Friday 31 July 2009

Review of Riders of the Barren Plains

With Riders of the Barren Plains being published today, a very timely and welcome review can be found at Western Fiction Review

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday

Today is the fourth Wild Bunch Wednesday. The idea is Joanne's Walpole's (Terry James) and throughout July, I and several other bloggers below have been posting extracts from our western novels.

Terry James at Joanne Walpole's blog
Jack Giles at Open Range
Lance Howard at Dark Bits
Jack Martin at The Tainted Archive
IJ Parnham at The Culbin Trail

There's no theme this week so I'm providing something that's a little different to my previous extracts with a clip from the forthcoming The Treasure of Saint Woody.

"Let me go," the unfortunate man pleaded. He strained against his bonds, but he found that his two captors had chained him to the railroad tracks securely and he couldn't move his limbs. His spread arms were chained to one track, his bound legs to the other.

"We sure would like to oblige," Rick Hunter said, looming over him.

"But only," his errant brother Garth said, "after you've given us a name and a place."

The man looked up at his captors, but he found no comfort there. A patch covered Rick's left eye, an angry scar cut a jagged path across his broken nose. Two gunbelts crossed Garth's barrel-like chest.

As if to impress upon him the urgency of the situation the mournful whistle from an approaching train sounded.

"So you just want to know what's happened to your missing brother Frank and then you'll let me go?" the man asked.

Rick smirked as he withdrew a key from his pocket.

"Yup. Talk and I'll unlock those chains before the train makes everyone call you shorty."

"I don't know what happened to him," the man spluttered, his voice high-pitched with fear, "but the man you need to see is Marshal Colt T. Blood. You'll find him in Fort Arlen."

Rick nodded, judging that this information sounded plausible. The train was heading to Fort Arlen and the fearless lawman Marshal Blood did reside there.

"You just bought yourself our gratitude," Rick said.

Rick glanced at the train, now emitting an insistent scream as the engineer locked the wheels in a doomed attempt to avoid the obstruction on the tracks. The engine was 400 yards away and would reach them in around thirty seconds. He shrugged then turned away.

"Hey," the man shouted. "What about me?"

Rick turned back and appraised the man's predicament with a cruel gleam in his eye. He mockingly dangled the key between two outstretched fingers, licking his lips as he waited for the train to get even closer.

The man's cries grew more desperate as the train thundered on, its brakes sparking against the wheels, its whistle screeching so desperately it almost sounded as if it were in pain.

Then, at the last possible moment, Rick threw the key to Garth.

Garth missed it.

"Whoops," he said.

(c) I. J. Parnham 2009, published by Thomas Bouregy & Co Ltd and available from all good on-line retailers such as Amazon.

Monday 27 July 2009

Spaceship to Saturn by Hugh Walters

Review #9 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.

The introduction to the team of a girl in the previous book was a resounding success in proving that being emotional and weepy has a place in space. So Gail gets to go on the next mission, Spaceship to Saturn (pub 1967), so she can make the tea while admiring the blokes and their vast knowledge of technical matters that are too complex for girls to understand.

Apparently, Saturn's orbit is so clogged up with debris that even ace space hero Chris can’t fly the ship around it and it needs a new-fangled thing called a computer to do it for him. With this computer thingy being about the size of Ireland, the computer has to stay on earth and the signals to move the ship must be sent over the radio. But with the radiation around Saturn and the Martian's going 'Whoo-oo' on the radio it needs a clever solution. Telepathy is again the only answer. It worked over fifty million miles so it'll work over a billion, scientists decide.

So plucky honorary bloke Gail blasts off with the chaps on what turns out to be a very dull mission. They hurtle around seeing the sights, taking some snap-shots, and making notes of interesting moons and stuff. Then they whizz through the Cassini division and come home in time for tea and the results of the test match.

This book suggested that the series was running out of steam as most of the permutations of danger in space had been explored. But as it turned out there were still a few more great moments to come before the British space program finally gave itself over to that lone odd-ball with the rockets tied to his feet.

Next week Chris becomes the only hero in sci-fi history who knows what a mohole is.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - Pivotal Moment

Today is the third Wild Bunch Wednesday. The idea is Joanne's Walpole's (Terry James) and throughout July, I and several other bloggers below will be posting extracts from our western novels.

