Ardo – His Story

This will contain spoilers, if you have not read the Storm Series trilogy.

On the 2nd July  I will be placing the short promo story, When Ardo Met Ozzy, on free promotion on Amazon and I thought it would be fun to look at the backstory of Ardo and how his character developed.

I originally created the character of Ardo for two reasons:  As the sidekick to Twever the Magnificent and as a way of Jane getting her revenge. I knew immediately that he was going to be invisible, have the morals of a two-year-old, be a four -legged beast of some sort, enjoy having his ears scratched, and be a lean, mean, killing machine.

We first meet Ardo in Echoes of a Storm as Twever’s sidekick. He has only a small, but important, part to play in the book; however, the template for his character is set – protecting the innocent.

Although Ardo is not in The Visit, from Tales of Solomon Pace. He is discussed at length, in the story we discover that Ardo is actually a Dev’ver (werewolf) called Death Claw, who is allegedly the most dangerous Dev’ver who has ever lived.

In the second book of the trilogy, Scions of the Storm, Ardo continues to be his normal self, and both he and Twever have a bigger role to play. However, it is no coincidence that, once again, Ardo becomes the protector of the innocent. It is he who saves Katrina when she is attacked by a gang. It is he who puts the cat and the children out of their misery after the Midnight Man has finished with them.

Towards the end of Scions of the Storm he and his best friend, Twever, charge into certain death to save Twever’s partner, a suitably dramatic ending for the pair… or was it?

It is in the final book that Ardo finally reveals who and what he is.

In A Dark and Hungry Storm, Rosie, a young girl with learning difficulties (I tried to write her as having mild Down’s Syndrome), has an invisible four-legged friend called Mr. Fluffy, who has the morals of a two year old and enjoys his ears being scratched!

Mr. Fluffy has broken and fragmented memories of his past which haunt him at night. As the war, which is sweeping the land, finally reaches the forest where Mr. Fluffy lives, it forces him to fight. During the fighting, Mr. Fluffy finally remembers who and what he is –  He is not a simple Dev’ver, instead he is the Ver known as Death Claw, aka Ardo.

If you have read the books, you will know that a Ver is the combination of all four Spirits (Earth, Fire, Water, and Air) placed into a single body. A Ver is extremely rare and it takes a very special kind of person to cope with having all four elements in them.

When Rosie’s village is attacked by Undead hordes, it is Death Claw that saves them, before taking Rosie away and planning his next move. Because he is the Ver, Death Claw (aka Ardo, aka Mr Fluffy) cannot interfere in the war directly, and we learn why he has hidden away from the world for so long.

During the last battle of the war, Death Claw broods about his inability to help his friend, Shadow Killer. His brooding turns into anger as he sees his friend dying on the battlefield. It is then that Rosie tells him to abandon his Death Claw personality and become Mr. Fluffy again. With a promise that he shall return when she needs him the most, Death Claw reverts to Ardo and goes to save his friend.

Eighty years later, Rosie is an old woman and dying. The hordes of hell are trying to claim her innocent soul so that they can devour it, when out of the blue, Death Claw comes and whisks her away to the highest and coldest peaks of the Granite Mountains, where Rosie dies whilst admiring the spectacular views.

Her spirit, in the shape of a little girl, rises from her body and talks with Death Claw. Their discussion is interrupted, as the demons and spirits once more try to claim Rosie soul. Death Claw directs Rosie to a cave mouth where he hands her over to a woman called Jane and her companions. He tells them both to flee into the cave.

The book and trilogy ends with a very masculine savage force of nature standing firm before the evils of the world to protect the innocent . This ending and the use of Ardo is very deliberate, as it encapsulates (to me) what the Storm Series is about.

Anyway, back to When Ardo Met Ozzy: this is just a light-hearted short story that pokes some fun at certain erotic novels and all wildlife programmes.

You can find the book by searching “The storm series Alan Scott” on Amazon

I hope you enjoy.

