The Daughters of the Darkness – Pre-order Now!

So, after over two years of waiting (and working hard at the writing desk in my case), I am very pleased to announce that The Daughters of the Darkness is now available to pre-order on Amazon. You can find the details here.

For the moment, only the eBook is available to pre-order, but I am hoping to be able too add the paperback by the weekend, after some formatting issues have been resolved.

It’s also a great time to catch up with the first book in the series – Shadow Beast. As a celebration of the release of Daughters, I’m currently offering it as a free download until Monday. You can get your free copy here, if you haven’t yet had the chance to meet Thomas,  Catherine, and of course, the beast.

There’ll be lots more exciting news and updates in the next few days and weeks, but for now, head to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Daughters of the Darkness today. Content will be delivered automatically to you on Monday.

And one last thing. Thank you. Thank you for reading my books, keeping me going, and for supporting an independent author.

Oh, and one more last thing. Reviews are really important, so please, if you have the time, remember to leave an honest review of what you think. It’s greatly appreciated, and helps get the books even greater levels of exposure. After all, the more books that go out – the quicker I have to write the sequel!

The Modern Day Man-Eaters

When you get to pick up The Daughters of the Darkness, (hopefully sometime in the next few months), and begin to weave your way through the story, you may be surprised to find the theme of active man-eaters a little surprising and out of place in a modern age. However, the truth is that predators haven’t stopped doing what they have always been capable of when the opportunity and right circumstances present themselves.

The statistics show that man is still very much on the menu. In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 3,000 people are taken every year by crocodiles. 1,500 Tibetans are killed by bears. 600 Indians are preyed on by leopards whilst another 85 are taken by tigers. The king of beasts naturally tallies the most kills, with lions taking 700 people on average annually.

Some of them become revered and infamous. The Tsavo Man-eaters who feature in the legacy of the fictional lions of the book, were very real, as is the tigress in Nepal known as the claw. A lion given the name of Osama killed more than 50 people in Tanzania between 2002 and 2004. He was less than four years old and suspected to be part of a local pride that deliberately targeted humans. The story you will read is not as far-fetched as you think.

Another Osama, this one a crocodile, ate its way through 83 villagers in the waters of Lake Victoria before being captured in 2005. After sixty years of snatching victims from the banks, capsizing boats and even boarding the wooden vessels to find his prey, he now lives out his days as breeding stock for Uganda Crocs Ltd, makers of fine leather handbags.

Human-predator conflict isn’t restricted to the more far flung places of the world either. Hans Kruuk, a carnivore zoologist for the University of Aberdeen concluded that wolf predation on humans is still a factor of life for Eastern Europeans after a lengthy study of death records.

In the U.S, although rare, predator related death is a possibility too. Mountain lions take an average of one person every four years. Bears (polar, brown and black species combined) take to man meat about twice a year. Wolves barely register, with one human fatality every five years in the last twenty. Only a total of three fatal coyote attacks ever have been recorded.

The risk is minimal, and I do mean minimal. You are eleven times more likely to win your state lottery than fall victim to an American predator taken to a palate based on people. Death by dog is fifteen times more likely, and death by cow or horse 32 more times likely.

But there is one killer that just can’t even begin to be compared to – us. Americans kill over 3,000 mountain lions every year. In the last two decades, over 100,000 black bears have been killed in the eastern United States alone. About 1,750 wolves are culled or simply hunted across North America annually.

The story you will read is fiction. The facts are very different. I hope you enjoy the book and find a new respect for our predators in equal measure.

In the meantime, if you need your fill of man-eating before the arrival of The Daughters of The Darkness, why not catch up with Shadow Beast first?!

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Big Cats in Books

In order to celebrate World Book Day, I’ve decided to put together a short list of my favourite characters and reads that centre on big cats. Some are heroes, some are villains, some aren’t so easily classified. Cats carry mystery with them – so no wonder they make such excellent characters and subjects for these great books.

Bagheera. Bagheera

Bagheera is the black leopard that offers his sage like wisdom to Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Born in captivity as part of a Rajah’s menagerie, he plans his escape into the jungle following the death of his mother. He is described as having the cunning of a mongoose, as bold as a buffalo and as reckless as a wounded elephant. Kipling describes him as having a voice like honey and skin softer than down. The Jungle Book is a real favourite that I return to again and again.

The Tiger – John Vaillant
The Tiger

This is the true story of a man-eating tiger on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. To the horror of a team of hunters, it emerges that the attacks are not random; the tiger is engaged in a vendetta.

Injured and starving, it must be found before it strikes again, and the story becomes a battle of survival between two main characters: Yuri Trush, the lead tracker, and the tiger itself.

Coeurl

Coeurl

Coeurl is an alien cat-like creature that appears in A. E. Van Vogt’s short story ‘Black Destroyer’. It later became incorporated into his novel ‘Voyage of the Space Beagle’. Coeurl is unusual in appearance as a feline as his front legs are twice as long as his hind ones, and he has two tentacle-like appendages attached to his shoulders that possess suction cups. Coeurl feeds on the id of other beings – a potassium based organic compound.

When a human starship arrives on the planet, they find Coeurl but assume him to be an unintelligent animal, and even allow it to come on board. Coeurl realizes it can feed on humans but plays along in order to learn more about them and their ship. Eventually however, it gives in to hunger and kills and feeds on one of the ship’s crew. The crew suspects the Coeurl did it, and tries to prove it by feeding the creature organically-bound phosphorus similar to that in the victim’s bones, but Coeurl is smart enough to pass the test. I remember this book in particular because it was one of the first to ever put you inside the mind of the beast.

The Nature of the Beast – Janni Howker

Nature Beast

It started out as a game. A game that Billy and his friend Mick play to take their minds off the fact that the mill might be closing and everyone could lose their jobs. They’ll hunt down the Haverston Beast, that’s killing sheep and hens and maybe even men, and kill it. So what if the farmers say it’s just a dog – they know that it’s real and they’re out to prove it. But then Billy’s dad finds out that the mill might close for ever, and suddenly the game doesn’t seem so much fun any more – and the terrifying Beast might be closer to home than Billy imagined… An astonishing novel about the monster that is unemployment, and its devastating effects on a local community, The Nature of the Beast is as painfully truthful and relevant today as it was when it was first published, to critical acclaim, in 1985.

Elsa the Lioness

Elsa

Elsa is arguably the most famous lioness in the world after appearing in both Joy Adamson and George Adamson’s books, as well as the movie adaptations. Born Free was a book I used to love reading to escape to a world where man (or woman in this case) and beast walked side by side. Seen through the lens of history, it now appears Joy Adamson was much warmer towards animals than people and both her life and death are subject to controversy, but her stories offer tales of a time and place now gone and much changed.

The Beast in the Garden – David Baron

Garden Beast

When residents of Boulder, Colorado, suddenly begin to see mountain lions in their backyards, it becomes clear that the cats have returned after decades of bounty hunting drove them far from human settlement. In a riveting environmental tale that has received huge national attention, journalist David Baron traces the history of the mountain lion and chronicles one town’s tragic effort to coexist with its new neighbours. As thought-provoking as it is harrowing, The Beast in the Garden is a tale of nature corrupted, the clash between civilization and wildness, and the artificiality of the modern American landscape. It is, ultimately, a book about the future of our nation, where suburban sprawl and wildlife-protection laws are pushing people and wild animals into uncomfortable, sometimes deadly proximity.

