We are inviting submissions for Devon short stories

This submission window is now closed although I will be producing another short story collection at some point in 2023

Do feel free to get in touch if you have a story to send in, but be prepared for a long wait.

Submission criteria.

You should live in Devon. I like to work with people I can meet. I don’t want to meet you, but I would like to be able to if it becomes necessary, e.g. to deliver a box of books.

The story must be set in Devon.

It can be any genre except for horror or erotica. I don’t mind romance or suspense, but I don’t want any ick, or gore.

Length is fleixible but in the region of 2,500 words is ideal.

The money is, frankly rubbish. I can only pay  £10 so if you are writing for money … well .. why are you writing at all? You shouldn’t be doing it for the money because it will NEVER be enough.

Blue Poppy will be covering ALL production costs and you will NOT be required to buy any books. You will even get a free author copy.

If you want to buy copies you can at a special discounted price that will make it worth your while selling copies to friends, but you DON’T have to.

That’s more or less everything you need to know right now. If you are still interested, leave a message below and I will contact you with more detailed info. I don’t like putting the email on here as it attracts spam. (it’s info @ the URL though)

Short Story – The Cross (for want of a better title)

I started writing this as an exercise to see if I could write something that would be good for my short story competition (for details see here) Obviously I would not be able to enter my own competition, but I figured I could still put my own effort into the anthology.

As I sailed past the 2,500 word maximum for the competition, I realised how very difficult it is to write short stories to a specific length. To anyone entering this competition, I take my hat off to you.

Meanwhile, please let me know what you think of my 6,000 word effort.

As ever, this is unedited, other than my own lacklustre efforts, so please forgive all the errors and inconsistencies.

The warm flickering amber glow of a real log fire dominated the ambience in The Plough this evening, as it had done on countless evenings since the place had first been built over three hundred years ago. The scent of wax cotton jackets mingled with the woodsmoke and flowing Exmoor Gold, while the ebb and flow of conversation and laughter filled the ears. Bill, Harry, and John sat around the dark wooden circular table, with its heavy cast iron base, their ruddy beer glasses glinting and pulsing in the firelight like they were magical. And, somehow, it was magic, just sitting there, first pint already downed, letting the muscles relax after a hard day spreading slurry. In some ways little had changed in all those centuries. True, they now had a John Deere the size of a small cottage with the power of a couple of hundred shire horses, and even Harry, the eldest of the three, had a slim shiny black smartphone in his pocket, even if he did only use it to let the wife know he was on his way home for tea.

The door opened letting a cold draft whip round the bar until it shut again with a clatter and the wind, losing momentum, settled down to sleep somewhere in the middle of the floor. The newcomers were youngsters, three of them, late teens or early twenties, woolly hats and fleece jackets, wearing trainers, not wellies. They were chatting animatedly on arrival, continuing a conversation that had started outside.

“I dunno, Lunnen, or Brizzle, I guess. Nothin’ ever ’appens here, thass for sure!”

“You wouldn’t last five minutes in London, Dave, they’d eat you for breakfast.”

There was laughter as the lads got to the bar and ordered. The lass serving them, Sal by name, smiled warmly at Dave, who failed to notice. They sat at an empty table near the fire and acknowledged the three older men.

“Alright dad?” Dave said to Bill.

“Alright son? You’m still on about movin’ then?”

“Well … ” he hesitated.

“You thought about work? Not much call for a farm hand wi’ a BTEC in animal care round Chelsea way, so I’ear.”

There was a ripple of laughter among the older group.

“Dave’s right though,” said one of the youngsters, coming to his friend’s defence, “Nothing ever happens round ’ere.”

“Oh, I dunno, bay,” piped up John, “I ’eared tell of a ewe az juss give birth to a two headed lamb.”

“Oh aye, wherezat to then?” Harry asked.

“High Tree Farm, so uz tole.”


“Tiz true!”

“So what’re we doin’ sittin’ roun’ suppin’ ale. Drink up lez get o’er there an’ see un.”

Dave remained unconvinced and unimpressed. “There ain’t no way no two-’eaded lamb’s been born roun’ yere. T’would’ve bin all over the internet by now.”

“More’s the point,” cut in another of the youths, “Oi juss bin up at High Tree earlier an’ nobody said a word.”

“They’z keepin’ it under they hats innum?” said John, tapping his rosy nose, a cheeky twinkle playing around his grey eyes.”

“Garn, geddaway! You’m pulling uz plonkers, y’old devil!”

There were laughs all around as it became clear that John had indeed been pulling everyone’s plonkers, but it gave them all an excuse to sup some more Exmoor or Carling as their tastes dictated.

The door opened again, the sleeping breeze awoke and went for a mad race around the pub while it had the chance. The newcomer was alone and the whole pub went quiet as they entered. It wasn’t the fact that they were black that was remarkable. True, most folk round these parts were white, or at least rubicund, but there were definitely some non-whites in the village. There was a black graphic designer and his family, who had bought the old post office building, an Indian doctor who worked at North Devon District Hospital. Heck even Sal behind the bar was of mixed heritage. No; what made this person look unusual was that he, or possibly she, it wasn’t obvious, wore a floor length black leather cloak topped off with a tricorn hat sporting a jaunty blue feather.

Undaunted by the obvious chill in the atmosphere, they walked to the bar, each step accompanied by a clink-clink sound that was uncomfortably loud in the unnatural silence. They ordered a bloody Mary in a velvet voice that could have been a high tenor or a deep contralto. Sal told the stranger how much it was, and they drew back the cloak to reveal a powder-blue leather coin pouch tied to a gold waistband. From this, deft fingers in cream gloved hands withdrew a coin.

Over by the fireplace, Harry muttered to the younger lads, “Nothin’ ever ’appens ’ere bays.”

Sal looked at the glint of gold with a suspicious eye. She turned to call Tom, the landlord, but he was already on her shoulder. By no means an expert numismatist, Tom looked at the coin held in Sal’s hand. It glinted gold but that didn’t mean squat these days. A Quality Street toffee penny was shinier, and he had half a tin of them left over from Christmas. He picked it up and bit it. The stranger looked at him as though he were a complete idiot. Tom eyed the stranger and there followed an internal ‘full and frank’ discussion between ‘Tom who wanted to throw the stranger out immediately’, and ‘Tom who often bought a scratch-card with his change, on the off-chance that this could be the big one’.

The latter Tom won, “I can’t change this,” he said.

“Keep it,” the stranger replied, adding, “I need rooms in this town. Is this an inn or just a tavern?”

Tom’s mind tried to fit the village of Shepherdfordsworth, (pronounced Shepeth) inside the word town and found, despite its length, that it rattled around too much. As to the question of his pub’s status, he did a passable impression of a drowning fish as he tried to work out the correct answer.

“You’d be payin’ wi’ them little coins there would ee?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Gimme five minutes.”

Tom went back into the private area and picked up the telephone.

“Hello? … Nicki, do you still collect coins an’ that? … That’s more or less what I mean, yeah … Yeah? Proper job! I don’t s’pose you’re about and can get over to the Plough roight now can ee? … Yeah roight now, quick as possible. … Oi got summat I want you to ’ave a look at see?”

He replaced the receiver. Nicki was a bit of an amateur archaeologist who had been a full-time librarian, now retired. Since she could walk to the pub in five minutes but would more likely cycle, Tom waited by the side door to keep an eye out for her. Once inside with decent light she examined the coin briefly.

“Did you bite this?”

“Well, thass how you test if eez gold, innum?”

“Pillock! There’s tooth marks on it now. Still worth a bloody fortune, where d’you find it?”

“I nev…” he stopped as he thought about the ma …. woma … person in the leather cloak with a whole bag of coins, each potentially worth a fortune, that they were planning on spending on a room, and perhaps more drinks. The thought took a split second. He continued, “… ver did go through them old boxes in the back cellar, ’till today, and that coin wuz in one of ’em. Thanks Nicki, you’ve been a tremendous help.”

“Dunno what were so urgent you had to drag me over here at a moment’s notice, though.” She huffed as she remounted her bike and cycled the couple of minutes back home.

Back in the bar, Tom did his best hotelier routine, “Would sir be after the deluxe suite or an economy room?”

Sal mouthed, ‘what deluxe suite’, at him from a position out of the stranger’s line of sight. Then she had a further thought of ‘what bloody economy room?’.

He waved her away.

“I’ll take the deluxe, and it’s madam if you don’t mind! Aspen Delcroix.” She proffered a hand.