Alan

The character of Ardo can be found in the following books:

 

Echoes of a Storm

Scions of the Storm

A Dark and Hungry Storm

A Storm Filled Night – Jennifer, Nathanial, Twever, & Ardo Go On an Adventure

Tales of Solomon Pace – The Visit

 

Death of my Childhood Innocence

I’ve just seen that Rolf Harris has been found guilty of all 12 counts he faced by a jury at Southwark Crown Court (The 84-year-old was alleged to have assaulted four girls and young women, aged from seven to 19 between 1968 and 1986.)

 When you add in Jimmy Salville, Stuart Hall, Gary Glitter and all the other “Celebrities” that are being investigated by Operation Yewtree. It seems that nearly everyone I watched on children’s TV when I was small was a sex offender, and abused their stardom

 My thought and sympathy of course goes out to all the victims, and they have suffered far worse than me.

 but, I can’t help but think that my childhood has just been wiped out. Almost every programme I enjoyed either on TV or on the Radio as a teenager has been tainted by these vile evil men.

 However I said half way through – my thoughts and sympathy are with the victims, as it they who have truly lost their childhood innocence.

 

Alan

American always, Scottish forever

As a Scotsman living in England for the last 20 odd years, it always makes me smile when I see Highland games preformed outside Scotland. Especially the dancing, as I know very few Scots that  know more than two dances , “Strip the Willow” and “Dashing White Sergeant” both of which are best preformed when your “Half Cut” lol (Half cut = moderately drunk) and yes I have danced both.

 Anyway, I saw this article on the BBC and it made me smile for all the right reasons, so I thought I would post it. Also its interesting to see what other countries think about Scottish Independence.

 Alan

 On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked in a referendum whether they want the nation to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom. Yet, across the Pond, there are many Americans with Scottish ancestry, something celebrated at California’s Highland Games season. Here photographer Stephen McLaren sets out his take on the event and shares some of his portraits.

 Despite President Obama’s hopes for Scotland to remain in the UK, the Scottish cultural spirit – which includes pipe bands, sword-dancing, tossing the caber and sheepdog trials – is alive, well and independence-minded in California. An annual calendar of around 20 Scottish festivals and Highland Games brings a mix of recent Scottish emigres and those for whom Scotland is an approximate but proud source of their family heritage.

These events have been going for more than a century and with the skirl of the pipes and shouts of hammer throwers resounding, it could be any Highland Games in Scotland. However, the sweltering heat, the imposing palm trees and the surprising recognition that every kilt-wearer speaks with a full-on American accent quickly reminds you that you are 8,000 miles away from heather, peat and misty glens.

 Away from the sporting arenas and music stages, clan associations are on hand to help those researching their family tree and locate the ancestral home. For those with money to spend on heritage goods, traders sell a panoply of kilts, musical instruments, food and heavy-bladed weapons, which may, or may not, have been used at Culloden.

 As a Scottish photographer who has never worn a kilt, I have been a double rarity at these events. In the first instance, being born in Scotland meant that I was one of the few attending who had the complexion and accent to convincingly be Scottish. Second, tartan irritates my skin so my attire was always less Caledonian than the participants at these action-packed and fun family-focused events.

 Watching these smiley, tanned Californians revel in a weekend of festivities where they get to dress up in Highland garb and imagine themselves as sons or daughters of the glen, it seemed obvious for me to talk to and photograph as many as I could. Unusually for any photography project, not one of the people I asked to be photographed refused, and all were as polite and willing to help me find the best shot.

 What was also surprising to me was how many of those people who agreed to pose thought that, contrary to their president, it was imperative that Scotland become independent.

 Some were well versed in the stories of rural Scotland being cleared of people in favour of more profitable sheep in the 18th Century and a degree of bitterness resides in those whose families may been shipped to the American colonies as a result. Others expressed the view that Scotland had more going for it in the way of history and grandeur than other independent nations and that being part of the UK was holding back Scotland from maximising its potential and its resources.