Shere Khan

Shere Khan

There is of course, another big cat in Kipling’s Jungle Book. But in contrast to Bagheera’s role as teacher, Shere Khan is the undoubted villain. Despite being born with a crippled leg and scorned by his own mother (classic roots for a psychopath anyone?!), Khan is arrogant and regards himself as lord of the jungle. It is his hunt of humans that separates a certain man-cub from his parents in the first place.

Kipling portrays Khan in the way they were depicted at the time. Cowardly, injured animals that perhaps couldn’t hunt other prey. And although not necessarily true of other big cats, there does seem to be a grain of truth in this. Nearly all of the tigers that Jim Corbett, a famous hunter of man-eaters in India tracked and killed sported injures, just like Lungri – or ‘the lame one’ as Khan’s own mother called him.

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If this list of big cats in books hasn’t been quite enough to sink your teeth into, why not check out my novel Shadow Beast. You might just recognise some attributes from these famous felines! Shadow Beast is in Amazon’s Top 100 chart for British Horror. Read it now before the thrilling sequel, The Daughters of the Darkness hits the shelves.

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A Place for Product Placement

I’ve been quite lucky that in the twelve months Shadow Beast has been out, the worst review it has received has been three stars, with comments varying from a simple ‘okay read’ to another which gave away the twist and ending. 76% of the reviews give it a five star rating, with another 18% giving it the four star treatment.

Any author should be pleased with that kind of impact and feedback from readers who have put their money down, especially after nearly a year on the market.

However, a latest comment in a review did at least make me chuckle, and I took a little time to consider it. They weren’t very happy with the product placement in the writing. I also suspect he may have been a Land Rover enthusiast, as he took some umbrage that I referred to Thomas’s modified Defender as an Overfinch rather than a ‘Rover’ or ‘Landie’.

It is of course impossible to please all of the people all of the time, and I don’t intend to try, but I thought I would take a little time to talk about product naming and usage in writing generally, and in my own.

First of all, when a self-published author like myself names or uses real life brands and products in their books, it is very unlikely to actually be product placement, where a company has paid for its inclusion. That said, should Rolex be wondering which of their watches Thomas wears, and if they would like me to wear it as an endorsement, it’s this one, but with a leather strap.

Naming a product can have several purposes and uses to a writer. I use it specifically in three ways in the most part. Firstly, I use it to tell the reader something about the character. By associating a character with certain brands, I can provide you with an essence of their personal tastes, financial status, and even possibly things like age, gender and background, and normally in under three words. It can be very useful to set a scene, especially at the beginning of a story.

This is something that one of my favourite authors, Ian Fleming, constantly did. From providing his hero with a shiny Aston Martin DB4 in Goldfinger (you read that correctly, it was in the film that it became the eponymous DB5 we all know and love), to his Rolex (now Omega), the purpose was always to suggest Bond’s swagger by way of his swag.

Secondly, a specific piece of equipment is usually most easily described by its brand and model. I agree that you probably don’t need to know the serial number, but by letting you know that Thomas is using Leica binoculars or shoots a Holland & Holland .465 bolt action rifle, it should help the reader visualise it easier – or in the case of the gun, give you an idea of its power. I don’t see much point in going to great lengths descriptively when naming the product does everything I need it to do.

Another of my favourite authors, Michael Crichton, used this in his writing often. He would always go to great lengths to describe scientific apparatus, surveillance equipment and other items down to the model number. Sometimes I would look them up, sometimes I knew what they were, but I always had the visual reference. Clive Cussler is somebody else who is very fond of mentioning the exact make and model of cars, planes and weapon favoured by Dirk Pitt, his own hero.

Thirdly, by using a real product or brand, it can help reduce word repeats. It provides another option descriptively on top of common adjectives.

There is of course the obvious reason too. It’s always a little bit of wish fulfilment. Authors tend to give their characters the things they’d like to have, from simple attributes to sharp suits and expensive cars.

I know it isn’t always to everyone’s taste, but product naming and use does have a place. In the case of at least a few, it was my editor who asked my to specify brands for the reasons above.

Feedback also has its place, and I’ll certainly keep all of the kind comments and constructive criticism Shadow Beast has attracted as I prepare the sequel, The Daughters of the Darkness. Some, like my recent reviewer may be pleased to hear he’s ditched the Overfinch. I’ve given him a Twisted tuned Defender pick-up instead!

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A Black Beast and a Bigfoot

I don’t usually do local sightings, unless they happen to be on my doorstep such as last year’s Knole Park panther. There are some dedicated researchers out there such as Neil Arnold who have been doing it for longer, and do it far better than I. What I usually try to tap into is what draws us to such stories in the first place, preferring to fictionalise the fun rather than poke it, which seems to be how the vast majority of news outlets treat them.

But in a week that has seen both a black cat and a bigfoot reported through the Kent and now wider press, it would seem almost negligent of a blog named black beasts and boogeymen to ignore completely. So with that in mind, I dusted off the old investigator kit, strapped on the walking boots and made my way…to the phone.

On Wednesday 11th November, Paul Turk was making his rounds as a delivery driver in the small village of Ryarsh in Kent when he came across a large black cat, apparently crossing the road. The animal stopped and watched him approach. Mr Turk was able to pull up and observe the cat until it moved away and disappeared into the brush. Before continuing to his next stop, Mr Turk spoke to another driver at the scene about what he had just witnessed. When he did arrive at his next delivery, Offham County Primary School, he spoke to members of staff and contacted Kent Police whilst they reached out to the other nearby schools of Ryarsh Primary and Trottiscliffe Primary. Both chose to text parents to report the sighting.

I have deliberately chosen not to quote Mr Turk, police or school representatives as it is hard to gauge if the witnesses have been misquoted or misrepresented, which is all too often the norm. I have reached out to all parties and may update this post if I am able to. But these are essentially the facts of the case. No looming of the beast, no panic stricken witness. No picture of a yawning melanistic leopard or jaguar, essentially baring its fangs. I have to say it brought back memories of the panic that gripped Penge when another alleged big cat hit the streets of Sydenham, my home back then, in 2005.

When I was writing the blurb to my book Shadow Beast, I deliberately set the scene with a similar encounter of a lorry driver on a remote road. There is something classic about it that echoes what we expect from an urban myth, which is possibly why the story has been picked up with such glee in true tabloid style.

What is unfortunate about such treatment is that despite there being some 2,000 such reported sightings a year, it has the potential to not only dismiss them completely but to also discourage witnesses coming forward. This may seem strange coming from a novelist, but why not embrace the excitement we feel when drawn to these stories and explore the truth. Imagine what we might discover. I have spoken to many conservative, professional people who have experienced something they cannot explain, or even scared and unsettled them. In some cases, a little education goes a long way. In the absence of physical evidence, we often only have witness testimony. And whilst it isn’t wrong to question and query, unless it is obvious it is a hoax or publicity stunt, I think it’s best to offer appropriate forum and analysis rather than judgement. Even in cases of mistaken identity, people often need to talk about what they have experienced and to investigate what they have seen. Discovering they are not alone can be a great source of comfort and affirmation.