Terry James at Joanne Walpole's blog
Jack Giles at Broken Trails
Lance Howard at Dark Bits
Jack Martin at The Tainted Archive
IJ Parnham at The Culbin Trail

This week the theme is the pivotal moment. I'm providing an extract from my last BHW The Gallows Gang in which Nat McBain finds himself for perfectly logical reasons manacled to the bars of a cage that contains a raving psychopath and a fizzing stick of dynamite.

'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,' The Preacher intoned, 'I will fear no evil, Psalm twenty-three, verse four.'

'For God's sake stop preaching and help me get this off,' Nathaniel shouted, tearing at the laces to remove his boot.

The prisoners had left them to their fate, but Nathaniel reckoned if he could knock the dynamite out of the cage that fate might not be the one Turner had wanted. The stick lay fifteen feet away and beyond his reach, but it was only four feet from the edge of the cage, spluttering through the last inch of fuse.

He slipped his boot off then drew back his arm, but The Preacher grabbed that arm.

'Anyone,' he muttered, his voice shaking with righteous indignation, 'who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death, Leviticus twenty-four, verse sixteen.'

'And you'll join me,' Nathaniel snapped, tearing his hand away. Then he hurled the boot at the stick.

But the act of getting his arm away from The Preacher's grip had veered his aim and the boot flew two feet wide and thudded into the bars.

Nathaniel grunted with irritation and uttered another blasphemy, this time with an added oath, but as if in answer to his plea, the boot rebounded from the bars, skittered across the base of the cage and nudged the stick.

The force with which it hit was minimal but it was enough to send the stick spinning diagonally across the cage. It came to rest three feet closer to Nathaniel but only a foot from the edge of the cage.

The Preacher provided another appropriate quote predicting that Nathaniel's repeated blasphemies meant he wouldn't enjoy the afterlife, but Nathaniel didn't plan on finding out whether he was right just yet.

'Be quiet,' he muttered.

'In the beginning,' The Preacher said, 'God created the heavens and the earth.'

Nathaniel removed his other boot. He ignored The Preacher and his ramblings to avoid him veering his aim again as he took careful aim at the stick.

The Preacher continued speaking. 'The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.'

The flame spluttered into the stick itself. Only seconds remained...

'The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.'

Nathaniel drew back his arm then threw the boot.

'And God said...' The Preacher said, raising his voice.

The boot flew across the cage and hit the dynamite square on.

'...Let there be light...'

The stick bounded away, hit a bar, bobbed up, looking for a moment as if it'd rebound into the cage, but then sank from view outside.

'But there wasn't light,' Nathaniel shouted, 'Nathaniel one, verse one.'

Then he turned away, curling himself into a ball.

(c) I. J. Parnham 2008, published by Robert Hale Ltd and available from all good on-line retailers such as Amazon

Friday 17 July 2009

Mission to Mercury by Hugh Walters

Review #8 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.
After being the first man in space, the first to step foot on the moon, the first to visit Venus, Mars and Jupiter, for Chris Godfrey's next mission, Mission to Mercury (pub 1965), he confronts terrifying new frontiers in the form of those odd-looking blokes who are called girls.

By now a lot of time has passed since Blast Off at Woomera in which Chris was a short, spotty bookworm at school. Now he's a grown man in his late twenties, as are the rest of his chums. But despite spending most of his life cooped up on space missions with a lot of hairy blokes, none of them has ever once mentioned an interest in women, or each other for that matter. Suddenly though after seven books the first women appear in the form of all-round top-notch girls Gill and Gail, twin sisters with a desire to be astronauts despite the fact they are girls and don't play cricket.

For this mission scientists look inwards towards the sun, but this is a tricky mission. Apparently, when a ship is close to Mercury, the sun's radiation will be so strong it'll destroy any radio signals that are tuned into the frequency that avoids the Martians and their weird noises. Clearly this is a major problem requiring an especially large cup of tea to solve and an especially well thought out scientific solution. That solution, after one too many strong brews, turns out to be telepathy.

