Watch the official book trailer for THE GIFT. Book 1, Eleanor. Available in Hardback and eBook from 9 December.
THE GIFT Book 1, Eleanor available 9 December 2021 from all fine book sellers. Please support your local book shop this holiday season.
I’m so very pleased to write this post. You see, I’ve been visiting Folkestone in County Kent since 2003. And from the moment I alighted the train at Folkestone Central train station I knew I was somewhere special. It was to be a few years more before I discovered the scenic walking trails along the North Downs Way.
Folkestone and Kent’s Heritage Coast have been named by Lonely Planet as the 4th best region to visit in the world for 2022. Words out now. I’d visit this Edwardian seaside town before it becomes Brighton.
I found Folkestone and its environs so delightful they are the setting for a good portion of Books 1 and 2 of THE GIFT. And you need only to walk along Clifton Gardens or The Leas after the sunset to know why. The fog swirls up from the English Channel, enveloping the Victorian and Edwardian architecture as it looms large around you. It’s the ideal setting for a Gothic Horror story. On far too many nights I made my way home in the wee hours after a night out with my mates, stumbling along The Leas, dog end clenched in my teeth as I passed the statue of Harvey at the top of Clifton Gardens, the Clifton Hotel emerging from the fog’s grip.
Ah, what a wonderful place.
You can read more about this fantastic destination at: visitkent.co.uk
There it is again. But.
Finding old books on Folkestone are to the this author a true treasure when writing about a town a hundred years gone. I found these in an antiquarian bookshop in a delightful Victorian era townhouse in Folkestone. Marrin’s Bookshop, purveyors of antiquarian books, maps and prints. I really should make mention of this marvellous rare book seller. In every regard it fits the bill of a quintessential antiquarian. On Folkestone’s high street, the shop is room after room, packed to the rafters with fascination. Founded by George Marrin in 1946. He had been one of millions of soldiers in the Great War who embarked for France in Folkestone. He returned to Folkestone after WWII on doctor’s advice to seek fresh sea air. The shop’s legacy is continued to this day by George’s son Patrick. Highly recommend Marrin’s for anyone who loves rare books, or just a blood marvellous bookshop.
Right then, back to these manky old books. Within these yellowed pages bonking of mildew are vivid tales of Folkestone in its Edwardian heyday, when the town was a destination for England’s King and those who shagged him. Oh dear. Naughty but true. These books are a goldmine to an author doing research, offering in great detail Folkestone and its environs in an era now long gone. Another of the books is a directory for the hotels and lodging houses, restaurants and dress shops doing trade in 1937. It includes telephone numbers an all. Dry reading admittedly, but the advertising is worth the price of admission. Still another title, Ramblings About Folkestone, is a gorgeously detailed travels about the town end environs from 1891-1913. Each story originally appearing in the Folkestone Herald as a weekly column and offers a flavour of the period truly priceless to a researcher.
These next two books are slightly less manky. The JAWS Log by Carl Gottlieb was released in 1975, hot on the heels of the film. As a ten year old I read and reread this book until I could recite it in my sleep. No other film (Benchley’s book left an equal impression upon me) left more of an impression than JAWS. It’s the perfect monster story in three acts.
Act 1: A victim is taken by an unseen predator.
Act 2: We see only the dorsal.
Act 3: We get the head. The tail. The whole damn fish.
So uncomplicated. Yet so powerful. Carl Gottlieb, who also co-wrote the screenplay and played Meadows, a local newspaper journalist in the film, created The JAWS Log as an account of its making. I still read it now and again. If you’re a fan of the film this is a must have, purely for the urban legend, Gottleib never refuted, that the photo of the man being devoured was not a stunt for the film but in fact a photo of a crew member being attacked and later bled to death. The story goes a stunt double was swimming about waiting for his scene when a Tiger shark managed to make its way through all the support boats and electrical lines strewn through the water to attack the unsuspecting double. It’s rubbish. But when you are ten years old it surely must be true.