At the same time, some stories do need to be treated with a shovel full of salt. Take the other creature to hit the news this week, a bigfoot supposedly spotted in the Angmering Park Estate near Arundel in West Sussex. Whereas undoubtedly the witness did see something large, hunched over and generally black in the undergrowth that scared her dog, it has been quickly dismissed as a father playing hide and seek with his daughter. The picture taken by the witness is typically ‘blobsquatch’ and unidentifiable. At first glance, I thought I saw traits of what is a widely available fancy dress gorilla suit, but I’m just as happy to accept the parental explanation. What’s worse is that I suspect that it wasn’t the witness who approached news outlets, but the local interest group who she reported it to, who no doubt saw an opportunity for some publicity to mention their own spate of recent big cat sightings.

It may be hard to say with certainty what we expect from our press and authorities when people do report such sightings. If it takes the BBC Natural History unit two years to find snow leopards, then Kent Police have little chance by turning up on a whim for instance. And before we suggest launching helicopters and thermal image cams, bear in mind that they have to share a chopper with their neighbour Essex, and running costs are around £2 million a year.

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And I don’t say this to ridicule the witness. Only a few weeks ago whilst walking round Groombridge, I decided to entertain my friend and her sons with some Bigfoot calls. The one thing we weren’t expecting was a response. Now it was without a doubt another human being larking about like I was, but it still made us look over our shoulders whilst we made a sharp exit. Sometimes the monster in the woods is more about perspective and the person in front of it!

*UPDATE*

It has now been revealed that the Sussex Bigfoot sighting was in fact a PR stunt, carried out by Bigfoot Communications, a PR firm based in Rustington, and was indeed a man in a widely available fancy dress gorilla suit!

Books to Bark About

Well it’s National Dog Day, and as a reader I have always been pulled in by stories that featured canine characters, whether good or bad. The Call of the Wild has already featured on this blog as one of my favourite books of all time, so some of you will already know I’m a little barking about this kind of thing. So much so, that now I’m a writer, you’ll always be able to find a dog in my own stories. So in order to truly bring these two things together, let’s look at some of the literary canines that leap off my bookshelf.

Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild is my comfort book. The one I turn to when I need to feel warm and cosy on the inside, especially if it’s the opposite outside. This book is basically apple pie to me. Well, at least when there’s no apple pie.

The main character in Call of the Wild is Buck, a cross between a St Bernard and a sheepdog. I’ve always imagined him as looking something a little like a modern-day leonberger.

Buck is kidnapped from his comfortable home and sold to a trader, finding himself in the barren and unforgiving landscape of the North during the gold rush. He finds adversaries in dogs and people alike, with his trials eventually awakening something primal in his spirit, but not before he bonds with a man who shows him true love. Torn between instinct and loyalty, Buck moonlights between two worlds until tragedy intervenes and makes the choice for him.

Thor

Thor. And I don’t mean the guy with the hammer. I mean a German Shepherd, a loyal family dog at the centre of Wayne Smith’s novel of the same name.

Thor is very protective of his family, and in the past it has landed him and them in trouble. But when something supernatural and savage enters their world, it is first only Thor who can see it. Although his human pack are unaware of his taste for wild rabbit, it soon becomes clear that he is not the only blood thirsty predator in their midst. As the threat draws closer, Thor sets out to protect them at all costs.

Eventually made into the film ‘Bad Moon’, which was also pretty good!

Plague Dogs

No list of anphropomorphic tales would be complete without at least one Richard Adams novel, so enter the Plague Dogs. The story of Rowf and Snitter, an old black labrador and a fox terrier who escape from a research laboratory, is something really quite special.

Adams’s unique story telling style forces us to see the dogs in the story as people and the humans as animals, something made abundantly clear when we discover what Rowf and Snitter have been exposed to.

Not exactly a feel good story, but still somehow a beautiful one.

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Fang and Fluffy. Two of the best misnamed dogs in all literature. Fang is a coward, who runs away at the first sign of danger despite being a Neapolitan Mastiff, whilst Fluffy is a three-headed, ferocious cerberus of gigantic size! And both are encountered within the pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Both are also owned by Hagrid, the half-giant grounds keeper with a penchant for dangerous animals.

Hagrid is my kind of guy!

CujoAnd of course, not all doggy characters are good guys. In Cujo, the master of horror himself Stephen King takes the breed of dog known for saving lives and outstanding loyalty, the St Bernard, and turns it into 200lbs of terror.

When Cujo is bitten by a rabid bat, he too soon falls victim to the disease with no cure. As his senses and sanity are ravaged by the deadly virus, so Cujo turns on the inhabitants of a sleepy, backwater town with similarly savage results.

Arguably the most famous canine villain of all time though can be found within theHound pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. The large and deadly dog is never fully identified beyond being of ‘mastiff’ type, but that doesn’t stop it killing two people during the course of the story.

The tale was in fact based on legends Sir Arthur heard whilst staying on Dartmoor, centred around a phantom squire and his pack of hellhounds, said to be heard baying when the moon was full and the night was clear.

Sherlock Holmes and a creature feature. What’s not to like!

I could of course mention many more. From the rough collie of Lassie Come Home, Pongo and Missus of 101 Dalmatians, Montmorency of Three Men In a Boat, Toto of Wizard of Oz, or even the haphazard Afghan pup what-a-mess, dogs are a firm favourite when it comes to books, and certainly in my library at least.

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise to find not one, but several dogs in my own book, Shadow Beast. The first and most prominent is Meg, a three-legged Border Collie who lives with Thomas Walker, my protagonist. Like most dogs, Meg has probably helped her owner stay sane and been there for him in moments of loneliness. She also saves his life later on in the story. You’ll also find a team of fearsome hunting dogs, and a pack of hounds to boot. But don’t be alarmed if you’re not a dog person, there’s also a cat in it too 😉 And it’s a big one.

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Indie Roar

As the author of a book named Shadow Beast with a marauding big cat at its heart, I couldn’t really resist the ten day ‘Indie Roar’ challenge set by The Notebook Blogairy. Today’s challenge (Day 9) is to champion five favourite independently published books. Although I am still relatively new to both independent publishing and reading, I can already thoroughly recommend it. You will find stories you never knew were out there, and writing as good as anywhere. The true strength of the indie writer is being able to write what they want – so there are no limits. Whatever you are looking for, its almost certainly out there. And if it isn’t…maybe you should write it! These guys did!

Dead Men Should Know Better1. Dead Men Should Know Better by Dominic Canty

This is the debut novel of my friend Dominic Canty, and as a truly rip-roaring read, it thoroughly deserves its place on this list. The narrative follows Bristo Trabant, a geek from MI6’s IT department, as he is catapulted into the world of international espionage, armed only with the trusty ‘Beginner’s Guide to being a Secret Agent’ for comfort.