Get two twins who are so close they're telepathic then let them send signals to each other over the telepathic airwaves from sixty million miles away, is the foolproof plan. Sadly, this plan has a major flaw and it's not the obvious one. You see, the most telepathically inclined twins the scientists can find aren't blokes. They are girls and that means a girl will have to do a bloke's job by going into space. On the other hand this does mean the guys will get some posh totty on board for a long cramped up mission to somewhere really hot where there's bog-all else to do but bump into each other in zero gravity. Sadly, such thoughts never enter anyone's mind.

Although Chris is intrigued when he notices that Gail and Gill are oddly-shaped. So he invites one of them out to the pictures to explore this discovery a bit more and to find out how a girl thinks. But he's not sure which twin turns up. The only way to tell identical twins Gail and Gill apart is from a freckle on the forehead. He decides it's not the done thing to lift a girl's hair up on the first date to see if she has a freckle. So he remains none the wiser as to who she is. This turns out to be a major clue as to where the story will go.

Just before the rocket is due to leave Gail gets ill with some typical girly illness and only one girl has been trained to be an astronaut, but luckily that girl is Gill. The guys, and girl, blast off to Mercury but Gill turns out to be a rubbish astronaut, spilling tea over the consoles and dropping catches at first slip. At first, everyone puts her stupidity down to her being a girl, but then Chris in a bold move lifts her hair and sees the lack of a freckle. The wrong twin got ill, it seems, and the rubbish one has come aboard disguised as her identical twin.

Now the whole mission and everyone's lives depends on a mere girl's ability to communicate with earth and get them home. Luckily though, while everyone is pointing out for the umpteenth time that she's rubbish, she rounds on them and tells them she's the one who's acting normally, it's they who are acting oddly. The guys look at each other and mutter darkly about how this emotional outburst proves that space isn’t the right place for a girl. But it turns out that she's right.

You see the sun's radiation is making the blokes behave weirdly and now they are so busy having boggly eyes the ship will crash into the sun. Chris gives her a manly punch on the arm, has a strong brew, and pulls himself together. Then he lands the ship on the dark side of Mercury. He has a bit of a shiver when he encounters the absolute zero temperature. Then with a stiff upper lip he blasts off and heads back home to ponder some more on whether odd-looking blokes might have a place in space.

Next week Chris and the other twin explore Saturn.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday - The bad guy

Today is the second Wild Bunch Wednesday. The idea is Joanne's Walpole's (Terry James) and throughout July, I and several other bloggers below will be posting extracts from our western novels.

Terry James at Joanne Walpole's blog
Jack Giles at Broken Trails
Lance Howard at Dark Bits
Jack Martin at The Tainted Archive
IJ Parnham at The Culbin Trail

This week the theme is the bad guy. I'm providing an extract from the forthcoming Sharpshooter McClure in which Mike McClure faces a cliffhanging dilemma.

Mike swung round, but he was already too late. A man ran into him and knocked him to the ground. His gun flew from his grasp.

Mike just had enough time to register that it was Floyd Kelly before Floyd grabbed his collar. He yanked him up to his feet then delivered a pile-driving punch to the jaw that sent him sprawling.
On his back Mike shook himself, then was bodily lifted off the ground. Floyd treated him to another blow that sent him stumbling backwards.

His staggering progress let him see behind him and he saw that he was wheeling towards the edge of the gorge. Frantically he stuck out a leg and saved himself from slipping over the edge.

He teetered for a moment then rocked forward, but his back foot was on loose ground and it slipped over the side, sending him to his knees. With one leg dangling in the air he clawed at the rock and managed to roll over to lie on the ledge. Then he moved to get up, but Floyd was already on him.

His assailant slapped both hands on his shoulders then drew him to his feet.

'Your life ends here,' Floyd said grinning, his teeth bright in the moonlight.

Mike looked over Floyd's shoulder and saw that the rest of the men were now on the ledge, spreading out to block his escape routes.

'You and Nyle will never get away with this,' he said.

'We already have.' Floyd pushed Mike backwards so that his heels slipped over the edge and he had to stand on tiptoes to avoid toppling over. 'But before you die, tell me who you really are. Are you another lawman or are you an arrogant young gunslinger like you claimed?'

Mike consoled himself with the thought that if Nyle was unsure of the forces that were aligned against him, he might not enjoy his victory so much.

'You'll find out, one day soon.'

Floyd snorted. 'I want the answer now. Talk and I'll throw you to your death. Say nothing and I'll keep you alive for so long you'll regret not taking the easy option.'

