Tag Archives: sir arthur conan doyle

Summerland: A 1920’s Mystery – Now free in the Kindle Store


Stay tuned for freebies this weekend, kids. I am about to give the Shameless Self-Promotion tag a good, hard workout. It stands to reason that since I spend so much time writing these books, it would be quite nice for people to read them.


 “Well, people often think the magician’s assistant doesn’t do much. She stands around in a skimpy costume and men look at her and she twirls and vanishes, but the assistant is really the one doing most of the tricks. The magician is often just there to present the routine, to add the flourishes and patter, but the nitty gritty, the tripwires and levers and mirrors and drapes that go in to pulling off the perfect illusion – that’s the province of the skinny little girl in the spangles.”

Magician’s assistant Poppy has always been an outsider, dragged from one town to another, spat on for being a carny, for being the wrong sex, the wrong race. Then one rainy night in the Midwest, she finds herself performing card tricks in front of the great Harry Houdini. Fresh from his well-publicised investigation of the medium Mina Crandon, Houdini makes Poppy a proposal; she is offered the opportunity to join his private secret service of sceptics, debunkers and magicians. Her job is to infiltrate spiritualist circles and expose fraudulent mediums, a quest that takes her across the Atlantic and into the lives of two very different young Englishmen, who are about to learn that in spiritualist circles secrets are much more than just common currency.

Due to sexually explicit material Summerland is not recommended for readers under 18.



Adventures In Research – Diet Books, King Tut and the Girl From The Magic Shop

I’m very nearly done with my new historical novel, which is so full of lies, duplicity and sheer bloody cruelty that I cannot wait to write the sequel to Fifty Shades of Neigh and spend the next few months wallowing happily in a big bunch of dick jokes.

I love writing historical fiction, but the main problem with it that all that research you did? All those lovely, carefully catalogued period details? All that time you spend immersing yourself in the popular culture of the era, absorbing the contemporary fads, fashion and slang?

Yeah – shut up about that.

In a good historical novel the characters will use enough contemporary slang to lend a flavour without making it incomprehensible to the modern ear. In a bad historical novel everyone will antiquey-speakey most verily even though yea, it sucketh great donkey balls, and in a really bad historical novel everyone will not only yabber on like they’re at a Renaissance Faire but also discuss the etymology of their gibberish. A really good historical novel will slip you a history lesson without you even knowing it. A bad one will beat you over the head with lumps of Wikipedia a la Dan Brown or go full on Downton and have people say things like “Well, indeed – after the War to end all wars we’re all in need of a little gaiety, and why shouldn’t Lady Ethel get her hair cut like the popular contemporary actress Louise Brooks in this year of our Lord 1926?”

This is not to say you can skimp on the research – you’d better damn well do it. I once came across a vampire novel that was utterly spoiled by the fact that not only was I supposed to believe that the vampire hero had trained as a Catholic priest in late 16th Century England but in the 1650’s had been quite the sexy young thing at the theatres and operas of old London town. You do research so that things like this don’t happen. Then you shut up about it. Research is essential but should remain invisible – sort of like Spanx.

So this is where blogs come in handy. Here’s just a taste of the fascinating stuff that either got a one line mention or kept an urgent playdate with the DELETE key. Continue reading

The Further Madness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have always loved The Hound of the Baskervilles. I can take or leave most of Sherlock Holmes, but to me The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most perfect mystery stories ever told. The ghostly bogs and quicksands of bleakly beautiful Dartmoor are used to great dramatic effect. There are escaped prisoners and hatchet faced housekeepers and an old, old house, complete with family curse. The ghost story tone here is flawless, worthy of Henry James, and the shudders are well provided in the shape of a vicious, glowing spectral dog, feeding into folkish fears of padfoots and barghests.

And it’s all a red herring. All of it. The whole carefully constructed spooky atmosphere is a smokescreen for the real evil at the heart of the story. There are no ghosts, just a cleverly plotted supernatural scam, the reveal of which is as lip-biting as a well judged striptease.

It’s a great story. Read it if you haven’t. Read it if you have. It’s one of those ones you can read again and again, best enjoyed on long winter nights with a reading lamp and all the curtains drawn, the better to shit yourself up good and proper. The Hound of the Baskervilles is far more scary than it has any right to be, especially since it doesn’t (spoiler!) contain any actual ghosts. It’s an astonishing illustration of how fear, legend, atmosphere and the desire to believe can feed into our delusions and cause us to ascribe paranormal explanations to mundane events.

Even more astonishing is that Sir Arthur fell for his own trick. And not just the once.  Continue reading

Haunting the odd corners of history

Going to be making some changes around these here parts, people. I have decided I would like to do a little bit more history. It’s likely I’ll be writing historical novels for a while – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I have bucketloads of research that’s just too interesting to keep to myself for much longer.

The plan at the moment is that I am working on a shortish novel (60k or so) set in 1920’s New York that can work as either a standalone or a companion volume to Summerland. For those who have read Summerland, I’ll give you a clue – it ties into the story Audrey tells Jack in chapter ten. I’m currently staggering across those bleak, mid-novel wastelands that are chillingly familiar to anyone who has ever written a book, but overall I have a good feeling about it. Taps into various fashionable tropes in fiction – the heroine displays worrying eating habits, gets controlled by men and has voices in her head. Except it’s not sexy. It’s just really disturbing, which tends to be the case when the kind of fictional relationships lately portrayed as knicker-moistening collide with the hard, cold unpleasantries of reality.