The next book, is even more esoteric. The Unofficial Guide to Life at BYU, published in 1986. If you were at BYU during those mad autumn days in 1986 you know what this guide is all about. Right, I admit it, I attended Brigham Young University. It was the 80’s. A different time. A different life.
Still, my experiences there left an eternal impression upon me. From riding the chair lift at Sundance and realising you were sitting next to Robert Redford, to driving hell-for-leather around the Alpine Loop, to fabulous lunches in the Tree Room. And to climbing Mount Timpanogas or dancing at Plastique. All left deep impressions upon me. This book serves to remind me of those years when we were giants and anything was possible.
God, it’s been a wonderer journey so far.
As always, may the road rise with you,
I love libraries. I think all authors must. Here in Espana they’re known as bibliotecas. A more curious name for palaces of knowledge begging to be explored. And just like great museums and old universities, libraries keep within them great secrets awaiting to be uncovered by the intrepid explorer.
I found myself in one such house of knowledge, a place of macabre and lurid fascinations.
Where is such a place? Beverly Hills. Of course.
I was doing a bit of research at UCLA’s Powell Library in Westwood. Back in the days when libraries were just switching over to computer search engines from the old DDS (Dewey Decimal System). Google didn’t exist. The internet was accessed via AOL dial up and Ebay was still a dream. Library search engines were state of the art. They were clunky, basic, and difficult to navigate. But one cool feature it had which was revolutionary at the time was to suggest alternative titles which could be of interest. And a title came up that piqued my interest indeed. Vampires, Burial & Death by Paul Barber. Sounded brilliant. It’s location though wasn’t at any of UCLA’s libraries but an adjacent library in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills? Yupe. 90210.
In those years I drove a motorbike. A beater old BMW boxer. And like most reckless twenty something idiots in California, I did it without a helmet. Hastening to get to Beverly Hills before the library closer I flogged my old boxer east on Wilshire until I crossed into Beverly Hills. The library was holding the title for me and I had just enough time to sit down in a quiet corner to leaf through the book’s pages before the library closed for the day and they chucked me.
On the very first page was an illustration that immediately captured my imagination. That illustration? The death hatchment of one Balthasar Toule.
What then is a death hatchment? In simplest terms it’s a redefining of a person’s coat of arms, altered specifically for the funeral. Typically, their family crest or helm, is replaced with a skull and the family motto replaced by a reference to death and resurrection. Such as ‘Expecto resurrectionem mortuorum’.
The chapter heading illustration in THE GIFT is altered. The original, from Barber’s fantastic book on Eastern European folklore and death, is from a tombstone belonging to a gent named Robertus Touse. So who was this infamous fellow? He was French. He died around the 13th Century and was buried at Rouen Cathedral in Normandy. Was he a suspected vampire? Can’t say really. But his tombstone offers up tantalising clues. The split open stomach releasing a horde of maggots whilst still more feed upon his corpse. And the apophthegm in Latin springing from the deaths head to expect the resurrection of the dead. Co’ that’s the stuff!
These fantastical elements all together as one set my mind alight.
And so began THE GIFT.
When it came time to publish, I thought again about the power of Robertus Touse’s headstone. The principle character in THE GIFT is an Englishman of Norman ancestry named Balthasar Toule. I couldn’t very well have a chapter heading illustration with someone else’s name on it, could I? To the rescue came the very clever and very gifted artist David Pickford. He reproduced the Touse tombstone, altering it simply by changing the name to Balthasar Toule, and in doing so creating the death herald that become the first clue Eleanor Annenberg receives to the identity of the man who save her from drowning when Titanic sank in 1912.
As always. May the road rise with you.
East End Dead
The title might sound like a zombie book set in London’s East End. Hang on. Think I’ve found my next title. But I digress.