 I was unsure whether these views were overly sentimentalised notions of a country only a few had visited, but the views expressed were certainly deeply held and probably reflective of a country whose own independence from Britain is much treasured and celebrated.

 The passion for Scottish sports and culture at events like these could be seen as quaint and pre-modern but for the thousands of Americans with links, however tenuous, to the old country, who attend, it is an escapist weekend where they get to celebrate that they are all descended from immigrants who left Europe with high hopes of bettering their lot. For a photographer used to occasionally reluctant or shy subjects, it was a dream project.

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-27891460

 

Heroes don’t have to be boring or have a heart of gold.

I never really trusted the traditional hero of films and books when I was growing up.  He (generally, the hero was male) usually had a massive death wish – willingly throwing himself into danger, always attempting to take the bullet, blade, or explosion for a friend or total stranger, and generally trying to get killed – all for a good cause.

 Then, when they had survived all their near-misses and subconscious attempts to die, they would tell you to be good, do your homework, study hard, brush your teeth, etc, etc…

Also, they all had massive egos, an adoring girlfriend (hourglass figure, of course), and a few male friends who hero-worshipped them and always told them that they were marvellous and wonderful.

So, for me, heroes were boring, self-serving, and got in the way of the good bits of the book/film.

It was then that I discovered Sean Connery playing James Bond – what an eye-opener that was! – a hero who would do bad things! (As an aside, for me, there are only two actors who have played James Bond as he should be played – a thug in a tux: Sean Connery and Daniel Craig.)

At about the same time, I discovered David Gemmell, a British writer. His heroes were tired, old, and not trying to save the world; they were trying to save their homes and their families (Legend, Waylander, etc). At last, here was a hero I could understand. I knew why he was making a stand. I knew why he was willing to risk all. More importantly, he was a lot more interesting than the classic ‘hero’.

Then I got hold of work by Alan Moore, another British writer. Everyone should read The Ballad of Halo Jones. Forget that it is a graphic novel; just enjoy one of the best-written space opera / adventure stories ever.  

Right, I’m getting sidetracked; back to the point of this post.

As most of you will know, I am in the slow process of writing another novel, with the Midnight Man and the Brethren of the Night as the main villains. To counter them, I need a true hero.

For those of you that have read Salvation and Damnation, you will already know who the hero is. Maybe you raised an eyebrow and muttered, “Really? Him!!”

Yes, HIM! He was chosen with great care and much thought, He was no sudden whim or shock choice.

Let me ask you a question – If the world was on fire and evil ruled, who would you rather have fighting for you?

1.   A hero who is constantly throwing himself in front of every sharp object to protect his friends, and weeping (he is a modern man) at the death and destruction all around.

Or

2.   A man who does not care about niceties or delicate flowers – a man who, no matter how badly beaten, will always get back up – a man who will stand when everyone else has given up hope – a man who is driven by a furnace of white-hot emotions – a man who will stare evil in the eye and say, “Come on, if you think you are hard enough, fat boy!”

My hero in the new books may not have a heart of gold or kiss babies, but you know that he will take a stand when no one else will, and, to me, that is what true heroes do – stand, when no one else will.

Alan

 

 

Battle of Bannockburn: What was it all about? 700th Anniversary

Well I am Scottish : )

Alan

PS – Beware of the Dreaded Scottish Midge

By Andrew Black, BBC Scotland

The Battle of Bannockburn, fought on 24 June 1314, was one of the most famous events in the wars of independence.

It saw the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, win a key victory over the English forces of King Edward II, despite being outnumbered two-to-one and facing what was regarded as the finest army in the medieval world.

On the 700th anniversary of the battle, here’s some things you might not know about the historic event.

Where was it?

It was one of the most famous battles ever fought, yet nobody’s sure exactly where it happened.