Along the way we meet talking sharks, life-saving water pistols and encounter funny takes on the cliched staples of deadly card games and car chases.

Although not widely available at the moment, it’s worth tracking down and waiting for. Book two is currently being researched and written as we speak! You can find out more about Dominic and the book here.

http://www.dominiccanty.com

2. The Miryan Heir: Journey of the Marked by Rebecca P. McCrayJourney of the Marked

This is my current read, but I am already hooked! This brilliant Young Adult fantasy boasts wonderfully colourful characters, all with their own intriguing back story and background. As they and the rest of the story comes together, you realise you are on a blade and ray-gun wielding thrill ride.

The visual depictions alone would make this a wonderful mini-series or movie. The vivid accounts of the different alien races, the blue, werewolf-like graelith henchmen and the even darker villains are all too easily etched into the imagination with each turn of the page.

Again, book two is on its way. You can find out more about Rebecca and the book here.

http://www.rebeccamccray.com

Rogue Justice3. Rogue Justice by William Neal

I discovered this book after watching the moving documentary Blackfish. Neal unashamedly put the positive campaigning of the Blackfish brigade to good use, and was clearly inspired by a love of the ocean and its creatures.

Invoking native American legends, up to date scientific research and delivering a real sense of just desserts on the corporate bad guys, it is the embodiment of wish fulfillment for many animal advocates.

As an author who also picked a fiery, green-eyed redhead for his heroine, I can say I genuinely enjoyed this ocean going, legend seeking adventure.

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4. Cryptid by Eric PenzCryptid

This book is vividly written, with gripping narratives and characters alike. It is well named too, as it explores the legend behind what is arguably the world’s most notorious cryptid, or as-yet-undiscovered creature. Penz has clearly done his research, and as somebody with a similarly themed story up his sleeve, I am glad to say the direction he takes the story is new and refreshing, and luckily different from what I have planned!

We find strong female characters, conspiracy and of course a cryptid in the new author’s edition of the book. Another great read!

Find out more about Eric and the book here

http://www.ericpenz.com/cryptid

Menagerie5. Menagerie by E. Stuart Marlowe

This tale again centres on cryptids, but this time they are even more fantastical than our legends. As we track down the terrifying creatures through the eyes of a tracker and hunter building the world’s strangest zoo, dealing with problem creatures all over the world, we also encounter activism and good intentions that spell disaster for a small town that really harbours monsters.

I really loved this book, my only gripe being that with the world of cryptozoology so rich in imaginative inspiration, I would have loved to read about some of the great monsters of myth rather than the fictional fantasies here. But at the end of the day, the monsters are no less real or scary!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JUEWAS2

And okay, last but not least, I have to mention my own book. I am really proud of Shadow Beast. It represents years of hard work, and good and bad times gotten through whilst I wrote it. I am humbled and chuffed by the lovely reviews it is getting and the success it is having. I have fabulous support from friends and family, who have been there from the beginning. But I have also had amazing support from a huge community of independent authors like those above who have helped promote and praise the book further. And this is what Indie Roar is all about, championing the amazing efforts of indie authors everywhere! So if you have a book in you, join us. If you want to read ‘off the reservation’ then find us. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!

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World Book Day 2015

It’s World Book Day! Children up and down the country went scurrying to school this morning dressed as their favourite literary character, or the character their parents could make a costume for easiest at least! Books should be championed for many reasons, and making school a bit more fun is definitely one of them.

To celebrate, I thought I’d share what were, and still are, some of my favourite books from my childhood. Many have had a lasting and direct influence on me, shaping my stories as a writer and stirring my imagination even now. Here, in no particular order, are my top five.

1. The Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild

That said, The Call of the Wild is probably my all time favourite book! It’s my version of a literary security blanket. Whenever I’m feeling lost, down or unsure, I can pick up The Call of the Wild and be swept away to the harsh environment of the Yukon and the backdrop of the gold rush.

Journeying with Buck, the St. Bernard/German Shepherd cross, from his place at the feet of a country judge, through his kidnap and hardship as a sled dog, to his incredible feats and love for a man that leads to his savage transition to a pack leader of wild wolves is spellbinding throughout. I remember shouting for Buck as he breaks out the 1,000lb sled from the ice. He also defends his beloved Thornton with a roar, not a bark or growl!

I always identify with Buck’s longing to be amongst the woods, answering the call within that speaks to his spirit.

“But especially, he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called – called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.”

2. Danny the Champion of the World

As with many others, Roald Dahl books were an integral part Danny the Champion of the Worldof my childhood. Danny the Champion of the World is my absolute favourite though. I’m sure that a part of Danny’s dad is somewhere to be found in the character of Stubbs the poacher in my own book Shadow Beast.

This book is all about old school adventure, from the midnight drive to rescue his dad from a pit trap, to living in a gypsy caravan. Danny and his dad work on cars and share stories about the stars and the wildlife around them. Their relationship is wonderful, soul restoring and an example of how things should be. I also remember the wise words about people who don’t smile with their eyes not being genuine.

“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”

“When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants – and DESERVES – is a parent who is SPARKY!”

3. Lion Adventure

Lion AdventureThe Willard Price books have just been relaunched, with the son and daughter of respective brothers Hal and Roger Hunt taking up the ‘adventure’ business. The new spin is all about conservation and wildlife preservation, and is a welcome new update.

But before then, Hal and Roger as teenagers, roamed the globe for their father’s animal collection business and they had no shortage of close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous, including man.

In Lion Adventure, the two brothers are up against a scheming tribal chief and a pride of man-eating lions. This is classic boy’s brigade stuff and I loved all of the animal based adventures. Again, there is probably a little bit of Hal Hunt in my own character of Thomas Walker, the former big game hunter turned conservationist.

“It seemed a wild thing to do – lie out in lion country waiting to be attacked by a man-eater. But Hal was not wild. He was a steady nineteen-year-old, six feet tall, with the strength and brains of a man. He had thought it over carefully. This had seemed the best way to go at it.”

4. The Hobbit

There are two characters that I was always drawn to in The Hobbit. The firstThe Hobbit was Beorn, the incredible bear-man and shapeshifter. I thought he was one of the fiercest and most interesting of the characters, preferring the company of animals and distrusting men and dwarves intensely. I was in awe of his strength and pure presence. In the writing he comes across as a mountain of a man, so I have to say I was more than a little disappointed with his downsized role in the films.

The other character was Smaug, the sharp tongued dragon himself! I’ve always liked dragons and the red fire-drake from the north was one of the best.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

“There are no safe parts in this part of the world. Remember you are over the edge of the wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”

I think again I could identify with the ‘Tookish’ part that awakened in Bilbo, that made him want to go on an adventure. I also have fond memories of this book because I wanted more than anything to take it with me on my first ever school camp away from home. I couldn’t get it in time and remember being driven to tears. The camp was in Cumbria, as was my grandfather at the time, and on my free day he came to collect me and we visited a bookshop so I could get the book I wanted so badly! I’ve also always wanted a writing retreat just like Bag End. I wonder if I’ll ever build it? One day!