Mike's right foot slipped and he had to jerk it to the side to find solid ground. The action let him look down and see the river 200 feet below, thundering by and promising a quick death. He shrugged then grabbed hold of Floyd's jacket.

'I choose the third option!' he shouted.

With that promise he kicked backwards. He fell. His weight and his hold of Floyd's jacket dragged him with him and the two men toppled over the edge.

(c) I. J. Parnham 2010, published by Robert Hale Ltd and available from all good on-line retailers such as Amazon.

Sunday 12 July 2009

The Dumarest Saga by E.C. Tubb

The Dumarest Saga is the greatest Dodecaquadraphenicadon ever written, or whatever the correct term is for a 33 volume series. Up until a few days ago, top of my list of books I haven't got but I would like to have was Volume 32 of the Dumarest saga. My attempt to get a copy is a saga in itself.

I first came across Earl Dumarest in the 1970s when about a dozen books of this sci-fi series had been published. I avidly read all the series and then the new books, and everything was going well until the series hit book 31 towards the end of the 1980s. Then suddenly the books stopped appearing and I had no idea why.

Years later the Internet provided me with the answer of what had happened. Simply, the publisher stopped printing the books so the author stopped writing them. The final book #32: Return to Terra did get published in France though. So, like many others, I've bid plenty of times on eBay for one of the rare copies, but to no avail. Now amazingly I've just found out that after over a decade of silence the venerable author has written a new final limited-edition book #33: Child of Earth. Again it is commanding high prices on eBay.

So why does this sf series have such great appeal? Well, Earl Dumarest is the hero, and what a hero he is. He's as hard as nails, has a way with the ladies, and he's a man with a purpose. You see, in the far-future, he's the only person who still believes in the mystical home world on which he was born called earth. He will not rest until he finds his way back there, even if he has to visit every planet in the galaxy - or at least 33 of them.

In all the books there is just the one plot. And it's a good one and goes something like this: Dumarest is hanging around a space bar, down on his luck and with no money. He's spent his last cents on a berth out of his last port of call and now he's holed up in the seedy part of a space-port.

Here, with no other options, he fights until first blood is drawn in a gladiatorial knife fight to earn enough money for a passage to another planet. He wins, having had to kill his opponent after an illegal move was used. While nursing his wounds, a woman in a slinky costume with a thing for fighters offers him some personal grooming. Dumarest is quick on the uptake and realizes this is just a euphemism, but he is a man alone. He doesn't get involved with girls, even alluring, half-dressed and begging for it ones, so he declines.

Then he notices that the necklace the woman is wearing has 'Property of Earth' stamped in big letters across the middle. He puts the clues together and deduces this might help him find the location of earth. Cue flashback to his birth and childhood on earth plus a run through of the few clues he's picked up in previous books.

Dumarest realizes he must get to know this woman, but having spurned her unsubtle advances, he's in a quandary. Luckily, she really does only what him for his big muscles. You see, she owns a mining company and someone is secretly ripping her off. She wants a hunky man to sort it out. Dumarest strikes a bargain: he'll sort out her problems if she'll let him have the necklace and all the information about it. She agrees.

Dumarest visits some exotic worlds, gets in some fights, shows the woman a good time, and generally passes the time fruitfully. Finally there's a showdown with the bad guys after which Dumarest is the only one left standing. Then the woman, who he now loves deeply like no woman he's ever met before, well, since the last book anyway, dies in his arms saying, 'If you want to find earth go to... urghhhhh.'

There the story ends. Dumarest has a useless necklace, enough money for transport on the next ship out of the quadrant, and a vague sense of purpose to find someone called urgh.

Occasionally there are variations to this story. Sometimes he gets into a gladiator fight at the end of the book, sometimes in the middle. Sometimes the woman he falls for is blonde and sometimes in the really experimental books she's a brunette.

That's about it: brainless adventure, but not brain-numbing. These books are high quality pulp, always fast-paced with no time for pondering the meaning of existence. Within its own set limitations, it creates a whole civilization, a future barbarian society in which everyone acts for their own base needs and nobody ever devotes their time to bettering the world. This is great adventure stuff and the best of its type. And now the quest for books 32 and 33 can begin in earnest...!

