Monthly Archives: May 2014

Taming Poison Dragons in BBC History Magazine

Taming Poison DragonsNick Rennison at BBC History Magazine has picked Taming Poison Dragons by Tim Murgatroyd in a feature about novels set in China. “Paints a colourful picture of 12th-century China,” writes Rennison.

“Yun Cai is a poet and former courtier, living in exile on his family estates and drowning sorrows in the wine jar. But when a warlord rebels against the emperor and takes one of Yun’s oldest friends hostage, the poet is forced into action.

Interweaving this story with the parallel tale of Yun’s adventures and a love affair as a young man, Tim Murgatroyd’s novel – the first in a trilogy – paints a colourful picture of 12th-century China.”

To order your copy of Taming Poison Dragons please click here.

TV Baftas 2014: Breaking Bad wins Best International series

BBBreaking Bad has won its first Bafta, beating off competition from BorgenHouse of Cards and The Returned in the Best International category.

For more details and pictures of the event please see The Independent’s article here.

If you fancy revisiting the series then why not get your hands on Wanna Cook? the unofficial companion to this award winning series. Please click here to place your order.

An extract from ‘The Cartographer of No Man’s Land’

Chapter One

February 1st, 1917 Western Front, France

Angus MacGrath unbuttoned his greatcoat and leaned back against the one tree left on the bank of a river he did not know. Not far downstream, a private, standing waist-deep in the river, squeezed a bar of soap between his hands. It shot upward, and four or five other soldiers lunged for it, splashing and falling over themselves. Their uniforms, boots and rifles lay in a heap by a jagged row of blackened tree stumps. Under a weak early morning sun, bands of mist rose from the cold river, occasionally engulfing the soldiers so that they took on a dream-like quality of white arms and torsos appearing and disappearing.

Above the river on a low stone bridge sat the engine of the troop train where, a day into their journey, it had lurched to a stop, unable or unwilling to carry on. Sunk between endless flat fields, the tracks ran east-northeast toward the Front. Angus flipped open his old pocket compass for confirmation, for comfort, really, and slipped it back in his pocket. He figured they’d be on the march soon, the engine still on the bridge.

While repairs were attempted, the ranks milled about the train, grousing over the delay, but grateful for it all the same. And for the sudden break in the weather. Housed in drafty huts in a camp thick with mud near Le Havre, most of them hadn’t bathed since they’d crossed the Channel and arrived on French soil five days earlier. Those in the river were taking up a challenge. ‘Bap-tism and bless me!’ one shouted, wading in. ‘Sweet Jesus, it’s freezing!’ cried another, plunging in after him. In the train, the owl-faced ranking officer drank steadily from his flask.

Like Angus, the boys in the river and those cheering them on from the bridge were fresh recruits from battalions broken up after training in England to be bled into existing battalions.

Most would join the 61st. But Angus had been singled out and reassigned to replace a dead lieutenant in the 17th Royal Nova Scotia Highlanders – a decision no more random than any he’d encountered since joining up. If there was one thing Angus had learned it was that there was no predicting how things would turn out. Of all the predictions he might have made, himself as an officer in the infan-try was not among them.

In the state of suspension between the world as he’d known it and the absolute unknown, Angus considered the interplay of light and mist, the hazy edges, blank spaces and mute eddies at the river’s edge. Above him, the sky turned a gauzy grey, and a fine rain fell. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

Rain. It had been a constant in the collected bits and pieces of the past few months. It had slicked the deck of the ship that carried him to England and slanted in rushes off the tents in the camp where he’d held a rifle for the first time, adjusted to the heft and length and balance of it, and where, surprisingly, he’d found he was a good shot. And where, not surprisingly, he’d found a heady release in charging straw-filled burlap bags, bayonet plunging into their sodden bellies.

Rain and rage. Rain and regret. He’d been sent over with assurances in a letter from Major Gault to a Colonel Chisholm that he’d be a cartographer. In London. Behind the lines. But Gault was unknown to Chisholm, and there being no shortage of cartographers, Angus had been dis-patched to the infantry, where shortages were never-ending. ‘The infantry?’ A chasm of disbelief had opened up.

‘You heard me,’ Chisholm’s adjutant had snapped. ‘You can bloody well draw terrain maps on the field. In the meantime, the infantry can use your other skills – the ones you’ll get soon enough.’