I’ve just returned home from MCM ComicCon London 2021. And it was a gas! Whilst not my first ComicCon, it was my first as an invited panel speaker with three other authors of note. All thanks go to Black Crow PR, led by the irreplaceable Jamie-Lee Nardone, for getting me there, and shepherding me once I arrived. For a Gothic horror writer, there’s no bespoke PR firm better than Black Crow. The panel included legendary horror writer Kim Newman of Anno Dracula fame and Diogenes Club series. I admit these short stories to be my most favourite. My other colleagues were Tiffani Angus, author of the beautifully layered Threading the Labyrinth, and Verity Holloway, author of the sublime Beauty Secrets of the Martyrs. The topic for discussion was — quite appropriately— how to scare people. I enjoyed my colleagues, their thoughts, the venue, and the colourful array of audience members, immensely! I felt honoured to be there.
So then, just before the panel discussion began, I was sitting outside on the green room’s terrace overlooking the old Royal Victoria Docks and I got to thinking: ‘My dad and grandad wouldn’t believe it.’ I wasn’t referring to them not believing I was a published author on a guest panel at ComiCon. What they wouldn’t believe was what had become of the East End. Their East End. You see my forefathers hailed from the glory (and often gory) that was Dagenham and Elephant & Castle. Gloriously working class and hard-as-you-like-it, from an age when to be working class was something to be proud of, but also something to aspire to be greater than. The East End of London wasn’t just working class. Parts of it were a downright den of iniquity. A loo where were flushed human detritus. Often overlooked, these sad forgotten miscreants ended up drunk, chasing the dragon, in debtors prison or dead from misadventure. Elephant & Castle, Limehouse, Canary Wharf, Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Whitechapel were notorious for their villainy and buggery.
Before the East End was fashionable for its boys bangin’ on with West End Girls (You’re welcome Pet Shop Boys), dreadful things occurred there. Life wasn’t worth a tuppence- women sold flowers or themselves to make enough for a bed in boarding house where they were kicked out at daybreak. Sometimes they fell victim to their punters. Whitechapel is notable for Jack the Ripper and as recently as the early 1980’s it wasn’t hard to see the bleakness creating such horrors in its intact warrens of alleys and back passages (no pun intended to those of you with a filthy min).
On this occasion I decided I ought stay near enough to the ExCel Centre where ComicCon takes place. As an Every House member of Soho House I was able to stay at their charming Redchurch Townhouse on Whitby in Shoreditch.
Yupe. Dad would not be amused. As it turned it out, Shoreditch, like the rest of the East End, is nothing like I remember it the last time I walked its rabbit warren of streets. Think back to when Bob Geldof wore padded shoulders in his Willie Wear dinner jacket and enjoyed having a piss take at Thatcher’s expense.
I took a tab down Shoreditch High Street on a typically bracing, albeit sunny, late October London day. From the moment I turned off Bethnal Green Road (another street my father would’ve been aghast to hear me make mention) I thought I was in Jersey City not East London. Although Shoreditch is just north of Spitalfields and Whitechapel where the brutal Ripper murders took place, I was hard pressed to recognise any of it. In every direction I looked, the skyline was dominated by modern and towering construction.
Some of it fantastical.
Some of it a bit shit.
Seemed progress had finished off what the German Blitz had begun in 1940.
It all looked too polished. Too tidy. Too artificial. Where were the pubs and chip shops? Where was Brick Lane, where an acrylic jumper was had for a fiver? Were were all those blood soaked back alleys where villainy lurked? Promise some of it is still there. But you must go and look for it these days.
“East Endead” said the white graffiti on the old train overpass along Bethnal Green Road. Those who remember the murderous — yet sartorial and half gay Kray Brothers know all about Bethnal Green. Is the East End dead? If you’re after a Cockney: ‘Oi! You all right then?’ and a tour of Jack the Ripper’s old haunts then yes. That’s all gone. Replaced by shining high towers of steel and glass, with central heating and air-con and peppered with Pret sandwich shops, Boots and the odd Dirty Burger restaurant.
But if you ‘take a butchers’, you’ll see the old East End mixing it up with the new trendy evolved, and really…it ain’t half bad.