“Charmed, Oi’m sure.” Tom replied, tentatively squeezing a couple of fingers. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to kiss the hand, but thankfully she withdrew it before he came to any conclusions.

There were three bedrooms in the Plough, his own ensuite, which he had rashly offered as the ‘deluxe’, Sal’s room, because the job had to be live-in when you didn’t finish kicking folks out until long gone three in the morning some nights, and a spare room which contained a lot of  boxes and other unwanted junk.

After a rapid sotto voce argument with Sal, it was agreed that he, Tom, would have to sleep in the junk room, although she agreed to help clear the boxes out of the way. Between frantic removals backstage, and serving in the bar, the pair managed to arrange things so that Ms Delcroix could be made comfortable in Tom’s room.

In the warm amber glow of the bar, Aspen Delcroix assessed the locals. Some still eyed her suspiciously, others had returned attention to their own conversations and drinks. Her eyes lighted on Dave and his friends. She walked over to their table.

“I’m looking for a man.”

Dave managed not to spit out his drink.

There was a raucous shout from Harry at the next table, “Best come over ’ere maid, them’s nobbut bays.”

She glanced at the older group. “I need one who doesn’t creak when he stands up.”

The younger group all reacted with comments like “Shade!”, “Oooooh!”, and “Burn!”.

The lads took an immediate liking to the woman which was not dulled by her striking if rather masculine looks.

“I might be available for some manly duties,” Dave admitted, attempting nonchalance.

“Yes, you’ll do. Come with me,” Ms Delcroix strode from the pub.

Dave, hesitating at first, quickly decided he had better catch up or lose his job, whatever it was. Outside, he saw Ms Delcroix standing beside an oversized wooden trunk and a heavy leather travelling bag. There was no sign of a cab or other vehicle, but Dave assumed it had just left.

“You take the trunk upstairs to my room, I can manage the bag.”

She picked up the bag and headed inside. Dave attempted to lift the trunk and collapsed on top of it. He steeled himself for another attempt and, forewarned, he lifted it with some difficulty and followed his employer. He hadn’t even asked if he was getting paid. There were ironic cheers for Dave manful efforts as he lumbered the chest awkwardly past the bar and into the back areas of the pub. He didn’t dare rest it or let on how much he was struggling while his mates, and his dad’s mates could see, but once out of sight he stopped for a breather at the foot of the stairs. After lugging the trunk into the room at dumping it at the foot of the bed, he did his best to get his breath back without looking like the effort had almost killed him.

“You’re strong, I like that. I may need you again for something rather more challenging.” She handed him a copper coin. Dave didn’t look at it.

“More challenging like, a bigger case? Or more challenging like …” Dave didn’t have any ideas that he thought would be appropriate.

Aspen Delcroix looked at Dave and seemed to make a quick character judgement. She stepped past him and a waft of orange blossom enveloping him briefly. She glanced outside and then closed the door. Dave swallowed hard and tried to suppress his most optimistic thoughts.

“What do you know about demons?”

Dave thought ‘Well, that was … unexpected.’.

After a pause he said, “Kinda fiery things that live in Hell?”

“Not always fiery. You could call it Hell if you want. It’s a bit more complex than that, but sure, yes, demons. What do you know about them?”

Dave began, “That they don’t …” and then his brain caught up with his mouth and asked for a brief discussion in private.

It said, ‘If you’re about to say they don’t exist, could we consider the possibility that this … let’s call her handsome … woman, who smells nice, and who is alone with you in her bedroom, might think they do, and the possibility exists that if you say the wrong thing, she might ask you to leave? And, by the way, I am not the only one here who is thinking along these lines.’

Dave adjusted his thoughts and started again. “Well, Demons are … evil, and very, very … bad.”

As speeches go, Dave realised he was not up there with Martin Luther King, or Ricky Gervaise at an awards ceremony. He decided to shut up until he had something intelligent to say.

Aspen Delcroix, despite his poor start, began to explain. “Demons are evil entities that exist for no discernible purpose. They are manifestation of utter chaos and evil. They destroy life and order wherever they find it. For the most part, they are kept in a plane of existence called the Abyss, but sometimes, the boundaries between the material world and the Abyss become thin and there is a rift between worlds. My job is to travel to the place and time of the rift, destroy any demons that pass through, and to close the rift afterwards.”

Dave stuck with his decision to keep quiet unless he had something sensible to say. His silence was rewarded with more information.

“I need someone from the local time and region to help me. You know the area, I know demons, got it?”

“Got it, yeah. So these demons?”

“I think you only have a small incursion here. Nothing worse than Vzzghrt.”

It sounded like she was choking. “Do you want a glass of water?”

“I’m fine, it’s a small demon, it flies. Think of a big blowfly but with a sting.”

“We’ve got a zapper at home, mum uses it in the kitchen.”

“No need. We’ve got what we need in here.” She opened the trunk revealing a variety of strange apparatus. The colours were a mixture of brass, silver, black, and glowing electric blue. “You have to keep this to yourself. The fewer locals that know, the better.”

Dave nodded. No bugger would believe him anyway.

Aspen Delcroix glanced at a small device on her belt. It went ‘ping’ rather in the manner of an old-fashioned striking clock announcing one o’clock. “Come on then.” She lifted two larger devices from the trunk and handed one to Dave. It was some sort of handle, like a large sword hilt with no blade. It hummed gently in his hand.

“What, right now?” Dave asked.

“The rift is not far from here. The image I have is of an old-looking barn with a tiled roof. In front is a tall, straight tree with no branches,  and a very small building, bright red, with lots of glass windows all round.”

Dave tried to interpret the description. He couldn’t think of any small red buildings.

“How small is this red building?”

Aspen Delcroix indicated a width by holding her hands about three feet apart, and jumped, pointing with her hand to indicate a height of about eight feet. “Actually a little taller than that, like the height of this ceiling.”

Dave wracked his brains. He tried a different tack. “This tree, really straight, no branches?” He recalled there was an old pine growing out on the Barum road that had been trimmed over many years and was pretty straight.

“Yes, it is a strange tree. There are some small branches.”

Dave thought, ‘yes, little straggly bits that grow each year.’

“They are a different colour. Black, and regular shaped. Evenly spaced on either side of the tree.”

Dave slumped. This didn’t sound like any tree he’d ever seen.

“You sure you’re in the right place?”

“Certain. The red building, it has something inside it, you can see through the glass. A yellow box on one wall. Oh, and there’s a word written on the side of the building, I don’t know the word.”

Light dawned for Dave, “Defibrillator?”


“Come on, I know where we’re going?” He headed for the door.

“Not that way!” She headed for the window. She opened it, looked down, climbed out and dropped onto the ground fifteen feet below, landing like a wobbly gymnast.

Dave looked down without enthusiasm. But he didn’t want to look weak. He climbed out and then, grabbing hold of the window frame, lowered himself until he was dangling from the ledge. It was still a fair drop, and he would scrape on the wall the whole way down. He prepared himself and pushed away from the wall a bit as he dropped. The barest hint of disdain crossed Aspen Delcroix’s face as she helped him get up from the ground.

“Which way?”

Dave led off down a narrow lane lined with hedgerows. “It’s not far. Less than a mile.”

Bright headlights approached and the two moved out of the way, Aspen making sure the devices they were carrying were not visible to the driver as they passed.

They reached the old telephone box which, rather pointlessly considering its location, had now been fitted with a defibrillator. Next to it was a telegraph pole. Behind that was the old barn. The small device on Aspen Delcroix’s belt was pinging now like a clock striking midnight. Dave could see that something was definitely not right. From the barn came a worrying crimson glow, the light spilling out through cracks in roof tiles and in the old cob walls. He could hear a fizzing, crackling sound, and there was a burning metallic smell in the air, like the morning after fireworks night.

“Come on.” Aspen moved towards the large double doors where spears of reddish light were stabbing through gaps in the frames. “Get behind me and take out any that get past.”

She hauled open the big door and swung the device at the first of the creatures that flew towards her. When she had said, ‘like a big blowfly’, Dave had not imagined this. It was larger than a tennis ball and resembled a glowing ember with wings and a viscous looking barbed proboscis. He hesitated, transfixed. Aspen slashed left and right, whips of electric blue and white light emerged from the handle of the weapon, taking down several demons in a few swipes. When hit, the glowing buzzing demons burst with radiant white light and vapourised. One got past Aspen and headed for Dave.