5. The Siege of White Deer Park

Siege of White Deer ParkThe series of books following the adventures of the animals of Farthing Wood was one I read avidly as a child. Everything from death to friendship and sacrifice is explored through the bonds of the animals forced to flee their home, who find refuge in the nature reserve of White Deer Park.

When a mysterious creature arrives and begins to stalk and kill the park’s inhabitants, the band of friends must do all they can to protect one another from falling prey to it.

I loved wildlife and I loved monsters, so this book felt like it had been written just for me. And clearly, when the mysterious animal turned out to be a giant cat that has stalked the land without being discovered by humans, I was thrilled. It must have stayed with me is all I can say, with big cats now being a favourite subject and of course the creature at the centre of my own book, Shadow Beast.

“From what you say, Fox” Badger wheezed, “it sounds as if some animal or other is planning to use the Park as a sort of larder.”

It doesn’t seem fair to list my favourite books without mentioning my very own (what do you mean I already have?!). I love having my name on a book that sits on my shelf, and on the shelf of my local bookshop, and has now been read on at least three continents that I know of! It combines my love of adventure, the wild, and wildlife perfectly, and I love being able to share it with people. I look forward to exploring its world further too!

Writing and publishing my very own book was first put in motion by an excellent English teacher who told me I could write and that my stories were good. And that’s one of the reasons I support World Book Day, because the combination of an inspiring teacher and books is an unbeatable one!

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Hunter vs. Hunted

Although I have shot for the pot and may have tickled the odd trout or two, I have never understood the barbaric practice of hunting for sport. With the tenth anniversary of the hunting ban currently in the news and even repeals and amendments being discussed, I thought I’d share the story of Archie Campbell from Shadow Beast. Just as Thomas Walker believes, I see no discernible difference between sport and trophy hunting and the identifying tells of serial killers. It really is the arrogance of man to believe that we are in control of nature and not the other way round. This time nature fights back!

Snarling Vixen

CHAPTER EIGHT

Archie Campbell had lived with the hunting ban as long as he could. He had become the youngest leader of the Mullardoch hunt at thirty-five years old, and enjoyed one glorious season at its head before the hunting act of 2004 came into effect. His accomplishment had not been easy or quick, and he heavily resented the unfair timing of the ban. The Campbell name in the Scottish Highlands still came with negative connotations that did not match the prestige of their wealth and land ownership. Older Highlanders still instinctively mistrusted the Campbell name and he had fought hard for the appointment.

Archie’s father had always enjoyed telling him the family history, chequered as it was. Their support of Robert the Bruce saw the family rewarded with land, titles and marriages into the Royal family itself. Clan Campbell rose to become the controlling power of the Highlands, taking over weak districts with stealthy precision and gaining further titles as they spread west. They manipulated the clan system by joining forces with those with strength and power whilst exterminating the weak. In 1490, Clans Campbell and Drummond joined against Clan Murray at the Battle of Knockmary. It would become known as the Massacre of Monzievaird. The Campbells met the Murrays as they retreated from an overwhelming force of Clan Drummond, and hunted them down until only one man remained, who was saved by a family member. Duncan Campbell was hung for his involvement as an example, but the family gained allies in Clan Drummond and further land and titles in their name.

From there on in, history repeated itself. The Campbell family continued to support the Royal family and were rewarded for it. They fought beside King James IV of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots, and there were many oil paintings and tapestries around the grand house depicting these historic alliances and battles. In the early 17th century, MacDonald lands were given over to the Campbell family in recognition of their loyalty. When the Clan Lamont tried to take these lands back, Clan Campbell fought them off. A year later, they hunted the Lamonts down and exacted their vengeance at the Dunoon Massacre. When death and debt allowed Clan Campbell to seize Sinclair lands, the remaining Sinclairs disputed the claim and tried to take back their birthright. The resulting Battle of Altimarlech gave rise to the legend that so many Sinclairs were killed, the Campbells could cross the river where the battle was fought without getting their feet wet.

Archie’s 10th great grandfather, the 9th Earl of Argyll, was involved in the Monmouth rebellion and had tried to depose James II. Although they were not successful, his 9th great grandfather, Archibald Campbell 1st Duke of Argyll, was rewarded with the surrender of Clan Maclean, their lands and home – Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull.

There was no sacrifice a Campbell wasn’t prepared to pay in return for power, and at no point in history did this become more evident than at the infamous Glencoe Massacre. When bad weather delayed clan leaders taking an oath of allegiance to the English King, an opportunity was seen by two Campbell cousins. With help of an accomplice, they coerced the King into signing an order to extirpate the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, whom they described as a den of livestock thieves. As the snows of February were on the mountain now, so were they then in 1692. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon and over a hundred men of his command were greeted with the traditional hospitality of the Highlands by his relation in marriage, Alexander MacDonald. For two weeks they enjoyed his protection, and dispelled the suspicions of the MacDonalds by suggesting they were collecting tax. One evening, orders were received and confirmed by Robert. He bid his hosts goodnight over cards and accepted an invitation to dine with the clan chief, Alasdair Maclain, the next day. Maclain was killed as he rose from his bed the next morning. Thirty eight others were slain in their homes or as they tried to flee. Their wives and children died of exposure as the village was burned. Nine of the commanding officers involved bore the Campbell name.

Clan Campbell were seen to be guilty of murder under trust, a heinous crime under Scots Law, and their name had been associated with the acts of traitors ever since. The centuries old feud between the Campbells and MacDonalds became glorified in popular films and works of fiction, helping the further staining of the Campbell name in modern times. Archie was aware that even now, the Clachaig Inn of Glencoe, a popular bar and hotel with climbers, bore a sign advertising ‘No hawkers or Campbells’. Archie had been brought up to expect the malcontent, and had also been taught by his father that despite the scapegoating and occasional reprisals, the Campbells had gained lands and furthered Scotland’s borders to their credit. He viewed his family’s villainy with shrewd scepticism, but not everyone had been quite so level-headed.

Archie had hosted cocktail parties and dinners for years before his approval in the hunt had been gained. His rise through the ranks had been uncharted, to the point where he had even provided the land for the new stables, along with kennels for the hounds. Slowly but surely he had brought them under his wing, until total control was inevitable. He gained it just in time to be threatened with being shut down completely.

Like some of his descendants before him, he was a gifted archer, and he had turned to hunting deer with a crossbow whilst the fate of the hunt had been decided. He took some satisfaction from this activity, and wondered how people who had never known the exhilaration that came from hunting and making a kill could make comment on it. Within a few months of the ban becoming effective, both he and the committee for the hunt had decided to focus on trail hunting. Bags of aniseed would be dragged before the dogs to scent and trail. Archie found it ironic that the very thing that so many protestors had used to sabotage hunts in the past was now being used to keep his going.

