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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Chill of corruption...

Corrupt politicians. Where would we fiction writers be without them?

There are allegations flying around at present about certain individuals in government in Malta, most notably after the car-bomb assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Malta is steeped in history – and conflict – and well worth a visit. I’ve lived there, and subsequently visited several times since. Yet, like everywhere else, there’s a dark side…

Apparently, in the last ten years or so Malta has suffered about fifteen mafia-style assassinations and car bombings, and accusations of corruption, bribery and money-laundering currently prevail.

My cross-genre crime/vampire/black magic thriller Chill of the Shadow has its share of corrupt individuals. Here’s an excerpt from pp115/116:

Grech entered the room and welcomed the four men and a woman, all dressed in black. They sat in a circle on easy chairs, and sipped drinks supplied from the cabinet at the curtained window.
            The wall lights were dimmed, subduing the place in shadows. In the centrr of their circle was a round wooden coffee table; lying on its carved surface was a thick large book, its binding tinged a pale yellowing pink in the poor light.
            There were three empty chairs in the circle. As Grech sat in one of them, he said, “Zondadari will be down shortly. And Spellman’s due in a half-hour. Then we can discuss the arrangements for his ceremony.”
            The woman spoke first. “Is Zondadari going to be of any use to us?”
            “Most certainly, Selena,” Grech replied. “He is powerful, knows how to suborn any potential trouble-makers – in particular, dangerous political opponents. He and his acolytes can go into places we or our feeble manifestations cannot. And usually he’s the height of discretion.”
            Selena’s dark eyes widened. “Usually?”
            “Yes,” chimed in Spiteri, breathing heavily as he leaned his obese frame forward. “Sometimes. The other day one of his bloodless corpses was discovered.” He raised a pudgy, ring-laden hand. “Don’t worry. I covered the tracks. Mind you, I had the devil’s own job getting the file hidden away in old HQ records.” His double chins wobbled at the memory.
            Selena persisted. “I thought he promised to be more careful – at least till after the election?” Her thin red lips – enhanced by a grey lipstick outline – pursed cruelly.
            David Bugeja, dressed in black corduroys and a silk shirt, sat with his legs stretched out under the table. Although he was a politician, he more resembled a film or theatre director, someone involved in the make-believe of the arts rather than the lies of politics.
            Bugeja eased himself up in the seat, sighed and said, “We all break promises, don’t we?” And he eyed Selena maliciously.
            Not for the first time, Grech wondered if there had been anything between those two.      “Zondadari tries,” Bugeja concluded, “poor bastard.”
            Spiteri’s thick lips curled wetly in obvious distaste. “You feel sorry for – for him?”
            “Yes, James, I do.” Bugeja gestured vaguely with his long thin hands. “He didn’t ask to become a vampire, you know. He told me the story about his joining the undead – it’s terribly tragic.”
            Spiteri sank back and guffawed.
            “It’s an eternal curse, true,” conceded Selena.
            Grech loudly cleared his throat. “Can we get back on track?” He addressed the gaunt greying man on his left, another politician. “John, is the police department in our pocket yet?”
            John Camilleri’s hand rubbed his designer stubble and he suddenly seemed uncomfortable. “Ready for the election?”
            “Yes, John,” said Grech with diminishing patience, “the coup we’ve all been working toward.”
            Camilleri fidgeted, his dark brown eyes evasive. “Well, no. Not in our pocket, exactly.”
            “What exactly, then, John – if you would be so good as to tell us?” The tone in Grech’s voice was impatient, bordering on menace.
            “I fear those days are gone. There are plenty of police who’re incorruptible–”
            “Detective Sergeant Attard,” Petri, a shipping magnate, broke in. “Isn’t he becoming a nuisance?”
            Selena shook her head. “He was. But I think you’ll find he’s suddenly lost interest in the black arts. We paid him an instructive visit tonight. He’ll be in plenty of pain, but he’ll live.”
            “Good,” said Grech. “His death might have been difficult to cover up just now.”
            “There’s always the traffic accident,” mused Selena. “That’s worked in the past. We’ve rid ourselves of a few troublesome thorns in the Coven’s side.”
            “True. But until we’ve gained power in these islands, we have to tread with a modicum of care. The time will come when we can rid ourselves of all the Attards.”
            “The reporter,” asked Bugeja, “is she getting too close?”
            “No.” Grech smiled. “She’ll be fully under control very soon. I have Zondadari’s word on that.” The door opened. “Ah, talk of the devil,” – they laughed, though some of the merriment was strained – “and he will appear.”
            Zondadari stood in the doorway and eyed the group. “Gentlemen. Lady. Shall we begin?”