“Don’t let it get away! And don’t let it sting you either!” she yelled.

Animated by her shout, Dave launched his weapon at the creature. Nothing happened.

“Squeeze the handle as you swing!” Aspen added, flicking several more demons to oblivion. “There are too many of them! I’m going to close the doors until we can think of another plan.”

Slashing all about her, she tried to get the door closed. But in doing so let several more get past her. Dave wasn’t going to screw this up again. He was not going to let a bunch of demons, with a name that sounded like a cat bringing up a furball, run amok in his village. Besides, Ms Delcroix smelled of orange blossom and she was the best-looking woman that Dave had ever noticed paying him any attention. He was not the most observant when it came to subtle social signals.

Gripping his unfamiliar weapon like his life depended on it, which it almost certainly did, he began to lay about him as he had seen his boss do. While Ms Delcroix forced the doors shut, Dave slashed and dashed taking down half a dozen of these fiendish Vzzghrt things. Only one remained, the first escapee, it danced tantalisingly out of his reach, zipping and buzzing this way and that, moving away from him over the hedgerow. He had to stop it, he leapt and swung, clambering up the thorny hazel wall, stabbed by thick brambles. He tried to ignore the pain, focussed on keeping this evil thing from reaching his friends and family. He managed to reach the top of the hedge, despite his hands bleeding, and the rips in his jeans, and lashed at the buzzing ball of hatred taunting him. He missed and fell down along the hedge-top, the weapon flung from his grip. The Vzzghrt saw its chance and swooped down, buzzing with fiendish delight.

In his remaining seconds Dave found enough time to think, ‘Well that’s the end of my demon hunting career,’ the barbed proboscis grew rapidly larger as it bore down on him, the body behind it glowing evilly. Then just as he steeled himself for the anticipated agonising pain there was a flash of blue light, and the demon was blasted away. He could smell a metallic tang, mingled with what he had to assume was the smell of his own eyebrows burning, he could live with that. He looked at Aspen Delcroix who was far too far away to have used the same weapon he was wielding. Sure enough, there was something in her hand that was still sparking electric blue.

“Thanks.” He said, unable to load the word with as much sincere gratitude as he currently felt.

“No problem.” She pulled a similar weapon from her belt and handed it to him. “Plane-shift blaster, use sparingly, it doesn’t hold much charge. Oh, and don’t miss!”

“What does it do?”

“It sends anyone or anything you hit back to the Abyss.”



Dave eyed the weapon with a deep, and fully justified, mistrust.

“Right, are you ready?” she said, looking at the broiling doors.

“Ready? I thought we were going to come up with another plan?”

“I just did. We’re going in there and closing the doors. If we win, we walk out of there alive; if we lose …”

Dave looked aghast, “If we lose?”

“Oh, if we lose you won’t be dead, you’ll be one of them!” With a look of grim determination, she turned to open the doors.

“Wait! If we lose, we turn into demons?”

“A succinct summary yes.”

She turned her attention to the door handle again and paused as Dave said, “So …”

“So we had better not lose, right?” She opened the door and stepped in, her electric blue whip flashing about her, followed by Dave aping her movements. He closed the door behind him.

The full-beam headlights and unnecessary fog-lamps of a passing car swept across the phone box, the defibrillator glowed yellow in the beams. The driver did not notice the flashes of blue and red emanating from the derelict barn behind. After a matter of scarcely two minutes that felt to the human occupants of the barn like hours the doors burst open and Aspen Delcroix emerged on all fours gasping for breath. She was followed by Dave, only slightly less traumatised by the experience.

As he got back his breath he gave a brief snort of relieved laughter, “That was fun,” he lied.

Aspen collapsed and rolled onto her back.

“Are you alright?” Dave began but knew before he had finished that she was not. There was an amoeboid patch of darkness spreading across the deep blue of her shirt.

“I’ve been hit. Listen; get back to the trunk. There’s a brass cylinder about this long and this wide,” she indicated the size with her hands. Fetch it. I should have brought it with me, I’m such a fool!” She flinched with the pain.

“Shouldn’t I call an ambulance?” Dave asked.

“What in all the hells would an ambulance do for a demon sting?” Aspen groaned. “Hurry!” she hissed through gritted teeth.

Dave stood up and ran along the lane back to the pub, his thoughts racing. It would take him maybe five or six minutes to run the mile back to the pub, and more like ten to make the return journey. He didn’t know how long it would take to find and retrieve the cylinder, but Aspen would be writhing in agony for a quarter of an hour at best. As he approached the pub he began to think about how he would get in and out without raising suspicion. He looked at himself. He had looked worse, but only after a particularly bad day on one of the muckier jobs on the farm. And he was still carrying a brass and silver electric blue whip and a plane-shift blaster. He investigated the window where they had climbed out earlier. There was a massive red Massey Fergusson parked right beneath it. Dave offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the owner for ignoring the request not to park here and he clambered up the great beast and onto the roof which brought him level with the window. Within a few moments he was climbing back down and leaping from the footplate and off down the lane again, the cylinder clutched tightly in his fist.

Breathless and nursing a painful stitch, he reached Aspen’s side. She had managed to bandage the wound while he’d been gone. She had stopped the flow of blood but was still clinging to life by a thread. She held out her hand for the cylinder. Dave handed it to her and then took it back when he saw she was unable to unscrew the lid.

“Take out one of the rods,” she grunted. “Careful, don’t press the ends. It’s a poison antidote.”

Dave removed one of a number of thin golden rods from the cylinder and handed it to Aspen. She grasped it. With closed eyes, she felt along its length and then placed one end against the skin on her forearm pushing against the other end with her thumb. The rod shortened visibly, and a tiny pearl of blood appeared on her skin at the point of contact. She smiled and fell back with a satisfied sigh. Dave took off his jacket, rolled it up, and placed it under her head.

“Give me a minute, then can you help me get back to the inn?” she said.

Dave indicated that he would. Once again, his words and gestures inadequate to convey how fervently he wanted to help.

It took half an hour to walk the mile back to the pub. As they approached, Dave hoped that the red Fergie was still there, and if it was, that Aspen would be strong enough to climb up it. It was there and Aspen drew on inner strength that Dave could only dream of to get back through the window. She threw off her leather cloak and collapsed on the bed, an exhausted dishevelled wreck. Dave wasn’t much better, but now he started to laugh uncontrollably sinking down with is back to the wall. Despite the pain, this started Aspen laughing as well. They had been, figuratively although not literally, through hell and somehow you either had to laugh or cry, so they laughed until they cried.

There was a knock on the door followed by Sal coming in to check everything was ok.

“Are you alright, you’ve been absolutely ages with that trunk,” she was saying. Her eyes took in the partly undressed woman on the bed, Dave in an almost foetal position on the floor, both of them looking dishevelled in the extreme.

“What happened? Did the trunk fight back?” She looked now at the trunk which Dave had left open. The strange tools and weapons glinted back at her.

“It’s not what it looks like.” Dave said. Internally, an incredulous voice said ‘It’s not what it looks like? What is this, some dreadful farce?’ he went on, “I mean, there’s nothing weird going on here …” he looked around the room and tried to think of anything, anything at all, that could possibly be any more weird than this. Perhaps if they were dressed as clowns? Or if the trunk was filled with shark infested custard?

Sal turned to leave. “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t think I want to know. What two consenting adults get up to in private is their own business.” She looked pretty hurt though.

Aspen laughed loudly and said, “Wait young lady. Whatever you think this is, it is definitely nothing between this young man and me.”

Sal put her hand on her hips and stared at Aspen her face radiating suspicion.

Aspen sat up, wincing as she did so. “This young man has been helping me to deal with an incursion of … uninvited guests.”

Sal’s mistrustful expression remained unmoved.

“There’s no romance whatsoever between us, I assure you.”

Dave made an involuntary sound that betrayed a teeny bit of disappointment.

“Really, David?” Aspen laughed briefly. “I am well over three hundred years old.”

It was Sal’s turn to snort derisively. “What’s your secret, Oil of Olay?”

Dave who had seen the Vzzghrt and wielded the weapons in the chest was more open to new ideas, but even he baulked at this. “Three hundred? You don’t look a day over thirty,” he said, thinking she could easily be forty.

“Well, looks can be deceiving,” Aspen said. “Look, the game is definitely up for me with Sal, here. She knows something’s not right and if we don’t tell her the truth then whatever we do tell her will be worse. Besides, if you’re going to be my eyes and ears on the ground here to guard against future incursions then your girlfriend had better be clued into what’s going on.”