When the new season had started, things began well. The hunt would meet as usual and follow the trail. Almost every aspect of the previous hunts was the same, only their lack of quarry had changed. But Archie had noticed the apathy of the other riders from the very first day. There was no thrill of the chase when you were hunting a grubby brown sack. At the end of the trail, the pack hounds would look round in bewilderment. It pained Archie to have spent so much time and money on preparing events that were becoming more and more seemingly futile.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, as they were following the pre-laid trail as usual, a fox had bolted out from the cover of some bracken in front of the pack. A large foxhound named Hamilton had let out a deep long howl that alerted the rest of the pack to the fox’s presence, and suddenly the entire hunt was on the trail. As the hounds led off, Archie caught the wry smile of some of his fellow riders. He looked around him. The hunt was well within Campbell lands and there was no way anyone would know. He had slipped the small hunting trumpet from his waist and let out a quick burst of tally ho. The hunt was on, for the first time in months it had really been on.

Archie contemplated all of this as he walked towards the feed barn. His gamekeeper Bill Fowler had asked him to meet him somewhere they wouldn’t be seen, and had suggested here. He was impatient to get the hunt underway and didn’t like the idea, but Bill had pressed it was necessary. He glanced quickly behind him to check nobody had seen him slip off as he passed through the large double doors of the barn.

The sight he was met with wasn’t anything he had expected. Sitting on the floor was a grubby young man with greasy looking hair. He looked somewhat dishevelled and was shaking slightly. His jeans and dark green anorak were torn and tattered, and then Archie noticed the blood on his right hand. Bill stood over him, his shotgun resting over his arm. He met Archie’s gaze with a smug smile. Licking his muzzle and sitting a few feet from both of them was Bill’s Dogue De Bordeaux, a rust-red coloured French mastiff named Rochefort.

“So I’m guessing this is the problem you wanted to talk to me about?” Archie asked, a look of smug disgust creeping over his features as he addressed Bill.

“Aye. Came across him trailing the back meadow as I made my rounds,” Bill answered, his eyes darting to the torn sack of aniseed a few feet away.

“Unfortunately, he ran. Rochefort saw to that. Poor wee bugger dropped his phone though,” Bill smiled smugly, handing over the smashed remains of a smart phone. Archie could see the battery and SIM card were missing.

“What a shame,” he replied, this time smiling at the hunt saboteur directly. He let out a sigh. “In a way you’re lucky. We used to have the power to deal with trespassers privately. All I’ll do today is have you arrested. Its tomorrow you should be worried about. I don’t know where you live or work, if indeed you have a job, but I will find out, and I’ll do my best to have you removed from both. There aren’t many landlords or employers around here I can’t influence,” he sneered. “And as you’ve done your best to ruin my afternoon, allow me to show you the same courtesy. We will be calling the police as I say, but I am not disrupting my schedule to do so, so you’ll have to be patient.” Archie nodded to Bill and began to walk out.

“I need medical attention!” the man blurted out. “I’ll have that bloody dog destroyed too.”

Archie stopped and turned back towards the man, his eyes narrowing with contempt.

“What’s your name?” Archie asked with a whisper of a threat.

The man went silent.

“The dog was doing his job and if you hadn’t trespassed, he wouldn’t have had to. Believe me, we will be making a very good case as to how we couldn’t possibly know your intentions or what you were carrying. You may be a poacher. You might well be a terrorist. I haven’t decided yet. You’re lucky he’s so well trained he didn’t do anything but hang on to you. Frankly, I miss the old days.”

With that, Archie beckoned Bill over.

“I’m not worried about this little fool, but I am worried he might not be alone,” he whispered. “What do you think?”

“We can’t use the back meadows now, the trails will be ruined,” Bill replied. “If he’s not alone though, they could only have come from the farm road. It would be a slight risk, but you could take the hunt towards the forest. You’re miles from any trails, and with dark approaching you should be safe from prying eyes I’d say.”

“That might make things interesting,” smiled Archie, liking the idea. He looked back at the young man. “Call the police and give my solicitor a heads up about him will you. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy myself,” he snorted, and strode out of the feed barn.

~

The creature paused a few feet from the trees. It cocked its head ever so slightly to taste the scent on the breeze that teased and distracted it from its intended path. The strong yet sensitive leathery pads of its paws felt the distant vibrations in the ground, telling it of prey on the move. The rich honey sweet aroma was intermingled with two distinct and stronger smells, both of which it recognised. The creature turned and began to prowl the perimeter of the forest, each silent step taking it towards the prey it could sense but not yet see. It stopped to scent the air repeatedly as it went, flexing its muscles each time it did so in preparation, warming and stretching its body into readiness. It began to hunt.

~

Thomas and Catherine checked the rest of the clearing. They found a few more dismembered parts of the wild cat, as well as some hair and dried blood.

“What do you think happened?” asked Catherine, staring at the head on the forest floor.

“Territoriality,” answered Thomas. “Whenever cats meet, regardless of species, there will be a fight to claim the territory. Big cats especially show a very low tolerance for other cats in their territory. I would guess that old one-eye found himself outsized for once”

“That’s awful,” exclaimed Catherine. “Do you think the same thing has happened to the rest of them?”

“It’s hard to say, but the fact that you couldn’t find any signatures from the radio collars hopefully means they have moved on, rather than anything else.” He held up the broken radio collar he had found to show Catherine, just as the distinct blast of a hunting horn floated across the tops of the trees. “The Mullardoch hunt is out tonight,” said Thomas, a look of total disgust forming on his face. Just as quickly though, a wry smile became visible. “Want to get a closer look?” he asked.

Catherine smiled in turn and patted the digital camera in her pocket. They had both long suspected the hunt was still fully active. They had found a number of dug out fox earths, but they had never been able to prove it was the hunt. Catherine realised this might just be the opportunity they needed.

Thomas was pretty sure he could creep up on Archie Campbell without him knowing. He had plenty of practice, tracking and ambushing the illegal bush and trophy hunters he had encountered in Kenya and Tanzania, and he doubted Archie would be much of a challenge. He especially hated sport and trophy hunters. He understood and recognised the skill, nobility and respect needed to make use of an animal for food and other practicalities, but to kill an animal just because it gave you pleasure was no different to how you identified serial killers as far as he was concerned. More than that though, trophy hunting had changed and become something very ugly in the 21st century. People hunted polar bears from helicopters and stalked tame lions in tiny enclosures and called it sport. There was no skill or risk in what they did. He had stared down charging man-eaters in the wild and taken out marauding elephants. There had been plenty of risk and certainly a very real elation in survival, but no pleasure there. In any case, it was simply now illegal to hunt with dogs for sport and he needed no further justification.

~

Archie sat upon Saracen, his 16-hand grey gelding thoroughbred/Belgian-draft cross, a fast and formidable jumper with strength and stamina to spare. He picked out Hamilton and watched the old dog expectantly. The large hound moved methodically from one side of the track to the other in a soft and lumbering gate, taking his time to check each and every scent he found. The hunt moved forward as one, almost silent in their anticipation to find their quarry. As if on cue, Hamilton suddenly lifted his head and let out a deep, long howl as the familiar musky scent hit his nostrils. Archie spurred Saracen on and quickly started moving up through the other hunters. He knew to stay close to Hamilton no matter what.

~

Thomas was lying flat on the ground. He and Catherine had reached the edge of the forest, and from their position could just see the hunt as it edged towards them. Thomas took out a small leather pouch from one of his jacket pockets and popped the button holding it shut. He removed the small pair of binoculars and held them up to his eyes.