The backdrop was Stirling Castle, the last English stronghold in Scotland, which was targeted by Robert the Bruce while on the comeback trail during the wars of independence.

The constable of Stirling agreed to hand over the castle to the Scots unless an English force arrived to relieve him by the 24 June, 1314. They duly pitched up the day before.

Robert the Bruce was thought to have made his stand on what’s now known as “monument hill”, where his statue sits.

It was the perfect location, on high ground with a good field of vision, but getting up the hill to fight would have been a massive challenge for the English forces.

It seems more likely the main battle was fought on a nearby area of flat, low ground known as the Carse, where the English had camped overnight.

Medieval minefields

The main threat to Robert the Bruce’s forces was the fearsome English cavalry – 2,000 heavily armoured men on horseback which could easily crush infantry.

Thinking outside the box, Bruce ordered hundreds of holes, measuring just a few feet, to be dug at a crucial point where the English army was advancing.

The small pits, capable of snapping horse’s legs, meant the cavalry had to stick to a narrow Roman road and, unable to fan out, were left defensively vulnerable.

Killer hedgehogs

Robert the Bruce’s other great anti-cavalry weapon was the “schiltron” – a body of troops wielding long pikes.

Looking like massive, deadly hedgehogs when fully formed, the tightly packed group would deploy their pikes on three levels, creating a wall of death which was virtually impregnable to a heavy horse charge.

This sort of tactic was vital, since many Scots couldn’t even afford swords let alone war horses, and often had to make do with axes and other working tools.

First blood

The day before the main battle saw an event which set the tone for what was to come.

Sir Henry De Bohun, a young English knight looking to make a name for himself, arrived with a vanguard and spotted Robert the Bruce addressing some of his men.

The story went that Sir Henry, seeing an opportunity to take down the king of Scots, got tooled up and charged.

Bruce, armed with only an axe, reciprocated – taking out Sir Henry with such force that his head split in two, from the skull to the chest bone and breaking his weapon in the process.

Another much less heroic account, said to be from an English eyewitness, stated that Robert the Bruce clocked Sir Henry and cut him down as he was trying to get away.

Whatever the truth, English cavalry then charged the Scots, only to taste the sharp end of the schiltron. It was a morale dampener.

For Love

As King Edward arrived on the battlefield, did he also see the defeat of Robert the Bruce as an opportunity to settle a personal score?

Back when his father, Edward I, was on the throne, he hired an English nobleman called Piers Gaveston to work in his son’s household.

Chroniclers at the time suggested Gaveston and the then Prince Edward became lovers, and the noble was sent into exile.

 

On his elevation to the throne Edward II recalled Gaveston, bestowing on him an earldom and other gifts.

But the other English nobles – enraged at the privileged access he had to the king – banded together to see Gaveston banished once again.

According to the contemporary book Vita Edwardi Secundi (The Life of Edward II) the king, sometime before Bannockburn, promised full recognition for Robert the Bruce as king of Scots, in return for giving Gaveston refuge in Scotland.

Bruce refused, and Gaveston was eventually executed in England as an enemy of the state.

Put simply, King Edward may have seen victory at Bannockburn as an opportunity to avenge Gaveston’s death on Robert the Bruce, and force the English nobles to bow to his will.

Praying for victory

The main battle commenced not long after first light, on 24 June, 1314.

The Scots forces emerged from Balquhidderock Wood, before getting down on their knees to pray.

The tactic was more than spiritual – it allowed the captains an extra crucial few minutes to form up the battle lines.

Nevertheless, across the Carse, King Edward, with his 16,000-strong army, thought the Scots were surrendering.

He got a shock when prayers finished and the Scots got ready to attack.

 

Pride before a fall

As battle drew near, a row broke out between King Edward and the Earl of Gloucester, one of England’s most powerful men, who complained the English forces needed rest after spending a sleepless night in marshland getting eaten alive by dreaded Scottish midges.