“Wait, She’s not my girlfriend,” Dave protested.

“She isn’t? Well then all I can say is, you’re nowhere near as smart as I thought you were. She certainly has eyes for you!”

Sal wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or to laugh. Dave looked at her and she smiled back. It was painfully awkward but at the same time, it was obvious that Aspen’s instinct was spot on. It could wait, however.

Dave turned to Aspen, “What do you mean eyes and ears on the ground?”

“I can’t stay here. The incursion has been sealed off, for now. But if the fabric between planes is thin then there will be more. I need you to keep an eye out. I said I wanted to keep this between as few people as possible, but two pairs of eyes and ears are better than one, and if you two are going to be an item there’s no way you, David, can keep this secret from Sal. So, what do you say? Are you willing to help?”

Sal looked at Dave and indicated with a nod that she would go along with his decision. She hadn’t seen what they might be up against, but it sounded like they would be on the right side.

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Dave said. “Where are you going then?”

“I told you, I have to go all over the world and all points in time to deal with incursions.”

“What, like the whole world and all time? How do you cope?”

“Well, it’s not just me, there’s a whole team of us. And it’s mostly only human history. If demons come through before that well, I don’t know. We don’t go there. Too many variables.”

“Do I get one of those plane-shift blasters?”

“No you do not, David! But you do get these.”

“What are these then?”

“This one is a demon detector.” She handed him a brass and silver device a little smaller than a mobile phone. Dave had seen one in action earlier. “It does exactly what the name suggests. If any rift begins to form within about a ten-mile radius it will ping. This other one is a communications device.” It was about the size of a ballpoint pen.  If you see anything suspicious, you press this button, and someone will come to your aid when they’re free. If you see a definite incursion, you press it again and the response will be immediate. Don’t abuse it.”

“I won’t. Umm,” Dave had one more question. “Is this a paid position?”

“Well, I can give you something to cover expenses, but you’ll be more effective if you maintain a fairly normal life; a regular job and lifestyle.” She handed over half a dozen gold coins. “They’re dukats. I think these are worth around five hundred pounds each in your time. Don’t go splashing this about!” she added on seeing Dave’s face break into a grin. “You’ll need a nest egg to cover your tracks if people get suspicious. Only sell one at a time.”

“Don’t worry,” Sal said. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“I believe you will.”

After that, Sal and Dave left Aspen to get some well-earned sleep. In the morning, she was gone, leaving Dave and Sal as the sole guardians against a demonic incursion in the village of Shepherdfordsworth and, they presumed, surrounding parishes.

Dave had some explaining to do when his family saw the state of his eyebrows, but all that was forgotten when he told them that he definitely wasn’t moving to a big city because he had found plenty worth staying in Sheppeth for. Later, when he asked if Sal could come for dinner, they all assumed he was referring to her, and to be fair to them, they were only half wrong.

Second Suns Chapter 3

Chapter 3

If you haven’t read from the start you can go back HERE

Travelling Man

“You got that address, George?”

“Yeah mum. Don’t fuss. ‘Hidden Studios’ it’s in the middle of nowhere. He’s sent me the GPS co-ordinates and a load of directions. But apparently it’s well signposted.”

He headed for the door leaving himself plenty of time for the journey.

“Good luck!”

“Yeah right.”

The journey was alright to begin with but then he had to take a turning off the A-road onto a minor one. The directions mentioned a tight left. This turned out not to be an exaggeration and George had to reverse twice before he could get the back end of the van to follow the nose without dragging a hundred-year-old hawthorn with it. The scraping on the battered old red paintwork sounded like the screaming of a thousand boiling kittens. The previous road had benefitted from such luxuries as a dotted white line down the middle, and tarmac across its entire width. This road, that George was now on, was scarcely wider than the van. It was what George thought of as a ‘dual cabbage-way’ – two narrow strips of tarmac with a luxuriant growth of greenery down the broken-up centre. George decided he would be better off using satellite navigation. At least he would have a better idea of how long the remainder of the journey would take. After a few minutes of swearing and screaming, he accepted that he had about as much chance of getting a signal here as he did of meeting Marylin Monroe in the local minimart. He resorted to reading the written directions again.

Past the green gate, about half a mile, left onto track. Obscured by trees.

“Obscured by trees? How am I supposed to see the bloody thing if it’s obscured by bloody trees?” he shouted at the piece of paper in an exercise in complete futility.

“Ah!” George said to himself in triumph as he spotted the turning. OK, he had missed it, but now he did at least know where it was and, astonishingly, it was indeed well signposted. Yes, it’s true that the beautifully hand painted sign saying ‘HIDDEN STUDIOS’ with a large arrow pointing down the dirt track was also obscured by trees and was only really visible properly once you had turned into the track itself, but hey-ho! All he had to do was find somewhere to turn around and he would be home and dry. George gunned the engine and sped off down the dual cabbage-way at a breakneck thirty miles-per-hour, pondering as he did so the amusing fact that the national speed limit applied here which meant that, in theory at least, he could legally reach sixty. He tried to imagine doing sixty, and wondered how long it would take emergency services to find his body and cut it from the wreckage. He passed a layby and dismissed the idea of trying to turn here.

Mimicking his old driving instructor he said, “Now Mr Pearce, I want you to make a turn in the road, using forward and reverse gears, without touching the kerb.”

“That last bit shouldn’t be a problem then,” he replied out loud to himself, “There’s no kerb within several miles of this bit of roa…” he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt as a BMW came around the blind corner and did likewise.

“Bollocks!” George slammed the old wreck into reverse and, with careful consideration of the wing mirrors, went backwards at almost the same speed as he went forwards, sliding his van neatly into the layby he had just passed.

As the BMW drove through the enormous gap he had left it, going slower than a laden donkey under a burning Mexican sky, the driver wound down his window just enough to shout, “Why don’t you bloody well look where you’re going?”

George, for his part, did the only thing he could do and shout “Fuck you; wanker!” at the retreating arse of the immaculate 5 series. Personalised number plate too. ‘MU51CAL, what a fucking knob-end’ George thought to himself as he resumed his search for a turning place.

Eventually, he came to a crossroads and after a simple, ‘Now Mr Pearce, I’d like you to reverse around that corner safely with due consideration for other road users’, he was heading in the right direction at last. Even without the luxury of sat-nav he realised he was going to be late. The clue was that he was still driving, and the clock showed it was already after the time he was meant to be there. ‘Ten minutes late isn’t really late’, he told himself; ‘It’s well within the acceptable window, unless you’re trying to catch a train, or something.’ That didn’t mean that George wasn’t stressed and angry though.

The music studio was a farm with a series of barns and other outbuildings that had been converted into studios. George wondered if perhaps the farmer was a closet rocker, or whether it was purely a practical decision driven by foot-and-mouth or whatever.

“You alroight boy?” George presumed this was the owner.

“This isn’t the easiest place to find!”

“It’s well signposted.” The farmer pointed out calmly.

“Only after you turn off the road, and you can already see it!

“Oi can’t very well put signs on other people’s land now can Oi?”

“Well at least one on the actual road would be helpful. Or cut back the trees maybe?”

“Nobody else ‘as any bother findin’ uz.”

“How would you know? There could be lost adventurers, gone feral on the moors still seeking the elusive treasures of the Hidden Studio, living in a house built from straw bales and snatching sheep in the night.”

“They’d get in trouble for that.” He was still speaking in the same infuriatingly calm monotone as though ordering groceries.

George stared at the farmer. George’s emotions were a roller coaster. He could be incandescent with rage one minute, and laughing until it hurt, the next. If George was on a roller coaster, this farmer was on a boating lake for under-fives with the oars shipped and swans drifting past.

“Everyone who comes here ‘as found it alright.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t include all the people who haven’t come here does it?

“You found it.”

“After nearly dying in the attempt.”

“Which studio d’you want anyway?

George was momentarily phased by being asked an actually useful question. “Five, it says here.”

“Over there, on the right. Park up next to that five series.”

Self Publishing Book Covers

A few thoughts on designing a book cover

I won’t pretend to be an expert on this but I have been involved in the process of designing book covers for quite a lot of books now, and I think it’s a subject that I am qualified to discuss and one which is worth discussing since the cover is the single most important part of your book.