“Are you sure you were never a spy?” Catherine whispered.

Thomas smiled without taking the binoculars away from his eyes. The Sony DEV50 digital binoculars had a 12x zoom and a 20.4 megapixel camera that was capable of full HD video. They were a relatively new purchase for Thomas, and he had been desperate for a chance to try them out.

“Archie Campbell is leading the pack,” he told Catherine. “They’re heading this way, so they could be heading towards any of the dens on this side of the forest,” he continued, still looking through the binoculars. “Looks like they have a scent, they’re changing direction slightly, moving towards that clump of gorse on the right.” He pointed so Catherine could see where he meant. Sure enough the hunt was arching round and were beginning to pick up their pace. They could hear the hounds baying now, as they moved along the track.

~

Archie knew that any moment now the quarry would break from its cover. He could somehow always sense when the quarry was near, picking up on the dog’s excitement instinctively before anyone else. The dogs were almost skipping now, as the slower hounds in front stopped the more eager and younger dogs at the back from surging forwards. Instinctively, Hamilton broke from the pack with three other hounds following him, heading to the left of a patch of gorse in front of them. As soon as he did, there was a blur of red-brown fur as a small fox bolted from its thorny refuge and sprinted across the open field towards the cover of the trees.

~

The creature accelerated forward. Its whiskers flicked back and forth and it moved with maximum alertness, ears pricked and eyes scanning forwards. It sensed the prey had turned and was moving towards it. It gambolled forward and left the ground silently in order to clear the chicken-wire fence in front of it. It used the thicker cover of the inner-forest trees to break its outline and shield its silhouette. The sweet honey-like scent was closer now, and it detected the underlying odours of the leather saddles and the hay the horses had lain in. The putrid, smoky scent of the dogs it knew and recognised, as well as the pungent, prickly equine musk. It followed its instinct and crept closer.

~

“Right,” declared Thomas. “Let’s see if we can keep up with them. I need to try and get as much of this on video as possible.”

Catherine hesitated, a slight sense of anguish becoming clear on her face.

”Tom,” she asked softly. “Are we going to let them make the kill?”

“Not if I can help it,” he replied quickly, glancing back at her and registering the anxiety in her voice. He put his arm round her. “We’re in the conservation business, I do remember you know?” He smiled kindly.

Catherine returned the smile and felt better. In her time as an RSPCA officer, she had once nursed and raised a fox cub, which she named Bold after a popular children’s novel. She had always been fond of them and knew she wouldn’t be able to watch one get killed, even if it meant securing a conviction against Archie Campbell. Thomas turned and started making his way through the undergrowth again, and Catherine followed.

~

The fox was streaking away over the brush, nature making it far better adapted for cross-country dashes than the heavy hounds and horses that followed it. Archie had been pleased that they had found the fox out in the open, as entering the trees was always risky, albeit necessary to hide a kill effectively. Killing a fox in the nature reserve meant there was always a risk that some naturalist could be in there at just the wrong time, and they would be discovered. Even if they claimed they were trail hunting, they definitely didn’t have permission to enter the forest and they would be in serious breach of the agreement that still allowed them to hunt.

Archie had already seen by the bulge in her stomach that she was a vixen carrying cubs. This was good, as it meant the extra weight would slow her down. It also meant she was much more likely to rest up or go to ground sooner, her exploits exhausting her far quicker than a younger or less burdened animal. Archie followed Hamilton as the hound instinctively broke away from the other dogs, his three loyal followers sticking with him. Archie smiled as he saw the hound’s cunning at play. Whilst the younger dogs dashed across the field, enjoying the run as much as the pursuit, Hamilton was cutting across the field to intercept the fox at the forest’s edge, where a chicken-wire fence with a stile marked the far boundary of the Campbell estate. He spurred Saracen on, hoping the vixen wouldn’t make the trees. As Hamilton banked towards the fox he broke into a gallop, but Archie could already see the vixen was just enough ahead of them. With a final burst of speed she squeezed under the fence and Archie caught the white wisp of her tail as it disappeared from sight.

Hamilton stood with his forefeet on the stile and he bayed with the forlorn voice of his kind.

“Go on Hamilton,” yelled Archie, thundering towards him on Saracen.

The dog needed no further persuasion and bounded over the fence. His three companions skidded after him and moments later, Saracen cleared the fence and thundered into the forest. Hamilton and his followers pushed past the thick brush quicker and easier than Archie did, but their furious barks and baying howls let him know exactly which path to take through the trees. The branches were thickly entwined, which he was glad for, as it meant they were far from any of the forest paths and were less likely to be discovered. He was keen to make the kill soon though, as the sun was beginning to dip below the trees and in about fifteen minutes there wouldn’t be enough light to see. The less experienced and more hesitant riders soon got left far behind in the maze of tree trunks, thorny gorse and brush. Hamilton led his small band and Archie further and further ahead into the darkening trees.

~

The creature crouched in anticipation. It could hear and feel the approach of hooves and sensed the dogs getting closer in their reckless charge through the brush. It had killed dogs in self defence before, as well as hunted and eaten them with ease. It wasn’t concerned by their presence. The muscles in its shoulders coiled like wound springs and its eyes widened in anticipation. It licked its muzzle, wetting its nose to help intercept the exact direction and strength of the scents. As a gorse bush shivered, it twitched slightly, but let the fox bolt past as instinct held it in position. It knew that better prey followed.

~

Damn, thought Thomas. Even though he could hear the dogs and thought he had seen the flash of a red hunting jacket, he wasn’t close enough to catch any of it on film or clearly prove they were hunting in the nature reserve. He had though managed to get one very clear shot as the fox had sprinted towards them, obviously pursued by the hunt in the background. Now what he wanted to do was surprise the hunt, make them aware of his presence and hope that they would withdraw. He knew that there might be a confrontation, but he doubted they would recognise the binoculars as a camera, and they would probably presume he was out bird watching. Thomas could easily justify his presence, which he knew the hunt could not. He had always told Catherine that lying was a matter of confidence, and he had plenty at the moment.

~

Archie gunned Saracen over a bank of gorse and found himself in a small clearing. The horse came to a lurching halt and bellowed a fearful whinny, stamping its front feet and trying to turn away. Archie hung to the reigns as Saracen bucked and stamped in fright. The hounds were whimpering in terror and desperately turned back to the thorny gorse, finding their way blocked by branches they had passed through just moments ago. Archie glanced to the trees but saw nothing. Saracen dashed sideways and bucked again as he clung on for dear life. Even the dogs were backing away from the horse that was now whinnying in what could only be madness or terror.

The deafening roar that filled Archie’s ears made him turn and face the trees in front of him. He tried to scream as something immense burst from the shadows and leapt towards him, but no sound came from his throat. He felt the molten touch of outstretched claws, as they swiped downwards across his face and chest and reached for their target on the far side of the horse’s neck. He was flung backwards as he slipped from the saddle and both he and Saracen crumpled to the ground. His eyes glazed, the brain not yet giving in to death as the overpowered horse fell on top of his body. The creature that had killed both of them gutted the three dogs with casual flicks of its claws, as they leapt upon it in a futile attempt to protect their master. He watched as it padded over, its great head blocking out the last of the light as it paused above him. The last thing he saw, although his body no longer registered the pain, was the gleaming flash of its teeth as the creature bit down into his chest and tore his rib cage open.