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday

Today is the first Wild Bunch Wednesday. The idea is Joanne's Walpole's (Terry James) and throughout July, I and several other bloggers below will be posting extracts from our western novels.

Terry James at Joanne Walpole's blog
Jack Giles at Broken Trails
Lance Howard at Dark Bits
Jack Martin at The Tainted Archive
IJ Parnham at The Culbin Trail

This week the theme is the hero. I'm providing an extract from Riders of the Barren Plains in which I introduce the down-on-his-luck hero Jeff Steed.

'Sorry, cowboy. I ain't got no work for you.'

'Obliged for your time,' Jeff Steed said then shuffled off down the bar to stand beside his next target, a portly rancher.

The rancher put down his drink and turned. Before Jeff could even deliver his speech, he snapped out his decision.

'Like he said. I've got no work for you.'

'Obliged for--'

'You weren't listening.' The rancher looked Jeff up and down with undisguised contempt, taking in his threadbare clothing, caked-on grime, and holed boots. 'I've got no work for you.'

The rancher roared with laughter at his insult then turned away to order another drink.

'Obliged for your time,' Jeff said dutifully then moved on.

When he'd ridden into Carmon, Jeff had been told that the local ranchers and trail bosses drank in this saloon, so if there was hiring to be done it'd happen here. But he'd had no luck.

Two days without food meant he'd had to hitch his belt in to its tightest hole to stop his stomach growling. Despite that his trousers were still loose, but he didn't have the energy to bore another hole. He had to find work soon and he didn't like to think what would happen if he didn't.

Only one man was left at the end of the bar to try. He was drinking with a stern expression that said he had plenty on his mind and didn't want interruptions. Jeff still sidled up to him, but he was so dispirited he couldn't even summon up the words to ask his standard question. After he had stood there for several seconds, the man spoke up.

'So you're looking for work?' Although he stayed looking straight ahead, the question sent a tremor of hope fluttering in Jeff's empty guts.

'Sure,' Jeff said.

'I'm Blake Kelly,' the man said, lowering his voice. 'Ever heard of me?'

'Nope. Then again I ain't from around these parts, but I just want to say, I'll do anything.'

'Anything, eh?' Blake sipped his whiskey then turned to consider him. His steady gaze took in Jeff's tattered clothing as the previous man had. He licked his lips and a lively gleam in the eye softened his dour expression. 'I'm a man short so I have some work for a man who'll do anything.'

Jeff heard the emphasis, but his pride had snapped some time ago, so even the possibility of a disgusting, backbreaking task for little pay made his mouth water with anticipation.

'What'll you pay me?'

'Straight to the point. I like that.' Blake withdrew a handful of bills from his pocket. 'Twenty dollars for an hour's work, maybe two.'

'An hour!' Jeff spluttered. His heart beat faster, but then experience told him where this apparently lucrative offer would lead.

'Sure, and don't worry about getting paid. I'll give you ten dollars now and the rest on completion.' Blake winked. 'Provided you can find me.'

Jeff smiled as Blake read his mind, not that that would have been hard when he was so downtrodden.

'What is this job?'

'And finally the important question.' Blake beckoned for Jeff to join him in leaning on the bar then lowered his voice to a whisper. 'You stand on the corner of the road opposite the bank and look out for certain men. If you see them, you tell me.'

Jeff frowned. He was about to say he didn't want to get involved in any trouble, but his stomach provided an encouraging growl and from down the bar braying laughter sounded from the man who had sneered at him earlier.

'Which men?' he asked.

Blake placed a ten-dollar bill on the bar and pushed it towards him.

'Lawmen,' he said.

(c) I. J. Parnham 2009, published by Robert Hale Ltd and available from all good on-line retailers such as Amazon

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust...

...if Lillee don’t get you, Thommo must. If these words mean nothing, then no doubt you'll be underwhelmed to hear that July 8th is the big day when England and Australia lock horns again for the Ashes, cricket's most competitive and important battle. For the next two months 22 grown men will engage in various arcane rituals combined with zen-like meditation that will entrance half the globe while leaving the other half bemused. So as a taster of the nail-biting excitement to come here are my top ten Ashes moments.