© P.S. Duffy 2014

An Extract from ‘Angel’

Chapter 1

CLEETHORPES, ON THE EAST COAST, WAS FIRST SETTLED by Danish Vikings in the eighth century. They arrived with a reputation for violent conquest but they stayed and made their homes. It was the latest occupiers who were there simply for the rape and pillage.

Reaper and Sandra arrived in the early evening, travelling through the Lincolnshire Wolds and heading towards the town along a road that arrowed out of the countryside towards the sea. They had seen no sign of life since Caistor, once a small comfortable Georgian town a few miles back. A door had closed silently in the market place as they drove through. They had felt that their progress was being watched and imagined the relief when they passed. Living so close to the evil on the coast, survivors would be wary of any intrusion into what life they held onto. Reaper reversed the Astra into the drive of a semidetached house on the fringes of suburbia. The sun was low, the sky blushing red. It promised good weather tomorrow.

He was in his middle forties, the girl still in her teens. They wore dark blue tee shirts, combat trousers and Doc Marten boots. Both wore Kevlar stab-and-bullet-proof vests. Reaper had two Glock handguns hanging from his belt, each in Viper drop-leg holsters strapped to his thighs. Sandra had only the one Glock in a similar holster on her right thigh. The guns held 17 rounds each. They both carried Heckler and Koch G36 carbines with twelve-inch barrels, fitted scopes and thirty-round curved magazines. More magazines were in the pockets of their police belts and vests. Both also had ten-inch Bowie knives in sheaths strapped to their lower right leg. Reaper also had three stainless steel throwing knives in a sheath on his left wrist. He had once asked himself how much armament he needed and had come to a swift conclusion: as much as he could bloody well carry.

They each put on a backpack, slung the carbines around their necks on straps and surveyed the empty road from the cover of a privet hedge. Nothing stirred. No cars, no people, no bicycles, no children playing in the late summer sun. Nothing had stirred down this road it seemed since the end of the world, five months before. Lawns and gardens were overgrown, and in the neat houses beyond the hedges would lie the occupants where the virus had taken them: in bed or sprawled on sofas to watch the news highlights of a dying world before they succumbed in their turn. Bodies that by now would be beyond putrefaction and breaking down slowly into bones and dust. The two exchanged a glance and set off down the deserted road towards the centre of the seaside town, carbines held ready.

They kept to side streets and paused often to listen. At last they could see the flat line of the ocean between the houses, the reflection of the dying sun glittering upon its surface. Reaper had two locations fixed in his mind. He suspected the enemy occupied a prominent apartment block on the seafront to the south and, possibly, a nightclub or pub a mile or so to the north. That was where he had last encountered them. The sound of bottles clinking together made them freeze in the shadows of an alley. It had come from a small all-purpose store on the opposite corner of the road.

They exchanged hand signals. Sandra crouched and levelled the carbine at the store. Reaper crossed the street silently and paused, his back against the wall alongside the shop door, which he could see was not properly closed. Someone was moving around inside, trying to be quiet and failing. He risked a swift glance. One man. He was putting items into a cloth shopping bag. He risked a second glance but could see no one else. The man seemed unarmed.

Reaper looked back across the street and raised one finger and then held his palm out indicating that Sandra should stay in position. He slipped the strap of the carbine over his head and laid the weapon on the ground. As he rose back to a standing position, he took the Bowie knife from its sheath. The steel reflected the last rays of the dipping sun. A gun might cause someone to dive for cover. A long, wide blade was far more personal and terrifying and silent. They didn’t want an alarm raised.

He moved into the shop quickly, the knife held forward at waist height. The man stopped, turned and his eyes widened in shock and horror. He dropped the cloth bag and the contents clanged on the floor. He raised his hands and said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’

This was no wolf. This was a sheep, doing the best he could to survive by grazing the remaining stock from out-of-the-way food stores.

Reaper put a finger to his lips to tell the man to be silent. He glanced around but there was nobody else. The store had a counter to the right and three cramped aisles. The section that had housed the booze was empty. Any frozen food still in the refrigerators would have been ruined since the electricity died, but there were still tins and packets on the shelves, and cans and bottles of soft drinks.

‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ Reaper said. ‘I want information.’

The man was confused. He still expected to be hurt.

‘What’s your name?’ Reaper said. ‘Your name?

The man was perhaps forty, slim build, average height, average features. He wore jeans and trainers and a green tee shirt depicting the profile of a man with a Mohican hair cut and the words Diesel: Home of the Brave. The wearer wasn’t very brave. He moistened his lips to lick away the fear and said, ‘Bradley. Paul Bradley.’

© Jon Grahame 2014