The creature lapped at the hot blood, enjoying the slightly metallic and salty taste. The skin was easy to puncture and it yowled quietly as it sucked and tore at the body beneath it. There was little taste of fat on the meat, but it was soft and tender and smelt clean. The organs spilled freely from the cavity it had made and it enjoyed these the most, finding their taste and smell unusually rich. It had found the animal easy to kill and it savoured the meal. It had learnt to trust its instincts from its earlier experiences and now knew that the strange scent was that of prey, and no longer had to be avoided. It had feasted on man flesh for the first time and it would remember the satisfying taste from now on.

~

If you like what you’ve read, Shadow Beast is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Out now.

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The Legend of One-Eye

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws, he had no idea that he had literally created a monster. Not only did it become one of the biggest selling novels of all time, but it was made into a movie that became the first ever summer blockbuster, setting the trend ever since. What is interesting is that later on, Benchley became a committed advocate for shark conservancy, and stated that he would not be able to write Jaws based on what he had discovered about them since he first put pen to paper.

It’s important to realise that fiction is exactly that, fiction! Benchley also stated that he was no more responsible for people’s attitudes to sharks than Mario Puzo was for the mafia. Sharks do after all eat people, as do other things, whether we like it or not! In the real world man is the real monster, responsible for far more bloodshed and cruelty. But in our imaginations at least, nature has always been queen when it comes to our most primal of nightmares.

In Shadow Beast, another monstrous animal is at the heart of the story, as is my love of the Highlands and its amazing wildlife, including the endemic and endangered Scottish wildcat.

In the book you’ll find themes of conservation and re-wilding, but I wanted to do more than simply put these topics out there. I wanted to get behind them too. So with that in mind, I’ll be donating 15% of my February book sale profits to Wildcat Haven and the Save the Scottish Wildcat campaign. More details about their work can be found at http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk

At the same time, I wanted to celebrate their work with some of my own, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the origins of a character who makes a legendary entrance in the book. One-Eyed Tom, the wildcat.

Wild Cat, BWC0005

The Legend of One-Eye

The world around him was bathed in the sepia glow of a night-long twilight only his eyes could see. Two silent bounds took him to the edge of the stream, where a flick of his paw fished the unsuspecting frog from the water. There was no pause to play or pounce tonight, and he crunched and gobbled down the still wriggling amphibian in quick, successive bites. Every sense was on heightened alert. Even as he ate, he glanced with furious purpose in the direction of every sound his pricked ears caught.

He moved off, checking his path and surroundings every few steps. He stopped at a favoured mound of brown, dead heather to scent mark the border of his territory that ran along the stream. His face crumpled into a silent snarl. An intruder had crossed the path and left their own musk lacing the crumbly soil. The big tom sprayed the area liberally with urine, then meticulously rubbed the heather and ground with the scent glands in his cheeks. He scraped the damp ground into a mush with his back feet and continued on his path.

The piercing, single scream made him stop in his tracks. His head snapped to a path to the left, heading deeper into his territory. He knew the rabbit warren that the path led to, and he now realised the purpose behind the intruder’s insurrection. Such blatant disregard to his presence and home could not be tolerated. He turned onto the path, hunkering down as he made his way along it with silent, shadowy focus.

The sandy soil veiled his approach by absorbing his footfalls in noiseless padding. He approached the ridgeline and paused at its top. This was where he normally watched and waited for the rabbits to emerge into the dust-bowl clearing in front of him. The slight elevation and cover of the heather-lined ridgeline was the perfect ambush site. He could see where the intruder had launched from the same spot, and his eyes searched him out, knowing he was close.

His hardened stare came to rest on a crouched silhouette on the far side of the clearing. As the hairs in his ears fluffed and expanded to elevate his hearing even further, he picked up the sound of crunching, crushing teeth. Then the wind changed direction, and a cool breeze brought the scent of death and the younger cat to him.

He yowled his intent, unable to contain his rage any longer. He barrelled forward, growling and hissing as he covered the ground in rapid, rippling steps. His snarl was answered by a quivering, spitting growl of savagery. His adversary stepped out into the moonlight, boldly meeting his gaze. But the big tom could sense the hesitancy, reflected in the curve of the newcomer’s back and by the way he half-sat on his rear haunches.

The big tom growled, flicking his tail back and forth in a maddened fury against the ground. The yowl in his throat built to a scream. The younger, smaller male answered with his own caterwaul of threat. The two wildcats stood almost nose to nose, their fur bristling on end and their muscles taught and ready for combat. Each stared into the mirrored savagery before them. The time had come.

In a sudden moment of doubt, the young cat tried to dash past his adversary, but the big tom was too quick. He rammed the off-balance intruder with his shoulder and a butt of his head, his rear paws lifting off the ground as he rippled into a pounce that sent four sets of extended claws and his flashing fangs through the fur and flesh of his screaming opponent.

The younger cat didn’t hesitate to answer the assault, clasping the tom’s head in the vice-like embrace of its front claws. As the big tom punched and pawed repeatedly at the intruder’s back and stomach, his adversary twisted round and clamped his jaws over his muzzle, now in a position to also slash away at the exposed flank of the big tom with his hind paws.

They clung to each other, growling, hissing and snarling through a pain that only fuelled their fury. But a lucky scrape of the young cat’s hind leg sent the big tom spinning backwards, releasing the intruder from his fangs. The young male raced to the ridge and sank into its shadow, pausing at the top to glance and glower at the one whose territory it had invaded. The older cat had already turned his back, knowing he had won the fight. He now nosed at the dead rabbit, ready to claim his prize as victor. The intruder was overcome with renewed fury, and launched into the air, his front claws reaching out for a deadly embrace. The big tom whipped round in a fearsome frenzy, saw his opportunity, and leapt too. His fangs found the throat of the young cat and he used his bulk and might to bring him to the ground. The intruder writhed in silent revolt as the pressure on his larynx strangled the life from him. His forepaws and claws rained flailing blows on his killer’s head, but it was to no avail. A last, limp cuff slashed across the big tom’s left eye as the young cat’s world went black.

The wildcat grimaced and spat, rolling in the dirt with the pain. He screamed in fury, searching out the path by feel as he howled his way back to the stream, blinded by his blood and rage. The big tom slapped and sucked at the water, ducking his head under as he occasionally did to fish. After some time, the pain began to ebb, and he wandered away towards a favoured hollow to rest.

The creature slunk into the clearing and nosed the dead rabbit, before slumping down onto the sandy soil beside it. It casually skinned its meal with a few gentle tugs of its jaws, and it swallowed the meagre mouthfuls of meat it provided. It rose again and padded over to the dead wild cat, a distrustful growl rumbling in its throat. It had come across the smaller cats before as a youngling and knew their savagery and flickering charge all too well. It knew better than to tolerate their presence. It picked up the dead wildcat in its jaws and disappeared back into the shadow of the waiting forest.

~

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