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

YES YOU CAN! In fact, if you can’t judge a book by its cover, then you need a new cover design. As a metaphor for assessing human beings this phrase is quite correct, but when it comes to books you really should be able to work out what genre the book is at the first glance.

What are the rules for Book Cover Design?

Aah, now we hit a stumbling block. There are not so much rules, as guidelines, and even these are fluid and mutable. Every rule can be broken if there is a good enough design reason to break it. But here are a few rules that you would be advised to consider when working on your cover art.

  • Do not use copyright images unless you own the rights
    • I’ve put this first because it’s often the last thing people think about and it is the one that could cost you the most money. There are a number of ways you can avoid copyright infringeent. The first is to draw or photograph something yourself. Or you can pay someone to use their copyright work. And lastly you can use an image that is free for commercial use. (This last route has hidden risks but it will take a whole article to address them).
  • Title and Author name should be legible including when viewed in thumbnail
    • Making the text legible means thinking very carefully about your choice of typeface. Especially when using cursive and decorative fonts it is easy to end up with words that can be misread at first glance, sometimes in hilarious or embarrassing ways. It may also mean you need to add a drop shadow, or an outer glow, or blur the background or any number of other tricks, to get it to stand out.
  • Keep cover text to a minimum.
    • Title & author name are essential. Anything else needs to work hard to justify inclusion. If your book has just been made into a blockbuster movie, then fine. If you have a quote from the New York Times, or the Guardian, by all means. If there is a sub-title, fair enough. Other than that; I suggest you don’t. “A Novel” is frankly, pathetic. If the potential reader can’t work out that this is a novel, I suggest you get a new cover design.
  • The text should not obscure important features of the cover art
    • Ideally, if you can get cover art that includes a lot of sky, or grass, or sea, or just a blank wall… any area of fairly nondescript space where the text can go is ideal. If you are comissioning an artist you can tell them exactly what size you want and where to include blank features, but from past experience that does not guarantee anything.
  • Cover art should be eyecatching
    • Not much to add here. It should be fairly obvious if the overall look is dull or it leaps out at you.
  • Cover art should be genre appropriate
    • The usual advice here is to look at as many other books as possibel in your genre and get a feel for the common features. Try to focus on current big name authors, and not Agatha Christie, or your friend who self-published their book last month. Neither of these is going to be representative. You could publish a classic book in a white cover with black Comic Sans and people would buy it. And your friend, much as you love them, is no more qualified than you are
  • Important elements should not be closer than 5mm to the edge of the book
    • Or 10mm is sometimes the advice. Suffice to say, do not place the title right on the edge. (unless this is a brilliant avant guarde design trick and you can pull it off. Printers do cut surprisingly accurately, but nevertheless, a mm off either way could totally ruin your clever and cunning placement.
  • Design elements should be centred on the page
    • This is simple common sense, but when laying out your cover (if you are doing it yourself) you need to remember that the bleed (that bit that will be cut off) is not part of your cover.
  • The spine text should read from top to bottom (horizontal when the book is face up)
    • Yeah, I did this wrong the first time, but caught it before I went to print. I’ve seen it done plenty of times since and corrected it because of my onw mistake. unless your book is really thick, the spine text will be vertical. As you are laying it out, it should read down the page, not up. Centred on the spine with 2-5mm to spare either side. (don’t put text on any spine less than about 8mm)
  • The blurb on the back should be easily legible and not too long
    • Blurb is a topic in its own right, but when designing a cover warp for a physical book you need to be able to fit in on the page, with enough room for logos, and barcodes. The font should be large enough to read comfortably and not confused with the background image (if using one). There are several ways to make the writign clearer on the back but they also require another article.
    • Another mistake I made was to repeat the title on the back. I never thought about it before, but nobody actually does that.

O.K. if yo know me, you will know I am a bit haphazard about things like this, so I’ve probably missed off some important stuff.

Comment if you want me to add anything.

More articles on this to come.

Second Suns – Chapter 2

Continued from Second Suns – Novel

In Limbo

George slammed the door of the van shut, stomped into the house, slammed the front door, then stomped up the stairs towards his room.  

“You’re back early.”

George stopped and stared angrily at his mum. 


He grunted unintelligibly but stopped stomping up the stairs.

“Coffee with a drop of something in it?”

George exhaled like a stabbed bagpipe.

His mum disappeared and came back waving a nearly full bottle of whiskey. “Or you could forget about the coffee and just have the drop of something?”

She poured out two generous shots and handed one to her grown-up son. He downed it in one, and emitted a frustrated sound like a cross between a groan and a roar.

“I take it the gig didn’t go as well as you might have hoped?” She poured another large shot.

“They kicked me out of the band.” He took a more leisurely sip.

“Oh. Well… You’re still in Cthulu though?” She was one of those supportive mums that people who don’t have supportive mums would wade through burning napalm, and throw puppies into a shredder, to have. But when you’ve grown up with constant positivity and encouragement it can get astonishingly annoying.  

“Cthulu haven’t played a gig in months. Not having a drummer will do that to a band.” He paused to savour the single malt, briefly. “That bitch Sandra!”

“George, I would prefer you moderate your language at home please?”

“Sorry mum. But she is. She’s got her feet under the table and Mike wrapped around her little finger. She said, ‘If you love Surrogate Suns so much why don’t you start a tribute to them?’ ”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“I don’t love them that much. Anyway, I’ve had it with bands. Too much grief.”

“Last time you said that you spent six months getting more and more depressed until you joined three bands in one week. I’d sooner you focussed on your job, made some money, and bought a place of your own. How many twenty-year-olds still live with their mum?”

“Price of houses these days, I’d say nearly all of them.”

“Well whenever you’re not in a band, you turn into the most insufferable moron. Would it kill you at least to put an ad on that band-maker website?

“Oh blooming heck mum. Don’t go on… Alright, I’ll stick an ad on, for all the good it will do me.”

* * * * *

“Any joy with the website?” his mum asked a few days later.

“Had some loony call me saying he’s been planning on putting together a tribute just to play the ‘Ra’ album in its entirety.”

George’s mum looked both shocked and sad at once. ‘Ra’ was almost universally acclaimed as Surrogate Suns worst album, although there were a small minority of fans who believed it was the greatest work of recorded art ever produced.

She said, “Care in the community has got a lot to answer for. My dad had that album, but I only ever listened to it once. He played it to us as a warning about what would happen if we ever started using drugs. Scared the willies out of me and your uncle. I think it ended up being melted down in the oven to make a plant pot holder.”

“Mum! An original vinyl of that is worth a fortune now!”

“Not to me it isn’t. Now, anyone touches my copy of ‘Sol Invictus’ they had better like hospital food.” She opened her laptop. “What did you put in the ad anyway?”

“Can’t remember.” He flipped open his laptop and sipped his whisky while waiting for the site to open. “Here it is. I wrote ‘Anyone up for putting together a Surrogate Suns tribute? Singer with own PA and van seeks band.’ ”

“Well, no wonder you just got one loony. Who’s going to jump at that awful effort? You got to make it enticing. Like this one. ‘Singer wanted for Surrogate Suns tribute. Must have own van and P.A. Paid gigs waiting. Only serious applicants. Professional attitude required.’ ”

“Yeah right, that’s on the band builder site right now is it?”

She turned her screen around. “See for yourself.”


“So? You gonna apply then?”

“I dunno. What if I don’t get it?”

“Oh for pity’s sake! Show me a man who’s never been turned down and I’ll show you a man who’s never gone for anything.”

George uttered a non-committal grunt. Having a helpful mum was a right pain in the bum.

“George! At least give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“It says professional, paid gigs waiting. They’ll have a queue of blokes round the block with the right hair and top-quality gear and a van that isn’t falling to bits.

George’s mum stood up. All five feet of her. “Now you listen here. I’ve put up with you and your bloody music because I believe in supporting my kids in achieving their dreams. But there’s only so much a mum can do and if you won’t at least call the bloody number on here then I’ll wash my hands of you, I really will.” And with that, she handed George the phone.

“Arrgh!” Cornered, George dialled the number.


“I’m phoning about the ad for the Surrogate Suns tribute band on Band-Maker?”

“Yeah man, great stuff, you a big fan of the Suns?”

“Yeah love ‘em. Apart from maybe Ra? Not the greatest album. But Sol Invicta, and Seventh Son?”

“By far the best album is Supernova in my opinion. Massively underrated. That and Second Sun are the best two.”

“Really? I haven’t listened to them that much but yeah. I mean ‘Wild About Love’ I do that in my current band.”