This cross-genre thriller is set in present-day Malta and has echoes from pre-history and also the eighteenth century Knights of Malta.

Malta may be an island of sun and sand, but there’s a dark side to it too. It all started when some fishermen pulled a corpse out of the sea... Or maybe it was five years ago, in the cave of Ghar Dalam…

Spellman, an American black magician, has designs on a handpicked bunch of Maltese politicians, bending their will to his master’s. A few sacrifices, that’s all it takes. And he’s helped by Zondadari, a rather nasty vampire.

Maltese-American investigative journalist Maria Caruana’s in denial. She can’t believe Count Zondadari is a vampire. She won’t admit it. Such creatures don’t exist, surely? She won’t admit she’s in love with him, either...

Detective Sergeant Attard doesn’t like caves or anything remotely supernatural. Now he teams up with Maria to unravel the mysterious disappearance of young pregnant women. They’re also helped by the priest, Father Joseph.

And there are caves, supernatural deaths and a haunting exorcism. Just what every holiday island needs, really.

Where there is light, there is shadow…

Some reviews extracts:

Kay Lesley Reeves (Spain)
I'll never look at bats in quite the same way again. An original twist on vampire legend with a hint of tongue-in-the-cheek humour.

Mr M. C. Iles (UK)
I visited Malta many years ago and Morton’s description is spot on. In fact his research is so exact that half-forgotten memories soon came flooding back and I found myself walking those ancient streets once again. A dark and classical tale with excellent twists that will keep readers enthralled.

Angela M.
… has a strong structure and is full of rich writing and action. The plot has page turning twists and the main characters are likeable, especially the female lead. I hadn't read a vampire book in a while and was reminded of how intensely gruesome they can be. While this one has its squeamish moments it's not atypical for the genre, and I can't help liking a well written book! The Malta setting was perfect, making this a great escape read.

E. B. Sullivan (California, US)
Set in picturesque Malta (the book) offers the reader a refreshing twist on the popular vampire genre. Mr. Morton weaves a story with multiple surprises. From the beginning, his plausible and complex characters lure the reader deeper into his yarn. In particular, Maria and Michael are hypnotic, compelling, and seductive. The desire to learn more about these romantic and dashing figures makes this book a true page-turner.

 Chill of the Shadow - available from Amazon worldwide - e-book and paperback

Thursday, 19 October 2017

‘See the world’ – naval reminiscences

Fifty-two years ago today, I joined the Royal Navy.

I was seventeen-and-a-half and had been working in Newcastle Upon Tyne as a Junior Clerk (an office boy) for a shipping and transport firm; handling bills of lading, calculating charges, traipsing from dockside offices to the bank to the airport. The managing director, whose office was down the corridor, lived in my home town of Whitley Bay; I remember my mum saying, “Why don’t you ask him if he’ll give you a lift to work?” I didn’t, of course. I did ask for a pay rise when everyone else received one, but I was told I hadn’t been there long enough. The job was “dead man’s shoes”, so I looked around for an alternative place of employment.

I applied for a creative artist job with a Newcastle firm, but although my samples of artwork were highly praised in the interview, I didn’t have appropriate qualifications or experience. At the time I left school with two GCE O levels, the University changed the admission requirements for their course in Art & Design; I didn’t have enough GCEs, even though one of them was Art (distinction). The other GCE was Geography. Yes, I failed English!* (Perhaps I spent too much time writing a novel instead of studying or learning to pass exams…)

One lunch time, I walked past the Naval Recruiting Office near the main rail station, and then popped in on the off-chance, out of curiosity. Two of my cousins were in the RN, and my uncle had been in the Merchant Navy during the war. I lived close to the sea. Maybe some of that brine was in my blood.