When the King accused the 23-year-old earl of cowardice in front of the men, Gloucester – pride fully dented – jumped on his horse and charged towards the Scots.

He was promptly met by – yes, you guessed it – the business end of the schiltron, and carved up in full view of both sides. Another morale dampener.

 

Watery grave

The Bannockburn – the long, snaking waterway after which the battle was named – proved to be Kind Edward’s nemesis.

As battle commenced, the Scots troops moved across the battlefield, to close the gap.

Penned in between the burn – in reality a large river in some places – and the Scots pikes, the English forces had no choice but to cross back over the waterway, which was almost impossible because of the heavy armour they wore.

As the Scots pushed forward, the English became penned between the water and the enemy pikes, and panic gripped the ranks.

Even the archers, the other feared super-weapon of the English army, ultimately proved useless because the crush left them with no space to shoot arrows.

The getaway

Sensing defeat, King Edward’s minders dragged him off the field and fled towards Stirling Castle.

But he wasn’t well received by the remainder of the English garrison, who told him it was best if he didn’t come in.

Shunned by his own men, the king ended up in the East Lothian coastal town of Dunbar, where he got a lift back to England on a ship.

What changed?

It’s arguable whether the Battle of Bannockburn settled all that much.

Despite the outcome, Robert the Bruce had to wait another 14 years for the king’s son, Edward III, to recognise him as the rightful king of an independent Scotland.

Bruce died just one year later, in 1329, while the wars of independence rumbled on.

However, if nothing else, Bannockburn did establish Robert the Bruce as someone who was not to be messed with.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-27900285

 

In celebration of the ‘unknown’ Arnold Bennett

A fascinating article about a very interesting man

Alan

By Samira Ahmed, BBC Radio 4

Arnold Bennett was once considered a national figure, whose death caused widespread mourning

Arnold Bennett is probably the most successful and famous British celebrity you’ve never heard of, unless you’ve tried the omelette that bears his name.

The dish was invented at London’s Savoy Hotel, where this lover of the high life often stayed.

The JK Rowling of his day, his books sold in huge numbers, he was a figure of huge influence in politics and culture, a friend of the newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, and declined a knighthood after notable service running the French propaganda department for the British government during World War I.

When Bennett lay dying from typhoid in his flat at Chiltern Court above Baker Street station in 1931, London’s city authorities laid straw on the streets to dull the noise. It was testament to his status as a great national figure.

His books

The Card (1910): A comic fantasy about an ambitious young man (rather like Bennett) who tricks, flirts and works his way up the social ladder to become Mayor of his home town. Made into a film with Alec Guinness in 1952.

 

The Old Wives’ Tale (1908): Bennett’s masterpiece about two sisters was inspired by seeing an old, fat lady in a Paris restaurant, and imagining her past life: “She was repulsive, no one could like or sympathise with her. But I thought: ‘She has been young and slim once’.

 

“Anna of the Five Towns (1902): Meet Anna Tellwright, a modern young woman with wealth but a domineering father seeking freedom and independence in a small town with small town values. Will she marry for love, or for duty?

 

Riceyman Steps (1923): A remarkable London novel about the household of a miser, told from the point of view of the maid, Elsie, married to a shell-shocked soldier back from WWI.

 

The Pretty Lady (1918): Bennett was fascinated by the demi-monde. This sympathetic tale of a French prostitute who comes to London at the start of WWI features a powerful description of being caught in a Zeppelin raid.

Not bad for a pawnbroker’s son with a terrible stammer from the grimy Staffordshire potteries’ town of Hanley who dreamed of escape.

And that story of social mobility is what makes it all the more remarkable that Bennett’s place in literary history is currently so obscure, especially compared to his great friend HG Wells, with whom he shared a fascination for the technological innovations like the cinema and cars that were transforming early 20th-Century life.