“Cool well what are you up to next weekend? I can book the rehearsal studios and we can get together and play some stuff. Email me on that address on the advert, and I’ll email you over the details and a list of songs to have ready.”

“OK.” George ended the call and smiled weakly at his mum.

“There that wasn’t so difficult was it?” She topped up both glasses and lifted hers ready for a toast.

“To Surrogate Suns!”

George added, “Tribute.” And the glasses clinked.


Second Suns – Novel

I’ve started writing a new novel. It is the completely true story about a fictional tribute to a fictional band.

I’ve decided to post chapters here and ask for feedback. Maybe if enough people comment, they may talk me out of it.

I will start with a brief history of the band “Surrogate Suns” (this is incidentally the real name of a band that I formed but which never got to do a gig, but in my story it is the name of a famous 70s rock band)

A Brief History of Surrogate Suns

The ‘Suns’ as their devoted fans call them were first formed in 1969 after the break-up of experimental underground band ‘Fruit Loop Explosion’. This had been a bizarre mixture of psychedlic rock and cabaret act. The singer performed with a live python down his trousers, while the guitarist wore nothing but skin-tight patent leather lederhosen and performed an ascapology routine during a keyboard solo. At one gig, the python attacked the singer, and the guitarist electrocuted himself. They were both unable to resume their roles and the remaining musicians quit leaving the drummer, Derreck Pilton, to fulfil a string of contracted gigs.

Pilton’s first recruit was the guitarist from sixties one-hit-wonders The Sugartones, Jerome ‘Jerry’ Morcock, who was wasted in that band. Nervous at joining the Fruit Loops, Pilton assured him he wanted to take a more serious direction. Morcock then suggested a singer, Andy Shyner, who was currently performing with a pub rock band called ‘Secret Salami’. Pilton and Morcock went to a gig in Bournemouth and both agreed that the band were terrible but the singer had a certain something that grabbed your attention as soon as you saw him. He also had a decent voice. Andy was keen to join the Fruit Loops but insisted on bringing his bass player with him. Michael “Ratty” Ratcliff turned out to be a solid rhythm man with a touch of flair when it was needed.

They completed a tour as a four piece. Although dedicated Loop fans were disappointed with the lack of stage antics and some people complained they were too loud there was definite promise. At a gig at The Gazebo Club in London they were watched by a shady man, in a sharp suit, sitting in a corner booth. At the end of the gig, he had the venue management bring the band over and he made them a proposition they couldn’t refuse. He signed them to his new record label, ironically named Cut-Throat Records. Their new manager had said in an interview, “The music business is a cut-throat business, so we decided to name the record company accordingly.” Few journalists wanted to ask many more questions after he looked them squarely in the eye.

The band began to organise a new tour approaching previous venues that had played host to Fruit Loop Explosion, but not getting a warm reception. A change of name seemed to be needed, although how the name Surrogate Suns came about nobody really remembers clearly. All that is known is that the manager locked them in a room with large amounts of alcohol and the name came from that meeting.

Surrogate Suns first gig was in Liverpool on 5th Jan 1970 and the band were paid £3-7s-6d They then criss-crossed the UK playing 3 – 4 gigs per week for the first three months of the year before continuing without a break to play a series of small theatres and concert halls in Europe.

Surrogate Suns debut album “Supernova” exploded onto a barely prepared public in 1970. Despite some misgivings it soon became a popular classic among the rock and prog cognoscenti.

Initially they played a mix of blues and rock and roll covers, plus one or two of Fruit Loop Explosion’s songs but rocked up to the max. At first audiences didn’t know what to make of them but there was a chemistry and the time was right for a really loud band. Led Zeppelin had led the way and Surrogate Suns followed closely in their footsteps. The first album “Supernova” (1970) was recorded in six weeks at a studio in London and was already selling in America ahead of their tour.

It was a raw collection of the regular stuff from the live set but it just blasted away the cobwebs and became a favourite with bikers and rockers in general.

The American tour began in September and they played a staggering 46 gigs in two months. Back in the UK the album had sold steadily but not spectacularly. It was enough to get them a headline gig in Bristol with a local support act. The support band were a strange fusion of jazz and prog and they didn’t really enthuse the audience, but the keyboard player was a bit special. He made sounds come out of the Hammond organ that nobody had ever heard before. He played with his back to the instrument, he climbed on top of it and even took his shoes and socks off and played with his toes. Backstage it was clear that this other band was falling apart arguing and bickering about everything. So Surrogate Suns felt no pang of guilt when they lured the keyboard player away.

His input was the making of the second album which bore the name “Second Sun” (1971) and contained one of their best known songs. “Wild About Love” was a crazy musical roller coaster ride featuring a lengthy solo with all sorts of strange noises made by using and abusing the instruments in bizarre ways.

“Sol Three” (1971) came next with a descent into uncharted waters of jazz/prog and Indian music influenced by the Beatles experiments with Ravi Shankar a few years earlier. Also included two acoustic tracks featuring an obscure blues guitarist from Scotland, Blind Willy MacTavish.

“Centaur Eye” (1972) took the prog ideas still further with the title track at nearly 15 minutes; and yet this was still hard rock too; much heavier than anything produced by Pink Floyd up to that time.

The first four albums appeared at six month intervals and, the whole time, the band were touring relentlessly, playing over four hundred gigs in the first three years. Eventually the heavy schedule caught up with them. They were selling out large venues and their albums were selling by the shed load. The money they were making was being spent on drugs and loose women, and soon it all came crashing to a halt as Andy Shyner was taken seriously ill and admitted to hospital. It looked like the end of the road for the Suns. However, by the end of 1972 the singer was pronounced fit to be sent home, although he immediately flew out to California and spent six months convalescing. The guitarist and keyboard player flew out as well and they spent the time relaxing round a pool and writing songs.

When the fifth album “Ra” finally came out in 1974 it was either the greatest work ever or an unholy mess, depending on which critics you read. They had spent almost a year in the studio and it was by far the most expensive album they ever made, but there wasn’t a single track on it that grabbed you at first hearing. One or two were quite jazzy but not in a good way. It was overproduced and inaccessible and yet it sold by the bucket-load to fans who played it once and then put it away for ever.

The tour was not well attended, and newspapers talked of the amusing sight of ticket touts offering tickets for the price of a bus fare home.

1975 saw the band take a hiatus while two of them went to an Indian retreat. Here they gradually got off an addiction to cocaine although they did experiment with a variety of other drugs.

On their return the band spent the first part of 1976 in a Scottish castle cut off from the rest of the world and honed what was to become, arguably, their best album ever.

The aptly titled “Sol Invictus” (the unconquered Sun) was released on Midsummer night at midnight. Loyal fans queued at record shops which were persuaded to remain open and the first run sold out before sunrise. The album was received warmly by critics many of whom had panned “Ra” Even as Punk was set to storm the British music scene, these old has-been rockers could pull something special out of the bag.

It contained eleven tracks ranging from the short and punchy opener “I’m Back” with wailing vocal over a fast and furious guitar riff that was a match for any punk song, to the amazingly ethereal progressive title track.  The Suns were indeed back and their next tour was the biggest ever; playing stadium venues in Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan, and South America.

Then at the end of 1977 Jerry Morcock died in mysterious circumstances. They were on top of the world musically and planning their eighth studio album when he died peacefully in his sleep.

The rest of the band refused to consider continuing under the name Surrogate Suns and they disbanded forthwith.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun was released posthumously


  • Supernova
  • Second Sun
  • Sol Three
  • Centaur Eye
  • Ra
  • Sol Invictus
  • Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Tributes to Surrogate Suns (incomplete list)
  • Wild About Suns
  • The Surrogate Suns Experience
  • Surrogate Sons
  • Son of Suns
  • Surrogate Daughters (an all-female tribute)
  • Sol Invictus
  • Surrogate Surrogates
  • Surrogate Supernova
  • Surrogate Stars
  • Substitut Soleils (A French tribute)
  • Balls to Plasma (a bizarre punk tribute)
  • Ra Ra Superstar (an even more bizarre disco tribute!)
  • Second Suns

Second Suns – a Tribute to Surrogate Suns

  • Singer – George Pearce
  • Drums – John Briggs
  • Guitar – Steve Rowe
  • Bass – Barry Hodges
  • Keys – Carl Smith

Chapter 1 – Busted Clocks

Music was playing loudly, some sort of prog rock. A phone rang. George looked around for a flat surface on which to place his beer, failing to find anywhere, he scrabbled around one handed among the various items of clothing, books, papers, and empty packaging on his bed, searching for the cordless house phone.