My parents were naturally ambivalent about my joining the navy. It meant leaving home. But it offered what was then considered a secure career. And all the adverts said I’d ‘see the world’. I applied, sat the fairly basic exams in the Newcastle recruitment office and within a short while was accepted and given notice when to join.

I joined HMS Raleigh (Torpoint, Cornwall) on 19 October, along with several other raw recruits. I was a Junior Writer. Thus began my six weeks’ basic training – Part I training. Part II training entailed going to HMS Pembroke in Chatham, Kent . Here, I trained in secretarial (my score: 96%) and Pay (96.5%) disciplines; I also learning to touch-type (96.5%, 25wpm). I passed out from there to join HMS St Vincent in Gosport, Hampshire as ship’s company and on my birthday became a Writer. The latter establishment is now a college.  The touch typing has certainly been useful! Incidentally, part III training is reserved for submarine recruits.

As the adverts predicted, I was fortunate to see quite a bit of the world in my time. I believe that is no longer the case for RN recruits these days. They get to see the sea, mostly. There aren’t enough ships…

Here's a picture of me with a couple of Arab horses in Bahrain in the late 1960s, just before a race. Camel racing followed...

Fifty-two years. Blimey. Where’d the time go?

* I subsequently passed several GCE O and A levels and obtained an OU degree.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Greatest Action Movies Ever

If you’re a fan of action movies, then here’s a magazine to buy, featuring no less than 54 films that ‘defined the genre’.  This is the first in a series from Empire magazine (UK): Empire Classics.

Much of the content is evident from the cover. There are films in several action genres such as: tales of adventure, adrenaline rush, comic book heroes, war, wild west, spies and history.  

Apart from the generous assembly of stills, interesting, humorous, and even enlightening essays accompany each chosen film.

Inevitably, there may be some selected here to the exclusion of your favourite within a particular genre. Still, the span is broad – from Yojimbo to Duel, from Zulu to High Noon, from The Adventures of Robin Hood to The Ipcress File.

I’ve found the selection enjoyable (and, thankfully, the swearing is kept to a minimum, which is a pleasant change for an Empire magazine). I found that I’ve seen 40 of the 54!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Book of the film - Wonder Woman

Novelizations of films have been around a long time; one of the first being King Kong (1933). In the 1960s and 1970s they became very popular. What’s the appeal? Before the advent of home video (VHS and then DVD), a novelization was often the only way to re-experience the film. And yet, even now, when DVDs are available at very reasonable cost, there's still a commercial market for film tie-in novelizations.

It's no mean feat to write a novelization. Bear in mind that the usual length of a film script is much shorter than a novel; my film script for my vampire crime thriller Chill of the Shadow came to 120 pages, 22,500 words, while the book’s word-count was 80,000. Those additional words provide the reader additional visuals, backstory, and characters’ introspection.

The main problems for the writer of a novelization are that they may be working from an early script and they have a very tight deadline, possibly as little as a week or two. Novelizations are invariably published prior to a film’s release. This can be seen in Dewey Gram’s version of Gladiator, an excellent book: there were scenes in his novelization that did not appear in the theatre release, though ultimately they were reinstated in the Director’s Cut. 

Prolific author Nancy Holder has done a sterling job with her Wonder Woman novelization. 

The book begins, as does the film, in the present, in Paris, where Diana Prince, the Curator of Antiquities worked in the Louvre Museum. She receives a package from Wayne Industries, a sepia photograph – ‘a moment of triumph frozen in time, shared by the four unsmiling, heavily armed men who bracketed her. Though the monochrome photo couldn’t show it, the eyes of the man standing to her right had been intensely blue, as blue as the sea that surrounded Themyscira, the island of her birth…’ A hundred years ago. When Wonder Woman came into being.

