometime abuse, his understanding of his colleague takes time to grow until there is a mutual respect and distrust in the same measure. Each knows the other frailties and the trouble that comes from them.

“Nailed to your cross then. I hope you believe in redemption and foregiveness too, Havers?”

From Crescendo! by G R Jordan

Ultimately, I think Kirkgordon is ourselves thrown into the mess of situations with all fears, beliefs, pressures and blind corners, knowing that we still have to get it done. He’s not the most powerful, most clever, wisest or even the bravest of the characters but he always gets it done, fighting his conscience all the way. In that I reckon he’s like a lot of people on this earth, albeit his demons tend to jump out of the ground at him.

Check out Kirkgordon’s psychologist’s report here and see what the professionals at SETAA think of him. Or for the books check out my shop and find Kirkgordon for yourself!