Where are you?” it was John, the guitarist from Busted Clocks, his band.


Gig tonight? Are you still at home?

George looked at the landline through which he was speaking to the guitarist and pulled a face indicative of the ridiculousness of the question; the gesture, of course, was lost on John. He glanced at the clock. “Shit!” he muttered to himself, then to the phone he said, “I’ll be there is half an hour!”

For fuck’s sake!

George flung the phone down glanced at himself in the mirror, and headed out the door, beer still in hand. Back inside a few seconds later.

“Mum? Have you seen my gig back?”

A dislocated voice called back, “On the floor under the stairs where you dumped it last week!”

George looked down and realised he was practically standing on the handle.

“Thanks mum!”

He downed the last of the beer and dumped the can on the sideboard on his way out.

* * * * *

George pulled up outside the venue. Dave, Mike, and Sandra berated him over his timekeeping.

“You cock!” Dave began.

“Sorry guys, I lost track of time.”

“Pathetic!” Sandra added.

“I said I’m sorry!”

“You’re always saying you’re sorry George.” Mike retorted.

“Well I am sorry, alright? Where’s John?

“Getting a kebab.” Mike told him.

“He’ll turn into a kebab one of these days.”

“You mean he isn’t already?” Mike joked.

“Can we cut the chat and get this van unloaded?” Dave complained. “There’s people already here. We’ll have to sound check with ’em watching now.”

George grabbed a big speaker and lugged it inside followed by Dave, carrying a mic stand, Mike, who took a bag of leads, and Sandra, who brought her smile.

“You lazy buggers!” George said. “You could’ve brought the other speaker!”

“I’ve already brought my bass rig in.” Dave pointed out. “John’s brought his cab and head in.”

“Yeah,” Mike added, “you think these drums set themselves up do you? It’s about time you pulled your weight and stopped dicking us around.”

“Frankly, George,” Sandra smiled nastily, “we’ve been talking about stuff while we’ve been… waiting for you.”

“Oh really? And what have you been … saying then?” George mimicked her emphasis.

“Leave it Saan, let’s get set up and do the gig eh?”

“No! Shut up, Mike. Come on, Saan. Out with it.”

“Guys come on,” Dave tried. “We’re mates right? Been together with this line-up for, what is it? Six months now? Starting to come together; gigs lined up; people already here; be full up by nine o’clock.”

“Well he has to know some time,” Sandra sneered. “You’re not wanted in the band any more. This is the last gig with you.”

“Oh. So that’s how it is, is it? Dave? It’s Mike and Sandra’s band now is it? They make all the decisions? As I recall, you and John put this band together and it was all going fine until Mike brought Sandra in.”

Dave looked only a little apologetic. “Mate, it would help if you turned up on time occasionally.”

“Oh right, so now arriving on time is the criteria for a rock singer is it? Axl bloody Rose sometimes didn’t arrive until AFTER the audience had all gone home!”

“You’re NOT Axl Bloody Rose though are you?” cut in Sandra. “You’re George useless-moron Pearce. Pub singer and all-round prat. You’ld be late for your own bloody funeral and, by the way, nobody in the band likes Surrogate Suns, and nor do the audiences.

“What the fuck’s that got to do with anything?”

“You constantly going on about doing Surrogate Suns covers,” Mike cut in. “We already do ‘Wild About Love’, fair enough. That’s a classic, everybody knows it and can sing along. But what’s that shit you played at rehearsal last week?”

“’Sol Invictus. Its bloody genius is what it is. Not that you lot would ever be able to play it. Takes a drummer who can handle something other than four/four the whole night.”

“From the bloke who has to stop playing tambourine if he starts singing.”

“I don’t have to be a musician to know you’re a shit drummer!”

Mike threw a drumstick at George which bounced off his head. This amused Mike, at least.

“Ow! Twat!”

Dave attempted to calm the situation. “Chill, guys. Come on there’s people looking at us. Anyway, whoever said a drummer was a musician, right?” he laughed weakly. “Let’s get set up and do this gig eh?” This speech was about as much use as a kazoo solo at the Albert Hall.

“No. Fuck that. If you’re so keen to dump me, then let’s get on with it. Why wait until after the gig? I’ll fuck off now and leave Sandra in charge. I’m sure she’s more than capable of taking over all the songs I do.”

“Damn right I am. I’ll do a damn sight better as well.”

George hadn’t expected her to be so keen. “Yeah right! You got your lyrics written out then? You can’t even remember your own songs, you slag.”

“Oy you…” Mike began.

“Ignore him Mike,” Sandra said, turning her back on George. “It’s all sorted. some people come prepared. I knew you would flake out on us one day and I’d have to cover for you.”

Dave made another attempt to defuse the situation. “George man, come on, we’re mates, we don’t need all this aggro. Let’s get set up have a few beers smash the gig and talk about this at the next rehearsal eh?”

But George was already shoving his heavy speaker back into the van and coming back for the mic stand and cables.

“Bollocks Dave,” Sandra said. “He’s a dick and the sooner he’s out of our hair the better. What’s the deal for this gig? Hundred quid tonight? You can’t even divide that by five can you? Anyway, whatever it is, split four ways we get more each.”

Dave and George exchanged a look of despair at Sandra’s lack of basic arithmetic, and even Mike was a bit non-plussed as to how anyone could think you can’t split a hundred pounds five ways.

“Sorry Dave. This isn’t your fault, but I’m not hanging around if I’m not wanted. Good luck with this mental bitch and her boyfriend!” George glared at Mike as he loaded the remaining bits into his van and slammed the door.

Sandra couldn’t resist a parting shot. “If you love Surrogate Suns so much, why don’t you start up a tribute band to them? You could call it ‘Test Tube Babies’.”

George was in the driving seat by now, but he paused, almost lost for words. “What are you on about? That sounds more like a tribute to ‘Peter and the Test Tube Babies’.”

“The Who?” Sandra replied.  

Dave couldn’t resist. “Nah, not The Who; Peter and the Test Tube Babies.”

Sandra’s blank stare was a revelation She was younger than the others, but still…  

“Punk band,” Dave tried by way of explanation. “Zombie Creeping Flesh?”

Sandra continued to look blank.

“Rotting in the Fart Sack”?

Still nothing. George started his van and drove off, with a spin of rubber on tarmac. No mean feat in a twelve-year-old LDV convoy.

“You’re not familiar with their work then, I take it?” Dave continued.

It was at this moment that the guitarist, John, returned and said, “Alright Dave? Was that George?”


“Why’s he driven off?”

“He’s quit.”

“What? Why?”

Sandra interrupted, “Because he’s a dick. Don’t worry, I know all his songs, and got the lyrics written out… Some of us can manage to come prepared.” She flashed a brief, smug, grin and headed into the venue.

“Brilliant,” John said. “Well that’s all sorted then.” And then, because Sandra was moving away he raised his voice to add, “…and you’ve got a P.A. as well?”

Dave, Mike and Sandra all looked at each other as realisation dawned.

“Oh, fuuuuuuck!”

Want to read more? Second Suns – Chapter 2 Please leve a comment if you want more as I feed off the energy of people who don’t hate me.

Bethany Askew and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I appreciate that the headline looks rather like I am about to reveal news of a salacious affair between modern day author Bethany Askew, and early nineteenth century poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, in a very real sense, perhaps that is quite close to the truth. Because Bethany has spent an enormous amount of time in the company of the great man while researching for her twin novels about his life. Three Extraordinary Years, set largely in Somerset, and The Two Saras, set predominantly in Cumbria.

You wait ages for a novel about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and then two come along at once.

Deep Down Research

Bethany Askew has spent many hours entertaining visitors at the National Trust Coleridge Cottage (Still closed at time of writing 29th Aug 2020) in Nether Stowey. Here, before lockdown commenced, she could be found helping visitors understand more about the life of Coleridge and those three extraordinary years that he spent in the small drafty cottage with his new wife Sara, and their young family; a period in which he wrote some of his most famous works, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. She also read copiously about the poet, as the long bibliography at the back of the book will attest, so you can be sure that while the books are written as fiction, they are deeply rooted in solid facts.

Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey

Lockdown Launch

Her books were already well on the way to launch before the COVID situation developed and so we launched the books anyway. Despite not being able to have a proper physical launch when the time came, we did in fact see a very healthy flurry of sales, and now that bookshops are reopening we are seeing a continuation of sales that is respectable and solid.