Bennett came to London aged 21, originally to be a solicitor’s clerk. But after winning a literary competition he never looked back and never stopped writing; up to half a million words a year.

First he wrote short stories for women’s magazines, then novels and more: He wrote blockbuster film screenplays (Piccadilly 1929) and discussed working with a young Alfred Hitchcock.

He wrote smash hit plays that made him a theatre celebrity. He wrote self-help guides, such as How To Live On 24 Hours A Day (still in print today).

Bennett’s most famous novel The Old Wives’ Tale is about two sisters one of whom elopes to a scandalous life in France and the other who stays at home running the family draper’s shop.

The shop, now empty, that inspired the book still stands in Burslem. It used to belong to Bennett’s maternal family. And by coincidence Peter Coates, the millionaire chairman of Stoke City FC started his family’s Bet365 business in that very shop.

Coates is one of a significant core of Bennett devotees who believe Bennett deserves rediscovery.

The Old Wives’ Tale was made into a 1921 film starring American actress Florence Turner

They include novelists Margaret Drabble and Sathnam Sanghera, who transposed the story of The Old Wives’ Tale to an Asian corner shop in the 1960s and 70s for his recent novel Marriage Material.

Ask a Bennett admirer like Coates or Sanghera how they first came to read him, and almost always they say it’s because someone gave them a book and they were hooked by his great stories and characters.

So why did Britain stop reading Bennett in significant numbers?

Many of his books are short and very readable. One of his funniest novels The Card was made into a much loved film starring Alec Guinness, shot on location in the Potteries.

But that was in 1952. And it was the 70s and 80s when the last major TV serialisations of The Old Wives’ Tale and the Clayhanger trilogy were made.

Some fans say he wrote too much, some of it very mediocre. But that still leaves a dozen great novels and collections of short stories.

Many believe the long-term decline was down to the critical trashing of his reputation by Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set of modernist writers which continued after his death in 1931.

Arnold Bennett ruffled feathers in his native Potteries when in his novels he reduced the official number of towns included in the title from six to five and painted a gloomy picture of life there

Margaret Drabble, who wrote Bennett’s biography, believes upper middle class snobbery at a lower class provincial writer was part of it.

But there is also the author’s strained relationship with his roots. Bennett’s most acclaimed novels were nearly all set in the Potteries that he’d been so desperate to leave.

He hardly ever went back. He turned the real six towns into a fictional five, which still rankles.

And in Clayhanger, Anna of the Five Towns and other books, the Potteries were portrayed as places of oppressive religious conformity, bullying Victorian patriarchs and philistine attitudes to art and literature.

This cryptic entry in Bennett’s journal written on 20 October 1927 – nearly 40 years after he left – says it all: “I took the 1205 back to London, which went through the Potteries. The sight of this district gave me a shudder.”

These days Stoke-on-Trent is proud of Bennett, but getting his books back onto school reading lists is a challenge.

You can still get an omelette Arnold Bennett at the Savoy Hotel or make one yourself, which is a lot cheaper. But why not try one of its namesake’s classic novels instead?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-27920331

 

The proposal

I first came across this when I was in the RAF in Germany (roughly 1995). Since then I have worked for a few organisation and all of them could be substituted into the following article.

                                                                                                                     The Proposal

First came the Proposal and then the Consultancy, and the lower ranks went to their Sergeants and said “This is a pile of shit and will badly damage morale”

The Sergeants went to the Flight Lieutenants and said “The men think that the proposal is a bucket of manure and will affect morale.

The Flight Lieutenants went to the Squadron Leaders and said “The proposal is full of that which aids growth and will greatly affect morale

The Squadron Leader went to the Group Captain and said “The proposal is a potent accelerator of growth and will be good for morale.”

The Group Captain went to Air Vice Marshal and said “The proposal will work better than we ever dared to think and it would greatly increase morale.”

The Air Vice Marshal was pleased and implement the Proposal, and there was woe and much sadness on the face of the lower ranks.