As always, may the road rise with you,
I’m so pleased to announce THE GIFT. Book 1: Eleanor will be released 9 December, 2021 in hardback, eBook and audiobook. It’s been quite a wonderful journey to arrive at this moment. An early draft of THE GIFT was completed in 1994 when I was living in Sherman Oaks, California. What is now a trilogy began as a single massive tome. A version of THE GIFT more recognisable as the story as it unfolds now was completed in February, 2010 whilst living in the Pimlico district of London. It was to be 2019, and at my writing desk in the Costa Brava, before THE GIFT was divided into three books.
And so, here we are, on the eve of publication of Book 1 by my publishing partner in London, whitefox And this author could not be more thrilled. You can find this first book in the trilogy available at Amazon. Barnes & Noble and all book sellers both online and through your local book merchant. An extract is available if you’d like a little taste of what is to come at the link here:
Book 2 is pencilled in for a November 2022 release, with Book 3 set to hit late 2023. And it doesn’t end there. Keep sharpish for books on some of the more colourful characters who appear in THE GIFT.
As always, may the road rise with you.
When my publisher informed me it was due time to establish an author webpage I was refereed to Bookswarm. And it was wise advice. Simon Appleby is top of the game. He understands authors and is well capable of capturing the spirit of them digitally. It was my personal wish to have a homepage the digital representation of my writing desk. And Bookswarm’s designer Susie has done a brilliant job of it by including personal objects.
Some authors prefer a minimally cluttered desk. Others, piles of tot to help them with their creative process. I fall somewhere in the middle. So long as I have a window to the sunrise, my creativity piques. But.
Always there is a “but”.
I keep near at hand what I refer to as bits & bobs, clues to my motivation —or perhaps more pointedly — my motives.
Tin of Fortnum & Mason tea. Cricket jumper. A well used bat and ball. Old postcards of Folkestone. Propaganda and Howard Jones albums. Are these the mementos of a Gothic writer?
But of course.
As you will soon see, for this writer, it’s the little pictures that are more interesting, and at times terrifying, than the big picture.
I’ve received several inquiries asking the significance of my personal bits & bobs. To that end I thought best to give an explanation of why each is included on my homepage. Simon deemed others not pertinent enough and do not appear.
The teabag coaster at the top left of the homepage would seem self-explanatory. However, as with any good yarn, nothing is as it seems. So, let me clear out of the way the idea it’s for teabags. It isn’t. It’s a true object. It’s significance is as much where it was acquired as to why — the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent. It came from the gift shop. Not only is the memorial a wonderful tribute to “The Few” who fought off the Luftwaffe and thus prevented Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Britain, I discovered this important memorial in 2010 whilst on a tap along the North Down Way trail skirting the white cliffs between Dover and Folkestone. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. In fact Lonely Planet rated it the 4th Best for 2022.
The gold pin in the coaster I admit to being one of my most cherished mementos. And proudest achievement. It’s a gold medal from a miniatures concorso called Euro Militaire. I won it in 2007 for a diorama I spent three years constructing and painting. It was my greatest wish until then to win a gold at Euro. The Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone, where Euro Militaire calls home, is often mentioned in Book 2.
That’s all for now. I’ll do my level best to post as time permits, explanations of my other bits & bobs.
As always. May the road rise with you.
In a corner of my mind I keep the memories of an extraordinary place. A place where a hotel’s history intersects with my own. A locale so ingrained in my heart it became a location in THE GIFT, Book 1 and 2.
When I began writing THE GIFT series, I had nil intent of including Folkestone nor the Clifton Hotel. The idea came later. Much later. And now, when I look back at earlier drafts I wonder how I could have missed it, because Folkestone is central to the story’s arc. As a writer, locales can be starting points to enrich the plot and characters. Of course, I muddled it all up. Plot and characters came first. I didn’t think about Folkestone nor the Clifton until one night in September 2018, well into the ninth draft of Book 1. It struck me how this town on the English Channel was all too perfect a locale for Gothic fiction. After all, much blood had been spilt in Hellfire Corner over the centuries.