The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria

If you haven’t already got a copy of Three Extraordinary Years, and The Two Saras I would urge you to order them from your local bricks and mortar bookshop (in the UK). Alternatively ask your local library to order a copy for you to borrow.

If you can’t get to a bookshop or library (I feel very sorry for you) or you are not in the UK, then you can buy online from us (a flat rate P&P charge is applied so it’s worth buying a few books at once).

West Yorkshire History – Venturing From Our Comfort Zone

Blue Poppy Publishing Goes Beyond Devon

Just a Small North Devon Publisher

When I started Blue Poppy Publishing in 2016, I simply imagined it would add an air of respectability to my self-published fantasy novel, “Children of the Wise Oak“. I had seen the lovely imprint that Liz Shakespeare uses, for her Letterbox Books, and I wanted something like that.

However, once I had gone through the tortuous process of buying ISBNs (which are MUCH cheaper by the hundred and even cheaper still by the thousand) and setting up distribution through Nielsen, I realised that many self-publishing authors would want help with the process, and so the idea was born to publish other local North Devon authors if they wanted it.

Beyond Devon’s Borders

Fast forward almost four years to the present day, spring 2020 (in the middle of a global pandemic and lockdown) and we are publishing more authors and books than I can hold in my little head. And by no means all of them are from Devon any more. In fairness, one of the first authors I had the privilege to help publish was Joni Dee, who lives and works in London. His gripping contemporary political espionage thriller “And the Wolf Shall Dwell” is largely set in that great city with a vivid and harrowing depiction of terrorism which is written so well it walks a tightrope of conflicting emotions… well, read it you’ll see.

But apart from Joni, we kept it pretty much exclusively North Devon/Devon for a few years. But this year, we are pushing the boundaries and I am scared! Scared bcause it is MUCH harder to sell a book in Devon if the customer cannot relate to it. We do really well with “Barefoot on the Cobbles” set in Clovelly, or “A Breat of Moonscent” a memoir of growing up in wartime Dolton. But we don’t do half as well with my own books, set in iron-age Europe, or with something like “Ethereal Tenant” a tense speculative fiction novel about a child who develops an alter ego which begins to take over his life, but is set largely in Leicestershire and London.

So here I am now with books that are not only set outside Devon, but also written by people from outside Devon as well. So let’s do a quick rundown of what we have on offer.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Somerset and Cumbria

Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey by Bethany Askew
The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria by Bethany Askew

Not only are these two books both set entirely outside Devon, but the author, Bethany Askew, is from Somerset! Shock horror!

The first, “Three Extraordinary Years” is set in Nether Stowey, Somerset, at the cottage now known as Coleridge Cottage and run by the National Trust. The second, “The Two Saras” takes place in Cumbria when Coleridge lived at Blake Hall, Keswick. We have already enjoyed god success selling these books which I can only attribute to the combination of Bethany’s already well established author credentials and the broad interest in anything to do with STC and the Lakeland Poets.

Children’s Book from the Land of Jam-First

A Clattering Beneath the Woods by Sally Hubbard

Cornwall, or Kernow as I habitually call it, is the setting for “A Clattering Beneath the Woods”. This is a delightful children’s chapter book which is set on the banks of the Tamar River, the ancient boundary between Devon (cream first) and Kernow (jam first). The story is written in the style of the classics of children’s literature. I’m not saying it is in the same league as Winnie the Pooh, Swallows and Amazons, Wind in the Willows, or the Secret Garden. I am happy and confident to leave that comparison to you. I’m just saying that you won’t find a fart joke anywhere in the book and we didn’t go through the text and remove any words that a child might not have learned yet. (Because if you never read a new word, you will never learn a new word).

We are also working on another book for Children which is set even further into Kernow, but more of that later.

Portugal – Yoga – Rescue Dogs

A Dog Called Buddha by Steve Jamison.

We also have a book which, although written by Steve Jamison from North Devon, he now lives at least half the time in a place called Cha in Portugal. “A Dog Called Buddha” is the story of him escaping the Iberian wildfires of OCtober 2017 in an old Landrover with four rescue dogs. If I were to try and think of a book that was further from what we have previously done then I would struggle to come up with anything better than this, but I am pleased to say it is selling well. I must again presume that this is Steve’s reputation among those who know him, but I perhaps the appeal of dogs and true life stories is also driving sales. I do know that our editor, Sarah Dawes was sufficiently impressed to preorder a copy, and that’s always a good sign since she has of course, already read it several times.

Did I Mention Yorkshire?

Yorkshire Rebel by Ron Riley

So now we come to the book that inspired the title of this post. “Yorkshire Rebel – The Life and Times of John Lindley 1770 – 1850” (coming soon) is a straight up history book. Not historical fiction, not a memoir, but a proper well researched well writen history of the West Yorkshire revolt of 1820. The book was written by Ron Riley, a very meticulous amateur historian, who had some copies printed previously but just as ring bound A4 books. This edition is a 200th anniversary hardcover with brand new artowkr specially painted for the book.

The subject matter is the events leading up to and following the West Yorkshire Revolt, including covering the Luddite, and Chartist movements, with attention paid to social conditios in the industrial revolution, and of course covering the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).

Yorkshire Rebel is now available to order in hardcover for £19.99 with Free P&P to UK addresses (£4 to EU and £8 to the rest of the world) ORDER PAGE

You can also buy a paperback version. I’m sorry, it is not as nice, but it is a little cheaper if all you want is to read the book. It is on Amazon UK for £15.99 and on all other Amazon sites for a (hopefully) similar price in the local currency.

Announcing the Birth of Twins During Lockdown

Blue Poppy Publishing is thrilled to be able to announce that author Bethany Askew has delivered twins. To be specific, we are talking here of non-identical twin novels.

In the early hours of 28th April we welcomed the arrival of Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey, and The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria. Both weighed in at a healthy nine pounds each (£8.99 to be exact) and will be available from all good bookshops just as soon as all good bookshops are able to reopen and Gardners wholesale distribution returns to normal.

In the meantime, you can still buy both books on our website through our fully secure shop and best of all, there is no extra charge for postage and packing.

Ignore Stephen King and His “Silly” Rules for Writing.

I’m actually not going to say very much on this subject because I have actually seen another blog post which sums up everything I want to say already, so I am just going to make a few points and then shsre a link.

Why you should ignore writing rules, especially when given out by famous successful authors.

Constantly, on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, I am bombarded with well meaning but useless advice about how to write well, or rather how NOT to write BADLY. Often these “rules for writing” are attributed to Stephen King. But you should ignore him and all the rules. (Up to a point).

Who am I to criticise the great Stephen King?

Good question, I am an unsuccessful author. Sorry, correction, I am a yet-to-be-successful author. Mr King is a giant of literature. So where do I get off dissing him? Wel I’ll tell you where, I don’t try to tell you how to write because how you write is YOUR STYLE. If you follow Stephen King’s rules then you might end up writing more like Stephen King but you will never BE Stephen King and you won’t sell a many books as him. Meanwhile you will have abandonned YOUR style.

There’s nothing wrong with Mr King’s muse. I’m not a fan of horror myself, but that doesn’t mean he is not good, just not my cup of tea. but regardless of anything else, there are 7 billion people on the planet and we don’t all want the same thing. If we did, it would be a funny old world as my mum used to say.

Write the Book You Want to Read.

This is a phrase which I believe I coined. I mean sure, plenty of people have said it before, but I didn’t hear it anywhere else. I just worked it out myself.

Write the book YOU would like to read, and then go and find people who are like YOU.

How to Become a Multi-Million selling Author.

So one last thing before I post this link fr the much better blog than mine. LOL

I saw a tweet about how you could sell X-million books just like Stephen King and I just shook my head in despair.

I mean what a crock. You can remove every adverb in your MS, use short words, and all the other twaddle he talks about, you can use every marketing trick in the book but the reason Stephen Kings sells millions of books is PARTLY because he is an objectively good writer and PARTLY because he sells millions of books.

If you or I wrote The Institute we would sell a few dozen copies. That’s because we didn’t write Carrie, or The Shining or any of the others. Also because we don’t have a million dollar marketing budget.

So, quit trying to be like Stephen King and concentrate on being like YOU.

Still not convinced, here’s that better blog item for you. https://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2013/07/on-writing-why-i-dont-listen-to-stephen.html