1. Umbrella nibbling - The Oval, 1902

Set 263 to win on the final day, England were expected to prevail. An hour later they were 48-5 with all their batsmen gone. Out strode Gilbert Jessop. Gilbert was an all-rounder in all senses of the word. He was the sort of sportsman you never get these days. He played competitive football, hockey, rugby, golf, and represented England as a sprinter as he could run 100 yards in ten seconds. At cricket he bowled fast, was the best fielder in the country, and scored his runs faster than anyone in history.

That day he scored 104 in 77 minutes, which in terms of time is still the fastest ever test hundred and it inspired England to sneak home by 1 wicket. The report on the ending said that it was so exciting one gentleman died of a heart attack and another chewed the top off his umbrella.

2. Bodyline - 1932

No phrase in the history of sport has such resonance as the word, Bodyline. England went out to Australia to play a formidable team that included Donald Bradman, the greatest batsman of all time. The captain Douglas Jardine devised a scheme to curtail him, which in essence involved cheating. He told his best fast bowler Harold Larwood to not bowl at the stumps but to effectively bowl at the batsman.

The idea was more complex than that, but the result was a player would have to devote all his time to defending himself rather than playing because if he missed the ball, then he would get hit and seriously hurt. This was outside the spirit of the game and when players starting getting smashed in the face by 95 mph balls the resulting furore caused the most severe diplomatic incident that century between Australia and England. When you add to the mix that Jardine was posh and Larwood was a working-class bloke you have a recipe for one of the great sporting yarns.

3. Eric Hollies, The Oval 1948

This match was Don Bradman's final appearance. In terms of statistics Bradman was the greatest ever cricketer. He could also claim to be the greatest sportsman ever. Forget Tiger Woods. To be like Bradman a golfer would have to go round in 50 every single time. He was that far ahead of the others. In cricket an average of 40 means you're a good player, 50 means you're a great one, 60 is out of reach. The best player in current cricket averages 57.

Bradman walked out for his last match averaging 101. He needed 4 runs to retire with an average of over 100. Eric Hollies, a journeyman player who had done little before and did nothing after was bowling. The crowd cheered Bradman all the way to the wicket. Then Hollies turned his arm over and bowled Bradman out for a duck. The crowd looked on in horror, and yet he had to go and so his career ended with an average of 99.94.

4. Laker's match - Old Trafford 1956

The most wickets any player in any form of cricket has ever taken in a match is 17. In this match Laker took 19. When he got home his wife asked him if anything important had happened that day as the phone had been ringing a lot.

5. What a picture - The Oval 1967

Although the above picture had been cropped and so doesn't quite capture the moment, the large version is my favourite sporting picture. Australia turned up for the final day needing to bat out the match for a draw. A large crowd arrived to see if they could and instead spent the day watching the rain fall. By mid-afternoon ducks were swimming around the outfield. The rain stopped, but there was no chance of play.

Then in a scene that couldn’t for health and safety reasons be allowed today the crowd invaded the pitch and started mopping up. They did so well that play was possible for the last hour of the day. Luckily England had Deadly Derek Underwood playing, and on a damp pitch he was unplayable. He ran through the last players to leave the last two batsman at the crease. With tension mounting as there was only a few minutes left and every fielder crowding the bat, he delivered another fizzing ball and trapped Inverarity leg before.

6. Granddad gets to play - Lord's 1975

In 1974 Austrialia had destroyed England with the help of Lillee and Thompson, one of the most charismatic bowling duos of all time. Lillee had a comical moustache and was clever and resourceful, Thompson was a brute and possibly the fastest there's ever been. They beat England 4-1 and broke even more bones. Nobody could stand up to them and so for the return series the selectors searched for someone who had the guts to face the intimidatory bowling. They chose David Steele. Cricketing fans responded with - who? And when they found out who he was they responded with - why? Steele played for a second rate county where he couldn’t hold down a first team place as he averaged around 30. He was also in his mid-30s, an age when most players retired.

It was a bizarre selection, which became even more bizarre when he came out to bat and everyone got their first sight of him. He wore pebble-glasses and had gone completely grey, making him look like a retired bank manager. Lillee is supposed to have said, "Streth, mate, they've sent out someone's granddad to play against us." Lillee decided to end the nonsense and hurled a 95 mph ball at his head. Steele didn't flinch. He just steered the ball away for four and a folk-hero was born. He was Steele by name and steel by nature and England rediscovered their pride and went on to draw a few matches.