Then we travel to the past, to Themyscira, and the childhood of Princess Diana, a wayward child who is fascinated by the history of the Amazons, the inhabitants of the island, a place where no man lives. Long-lived, they train as warriors in order to combat the last surviving god, Ares. Holder evokes humour and mischief as Diana, the only child on the island, grows into young womanhood.

Scenes shift neatly, until Diana witnesses something other than a bird plummeting from the sky and falling into the sea. She dives to investigate – and rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor, from a sinking airplane. Happily, the Amazons are fluent in many of Earth’s languages. The interchange between the pair is of wonder on both sides, leavened with mystery and amusement.

It transpires that Steve is a spy, fleeing from German General Ludendorff and his warped scientist, Dr Maru. This evil pair has concocted the means to prolong the War to End All Wars at a time when Germany is seeking armistice.

Diana joins forces with Steve to combat this menace, and in the process witnesses the inhumanity of war - and also the selflessness and bravery exhibited.

Skilled actors can convey emotions and to a certain extent their character’s thought processes. And in the movie they do just that. Holder then gives their thoughts and fears life on the page, whether that’s the naivety of Diana or the pure evil of Ludendorff and his acolyte. 

If you haven’t seen the film and yet are curious about the character, then this book will offer an intriguing and adventurous tale, well told. If you have seen the film, then this provides further insight for several characters, not only Diana, and as you read you will visualise again many of the scenes.

An exciting story, told with pace, wit and affection. A pity about the poor editing.

Editorial comment
As stated above, it’s highly likely that a tight deadline was set for the book, so in the rush a large number of errors have not been corrected. Considering it would only take a couple of hours to read the book, I still find the quantity inexcusable. To begin with, I glossed over most typos, but eventually I felt compelled to highlight some; the following should have been spotted:

‘Diana moved passed it…’ Should be ‘past it’. (p78)

‘So let’s you and I remind them, shall we?’ Should be ‘you and me’… (p95) [Drop the other subject (you) and what are you left with? So let I remind them, which is silly; So let me remind them, however, works.]

… she didn’t feel the cold as he died. (p144) Should be ‘as he did’.

‘Steve leaped off his horse…’ and then 11 lines further down, ‘He swung down from the saddle…’ (without having remounted!) (p209)

‘… she gripped the horse’s mane and pressed her things against its flanks,’ (p211) Instead of ‘things’, it should be ‘thighs’

‘Diana gave the horse a nudge with her spurs…’ (p211) Where’d she get her spurs from? She’s wearing Amazon boots under her misappropriated dress and at no time did she fasten on spurs. ‘Nudged with her booted heels’ would work.

‘…Every sense fired as she the truth crashed down on her.’ (p237) That rogue ‘she’ should have been excised.

‘The weapons were being stored back in the aft (of the plane)…’ (p242) ‘back aft’ or ‘aft’ would suffice.

‘The team’s objective had just spit into two…’ (p242) That ‘spit’ should be ‘split’.

‘… and he ran them hand along the magical rope.’ (p253) ‘them hand’ probably should be ‘his hands’ or ‘those hands’.
Note: There is also a DC Icon young adult novel about Wonder Woman, Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo, which has received good reviews on Amazon.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Billy Bookcase

Readers invariably possess books - even those using e-readers!

Books cry out for bookcases.

In  my youth, when first serving in the Royal Navy, my books were kept in boxes; since I was only visiting home maybe two or three times a year, that made sense. However, once married and living in our own home, wherever we moved to, I've put up book-shelves. Some of the paperbacks go back to the early 1960s. I love to browse the shelves; some books bring back fond memories; others have yet to be read!

I was intrigued to read that IKEA's Billy Bookcase sells at a rate of one every ten seconds. Worldwide, that's 60 million. It was designed and came onto the market in 1979. The main attraction is that the bookcase can be added to as one's collection of books expands.

The popularity of the Kindle et al has not affected sales; in fact, sales of bookcases have increased - as, reportedly, have printed books.

Books decorate a room.