So, if you would like an idea of the weird corners of history I tend to poke around in, please take a meander through my Brief(ish) History of Spiritualism Pull up a ouija board, stick a sheet on your head and pretend to be dead. It’s all fun and games.

Also, you should definitely follow me on Twitter because I am hilarious.

Summerland – Excerpt and Special Offer


My historical novel Summerland is currently only $1.24 on Amazon.com and only 77p in the UK, and of course completely free to borrow for Amazon Prime members, so there is really no reason not to take advantage of this offer.

If you’re not interested in the 1920s, the history of Spiritualism, scepticism, Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, World War I or gardening with malice aforethought, then you might want to buy it for the experimental threeway sex. Which doesn’t happen in the excerpt below. Sorry about that.

This excerpt frames one of the central conflicts of the book, in which Ben meets Audrey and realises that his mother’s death has forced him to reevaluate his whole position on the afterlife.

Continue reading

The Madness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Do not sneer at the humble beginnings, the heaving table or the flying tambourine, however much such phenomena may have been abused or simulated, but remember that a falling apple taught us gravity, a boiling kettle brought us the steam engine, and the twitching leg of a frog opened up the train of thought and experiment which gave us electricity. So the lowly manifestations of Hydesville have ripened into results which have engaged the finest group of intellects in this country during the last twenty years, and which are destined, in my opinion, to bring about far the greatest development of human experience which the world has ever seen.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The New Revelation.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle needs no introduction. Over eighty years after his death, this big, Melchett-moustached Victorian still dominates bestseller lists all over the world.

I owe Doyle more than a nod as an inspiration. In fact it was Doyle’s frequent usage of the term ‘Summerland’ that gave me a title for this book. ‘Summerland’ was first coined by a self-styled ‘seer’ named Andrew Jackson Davis, and while Doyle later gently disparaged Davis’ autobiography as ‘being disfigured with too many long words’, he adopted Davis’ term for the afterlife and brought it into common usage among spiritualists.

‘Summerland’ spoke of eternal youth and bliss and lent weight to the gooey, joyful pronouncements of séance visitors. It seems that nobody ever went to a séance to discover that their dead relatives were in Hell, having their pubic hairs removed one by one by demons wielding red hot tweezers.

The trouble with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was that he would believe anything. Did you ever do that magic trick where you slide your thumb in such a way that it looks like you’ve cut your thumb in two? Remember that one? When Harry Houdini performed this schoolboy trick to amuse his friend, Sir Arthur thought Houdini had genuinely detatched his thumb. When Lady Jean Doyle claimed to be psychic, her husband didn’t question her sanity for a second and in fact a made ‘a trusted family friend’ of his wife’s spirit guide. By the early 1920s most Sherlock Holmes fans were quietly dying of vicarious shame, and the publication of The Coming Of The Fairies only cemented the widely whispered opinion that poor Sir Arthur had finally gone bye-byes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualist and occult works are astoundingly silly books. Don’t take my word for it – read them if you can. They’re available on Project Gutenberg. They’re silly enough to raise Graham Chapman from the grave, purely for the purposes of him putting on his Colonel’s uniform and declaring them too silly to continue.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s two volume History of Spiritualism is a series of unsubstantiated puff pieces on mediums such as Eusapia Palladino, Florence Cook and high octane super-grifter Daniel Dunglas Home, all of whom were exposed as frauds on more than one occasion in their respective careers. The quote above, from The New Revelation, pretty much sums up the tone of Doyle’s spiritualist tracts – polemic, evangelical and entirely credulous. In The Vital Message he nailed his theses firmly to the door and proclaimed spiritualism to be the new way to Christ.

In the mindboggling Pheneas Speaks Doyle recorded conversations with spirits. Pheneas was the name the Doyles gave to Lady Doyle’s ‘control spirit’, an Arabian high priest who had allegedly lived in Ur before the time of Abraham. By the early 1920s Pheneas had taken up residence in Lady Jean’s head and was prophecying the end of the world, a sort of Spiritualist Rapture in which the true believers would be saved and sceptics, scoffers and opponents of spiritualism would suffer and perish. This was supposed to happen around about 1925, so you can work out for yourself how much of that revelation turned out to be true.

Further embarrassment came when the Cottingley photographs led Sir Arthur to publicly proclaim that he believed in fairies, and everyone died a little inside.

So what on earth happened? How did one of the most beloved and respected authors of rational detective fiction suddenly go full on David Icke and start babbling feverishly about the ‘little folk’? Continue reading

It’s up!

I started this blog a year ago, which is a sobering thought considering I started it to promote the book I have only just finished. What can I say? I’m slow, but I get there in the end.

You can now purchase Summerland at Amazon.com or at your local branch of the Amazon Kindle store – just click on the book cover at the side of this page. If you love the cover art (And you should, because it’s marvellous.) hop on over to visit the designer Delilah Des Anges, who when not producing cover art for extremely lazy authors also writes novels and extraordinary poetry. She has also written a very funny and entertaining writing advice book which contains almost as many rude words as I use while typesetting. Almost.

So, here we are. I hope I can tempt you with a free sample for today. Stay tuned – more later. This way for free fiction! You know you want it.