7. Local hero runs off - Trent Bridge 1977

Derek Randall was the local boy made good. Playing for the unfashionable county of Nottinghamshire he'd managed to get in the England team and so when England played Australia at Notts' home ground everyone wanted to see how he'd do. What made the moment even greater was that Randall was a character; the sort of person that again you don’t get in sport these days. He was scruffy, fidgety, and a joker. When Lillee hit him on the head and knocked him over in 1976 his response was that at least you didn't hit me anywhere important.

Returning for the match was Geoffrey Boycott, a divisive figure who was the best player in the country and yet who had retired from internationals when Mike Denness got the captaincy ahead of him. When Denness retired Boycott came out of retirement and so the scene was set for one of cricket's most memorable bits of bad play.

Randall and Boycott found themselves batting together. Boycott was doing his usual trick of defending the first 5 balls then sneaking a single off the last ball to keep the strike. He'd done this for a few overs and then he tried to get a run even when he'd hit the ball straight to the fielder. He set off for a suicidal run. Randall shouted no. Boycott kept going. Randall turned his back on him. Boycott kept going, and so they both found themselves at the same end and Randall was run out. The crowd were not impressed. I was there that day and I uttered a rude word, loudly. It didn't matter as 15,000 others did too.

8. Headingley - 1981

The date and venue has come to mean the impossible comeback. I doubt any side in any sport has ever been so behind and yet gone on to win. It would be like being 5-0 down with two minutes to play in football, you’re down to 6 men and you've lost the ball, and still winning. Or simply put, if this was a sporting movie, Kevin Costner would be in it.

England had just been stuffed 5-0 in a 5 match series dogged by tales of the side spending too much time partying. The press and fans were sharpening their knives when they arrived home to play Australia. They were promptly beaten in the first match. Then the captain got sacked midway through the second match and he had a punch-up with a spectator on the way to the wicket in a rain-affected draw. So things were looking very bad before they arrived at Headingley, and then they got worse.

England watched Australia compile 401. Then they got out for 185 and were invited to bat again. By tea on the fourth day they were 135-7 and in a hopeless position. By all accounts Ian Botham, realizing his career was over, got drunk to fortify himself before getting torn apart by the press, and so started playing like an idiot. He did everything a player shouldn’t do and yet he got lucky. For the next two hours he blasted a breathless 146. Even so that set Australia only 130 to win, a simple enough target and yet the next day chilled out Bob Dylan fan Bob Willis suddenly got angry and took 8 wickets. England scraped home to victory and a legend was born.

9. Boon's record - 1989

After Headingley Australia disappeared into the doldrums for the rest of the decade. But the team who came out in 1989 were determined to reverse their fortunes, and there was no better way to prove they meant business than for David Boon to beat the world record for the most beer consumed on the flight from Australia to England. The record had been set by Doug Walters on the 1975 tour at 44 cans. Australian cricket fans had argued passionately on the subject of whether Rodney Marsh managed to beat the record for the 1977 tour with 45 cans, but it's thought the last one might have been an in and outer and he only equalled the record.

David rewrote the record book with 52 cans of lager. Australia went on to win the cricket too.

10. That ball - Old Trafford 1993

A young bloke called Shane Warne came on to bowl his first ball in England to Mike Gatting. Rumour had it that Warne might become fairly good. Most doubted it. He came trundling in off a few paces and bowled a fairly uninteresting looking warm-up delivery that drifted in towards the batsman's legs. Gatting placed his bat in the way. And then it happened. The ball pitched then impossibly turned at a right-angle and clipped the stumps. Cricket suffered a seismic shift. The delivery was called the ball of the century. And Warne faded away into obscurity... well, not quite.

So will the current series produce great moment number 11? It’s hard to say. Australia have a rare weak team at the moment while we have our usual weak team. My head says Australia will win easily, but my heart says that if we can avoid injuries, Ricky Ponting gets swine flu, and Pietersen remembers how to use a bat it will be 2-1 to England.

Monday 6 July 2009

Journey to Jupiter by Hugh Walters

Review #7 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.
With Mars now conquered Chris by-passes the asteroid belt and heads off to the nearest gas giant in Journey to Jupiter (pub 1965). Actually while writing this I discovered that after the Martian adventure there was a spin-off book I'd never heard of before involving Tony Hale having fun with his ham radio set. I'm glad I missed that.