September 2010: I take you to the night a noise awoke me. Again. I look at the clock on my iPad. 12.45 the morning. Again. I’m in room 111 for the first time at The Clifton Hotel Best Western. Almost every night at the same time a guest in the room above me moves their furniture about. I’ve stayed at the Clifton each September since 2003. Eighteen years. Not many when you consider the buildings the hotel occupies were built as private residences in 1864.
It was to be seven years before I discovered Room 111. Lovely bedroom. Enormous. High ceilings. Fireplace. Sitting area. Big bathroom with separate shower and bath and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the quiet green behind the hotel.
But. There’s always a but.
That first night I was awoken just after one in the morning. And almost every night the rest of my six night stay. I couldn’t say if it was because the hotel guest upstairs had stopped moving about his room or I just slept through it.
I tolerated a couple of nights of this rubbish before making an inquiry at reception before breakfast. The clerk eyes behind the reception counter went wide before darting to his mate popping his head out the reception office door. They said they’d sort it. Good enough for me. Off I went to breakfast.
On the way out a lad who helped me with my bags and often brought a plate of sandwiches and crisps to my room approached. He took a cautionary look round before telling me in a low voice: ‘We have no guests in the room above you.’
Then who was making all the noise?
He would not say.
‘What? Are you suggesting it’s haunted?’ I asked.
He would not say.
In fact nobody at the hotel would.
2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and briefly in 2021 I stayed in the same Room 111. Same noises in the room above.
A bit of research revealed the Clifton to be the most haunted hotel in England. Legend has it, an unidentified woman took her own life after a fight with her lover. She is said to haunt the room where she committed suicide, her ghost, swathed in a nightgown, emits great sorrow and misery.
There is another story. Of a guest who stayed in the very same room above. They felt unsettled all evening. He finally went to bed for the night. Some hours later he was awoken to by a “form” at the edge of his bed. It vanished before his eyes. The guest refused to return to the room.
In still another story, a night porter was making rounds in the middle of the night – possibly collecting up morning room service cards hung from doors. As he passed before the room previously mentioned he felt a hand grab him on the shoulder and pull him back, turning him around. There was nobody on the corridor. The night porter immediately left his job never to return.
Is the Clifton haunted? There is certainly a presence in the room upstairs that gets great joy out of moving the furniture around in the middle of the night. But don’t let this keep you from becoming a guest at the Clifton.
We were still on the ground. The pilot came on the intercom to inform us British Airways was undergoing a catastrophic computer failure. How did that effect us? Without the computers the pilot could not get confirmation from BA in England that the passenger manifests were approved and the flight could depart. The pilot was trying to do it over his mobile phone but so far could not get through to BA in England.
We waited. One hour became two. And then three. The captain invited passengers to visit the cockpit. I grabbed Daiana by the hand and we headed to the cockpit. We spent a good few minutes chatting with the captain and co-pilot. We returned to our seats and shortly thereafter were informed the captain he had successfully communicated with BA in England. They had given us permission to take off. The last BA flight out of Barcelona as the plane was already loaded.
We landed in Gatwick three hours late only to discover the catastrophic failure at BA was creating havoc. We were the last plane out of Barcelona. All other BA flights were cancelled. None we leaving Gatwick. Including our connection to New York JFK.
Now what? Since we were not going anywhere for now we called Blacklane and requested a lift down to Folkestone. The Clifton had no availability. Although the neighbouring View Hotel did. When we arrived to Folkestone we noticed the Clifton undergoing massive renovations.
Three days later BA was back up and flights departing and we flew off to NYC. But not before we stopped in at the Clifton only to be gobsmacked by the renovations going. It was like a different hotel. Modern, yet retaining it’s originally Victorian era crown moulding and charm.
6 September, 2018: We returned to the Clifton. They have opened a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse in the dining room! It’s something quite wonderful to behold. As a boy I ate many a meal at Wheelers Restaurant on St. Jame’s in Mayfair with my Mum and Dad. Marco Pierre White had bought Wheelers of St and had thoughtfully included some of their familiar items on his menu.