With Jupiter being a long way away plucky Brit scientists have come up with a cunning plan to get there involving an ion drive that can go very fast indeed. Chris and his three chums arrive safely at Jupiter, but then danger arrives in what was frankly the silliest and most contrived plot development in the whole series.

The British scientists who are brilliant enough to build a rocket that can reach Jupiter have pressed some wrong buttons on their slide-rules and have miscalculated Jupiter's gravitational pull. It's stronger than they thought and there's no escape for the ship. I mean, is it really conceivable that space scientists would make basic mistakes such as getting inches and centimetres mixed up and ruin a multi-billion dollar space mission?

Anyhow, luckily the moon Io gets in the way of the falling ship and after landing there, having a spot of tea and a quick game of cricket, the Brits return home in triumph, again, ready for more adventure.

Next week Chris encounters his most terrifying danger yet: those oddly-shaped blokes called girls.

Friday 3 July 2009

Bleached Bones in the Dust

I received a contract for my Nun with a gun Black Horse Western I discussed earlier. In the end the story was entitled Railroad to Redemption and although Sister Angelica wasn't as important a character in the final version as she had been in the first draft, the idea did at least get me writing. So I've now been rooting around for my next story to write. Luckily a long-forgotten idea came to mind to write a story entitled Bleached Bones in the Dust and so now the writing is going well.

Memory is an odd thing. One piece of advice often given to writers is to keep a record of their ideas. I've never done that. I've always been a believer in the principle that you write things down to forget them rather than to remember them. By not writing anything down my brain will sift through ideas and decide if they're worth remembering. This means I forget just about everything. But I judge that as being better than having a huge notebook crammed with notes like: 'sausages are fishy' and 'the bullet has no friends' and wondering what possessed me to make that note.

But occasionally ideas that I stored away resurface and that's what happened when I was musing recently about the British tv series Hamish MacBeth. This was a series that ran in the 1990s and was the only Sunday night feelgood tv series I've ever liked. I even named my ginger Tom Hamish.

The series starred Robert Carlyle playing a policeman in the fictional Scottish town of Loch Dubh. Hamish is a skilled cop, but he also knows that he has to keep his head down or he might get spotted by his bosses and relocated to the bright lights of Inverness. So to stay in Loch Dubh and enjoy the quiet life he passes his successes on to others. He also sees himself as a western hero and enjoys reading westerns.

In one episode he meets his favourite western author Paul Jeffreys. This meeting created some unintentional humour as the author is a bestseller whose latest western has just come out in Britain in paperback and is available in all book shops. As if! Even more amusingly Paul's career as a British bestselling western author earns him enough money to buy a huge house in Loch Dubh. This rather strains credibility. Hamish MacBeth was filmed in the impossibly picturesque town of Plockton where property prices are so high even a British MP on expenses would struggle to buy a single storey shoebox.

Anyhow, Paul is impressed when he finds that Hamish loves his books and so he gives him a copy of his latest novel, Bleached Bones in the Dust. I loved that title and I immediately resolved to write a story using it. That resolution lasted almost to the end of the episode by which time I'd forgotten about it. I have the series on video though and I've watched it several times since. Each time I've re-remembered my resolution, and each time I've promptly forgotten it, but this time I didn't.

I started writing Bleached Bones in the Dust with a scene involving some bleached bones being found in the dust. The bones had been there for some time and nobody knew whose they were. So then the search started to find out who had died. I haven't found out yet, but I've got some momentum going so hopefully the answer will turn out to be an interesting one. Originally I'd started with the intention of it being a short story for the forthcoming Express Westerns anthology, but I've written 10,000 words and I still don't know why the bones were in the dust so it'll probably become a novel.

I'll report on progress later. And I'll also report on how bad my memory is. Recently doubts have assailed me and I'm now 99% convinced that the novel title in the Hamish MacBeth episode was not actually Bleached Bones in the Dust and I've just remembered it wrong. So I've promised myself that when I've finished the first draft I'll drag out the episode and find out what the actual title was. Hopefully I might have remembered at least one word right!

Thursday 2 July 2009