We booked in to Room 111 for nostalgia sake. Ah, I have oh so many memories of the Clifton and Rooms 111 and 112. The bedrooms were to be soon renovated and all that nostalgia would be lost forever. To be fair the bedrooms need a sympathetic renovation. The rooms are dated, the furniture tatty. The wardrobes don’t stay closed and the drawers fall out when you open them. And I do dearly love it. It has the comfort of my Nanas old house in Southwick.
If you wonder where my adoration of this old Victorian pile began, I am quite happy to explain. Let us return to September. 2003. Eighteen years ago. Then, I had never been to Folkestone before, but heard all about a miniatures concorso occurring in the Leas Cliff Pavilion each September called Euro Militaire. In these years I was living in Los Angeles, and my friend Jon Tamkin invited me to attend. He was the shop owner of Mission Models and would be trading there. He told of a decent enough hotel a lot of the traders and modellers stayed during their visit to Folkestone. It was called the Clifton. 2003 was pre-Facebook and Google days and the best search I could manage was through Netscape. I found an email address for the hotel and booked in.
19 September, 2003: Hopped a train at London Charing Cross. Alighting at Folkestone Central, I flagged a taxi and on the short drive to the hotel I found Folkestone strikingly familiar. It was similar to the Brighton and Hove of my youth. Towns I spent many a summer as a child. The taxi left me outside the Clifton. I stood staring at the Channel. It was marvelous, Folkestone the quintessential seaside town I knew so well growing up. The Leas, a long grass verge on the cliffs above the beach known stretched off in both directions. I wanted to explore.
From the moment I entered the lobby I knew I was somewhere special. Somewhere I had never before been. Yet was familiar. At reception I first met Philippe. She still works reception these years later. She handed me a great lumping plastic key chain with my room key on it. I went to the lift, typically tiny and rode it up to my room. Leaving the lift, the old carpeted floors creaked as my suitcase trailed behind me. Opening the door to my room I was greeted by a spectacular view of the Leas and a warm azure sky above the English Channel (all these elements found their way into THE GIFT).
I was home.
Into breakfast in the old dining room. Feeling lucky to get a table in the window overlooking the green. Lively banter with old friends. Conversations picking up where they left off the year prior. Coming in after lunch for a mid-day siesta, my room always made up. A coffee and a bath before going downstairs to the bar for drinks with the mates before dinner. Returning to hotel in the wee hours the morning, old William Harvey’s statue lit up like Christmas shown the way to the front door of the hotel. Stumbling into bed to sleep off a bender.
The world went sideways in September 2008. Economic crisis. The Clifton comforted in a world gone mad. A nice plate of sandwiches and crisps in the lounge. A coffee service on the terrace of a morning watching the sun rise over the Channel as friends passed along the Leas on their way to the Leas Cliff Hall.
September 2021: The Clifton has evolved. The exterior is renovated. The public rooms reorganized. The old long bar is done away with and moved to the lounge where it became the Ocean Bleu. A Costa Coffee has been added and much to our delight the aforementioned Marco Pierre Steakhouse serving old favourites from Wheelers such as their calamari and Governors Steak and Ale Pie. And so have I evolved. And in the best of ways. Where once was one now is three.
Rooms 111 and 112 remain unchanged. But not for much longer. The hotel is gradually updating the rooms floor by floor. I simply adore these two rooms. Of course they exhibit a “patina” of age. The rugs are thining. The bathrooms dated. The wardrobe doors swing open of their own accord. The creaking floors all too familiar. Here in these rooms are so many memories. In 112 I brought a diorama that won me my first gold medal at Euro in 2007. In this room I had drinks and laughs with Mike Rinaldi and Pat Stansell. I stayed in 111 during the post-crisis days of 2010 and 2012 when the world had changed for the better. It’s the end for these old bedrooms. By 2022 they’ll have been renovated and unrecognisable. New memories will be made.
Ever more when I climb from a car that first day I’ll look out to the blue waters of the Channel, take in a lung full of fresh sea air and turn to the facade of the Clifton Hotel and smile. Clifton feels a lot like coming home.