All posts by Mark

The Dad’s Gambit

My eldest son reached forward. Picked up the chess piece. “Pawn to e4,” he said.

A classic opening.

I countered with one of the lesser known chess moves. But one I’ve been working on for years. I’ve perfected it. I am – at least as far as this move goes – a Grandmaster.

I reached forward. Picked up my glass. “Wine to mouth 1,” I said.

I pushed a pawn forward. “The Sicilian,” I confidently declared.

Two moves later and Dan had taken it. “Sicilian? I think you’ve confused it with the pizza, Dad.”

What happened this Christmas? My boys played chess.

Wind back the clock and they disappeared to their bedrooms, linked laptops and slaughtered aliens.

This year? Chess is the new Halo.

The black bishops are the evil spawn from the outer Galaxy.

They trooped into the dining room, decided who was white – and spent an hour in silent contemplation.

They had an unofficial mini-league. Dan, Alex and Lizzie. You-know-what meant she couldn’t go home for Christmas. So here she was: 10,500 miles from her mum and dad and checkmating my youngest son.

“What’s that?” Alex said. “Twelve all?”

“I think I’m winning 13-12.”

And there you have it. Shared interests? Shared sense of humour? Forget ’em. Want your relationship to succeed? You need the same chess rating.

I didn’t get involved in the Christmas games. Largely because I spent most of Christmas washing up, peeling potatoes or exhausted on the sofa. I wandered in occasionally, noted that Dan generally seemed to be winning and wandered out.

And then Alex and Lizzie betrayed me. They braved Nicola’s border guards and went back to Edinburgh.

“Do you want to play chess after dinner, Dad?”

Yes.

And no.

Obviously I want to play chess with my son. But Dan’s doing a PhD. One that features equations. Equations that feature lots of Σ’s and those big, squiggly F’s.

So I wasn’t optimistic. The bookmakers were offering long odds on my survival.

And chess isn’t my game. I’m not sure it’s any writer’s game.

The wrong type of brain. Faulty wiring.

Creative, not analytical.

My brain especially. Definitely faulty wiring. But not the faulty wiring that Messrs Fischer and Spassky had.

I’d like to tell you that the game was close. That my ruthless execution of the Queen’s Gambit left him helpless. Floundering.

That after an hour of an intense battle between two intellectual titans we shook hands – whoops, bumped elbows – on a draw.

I’d like to tell you that. In truth it was the Chinese People’s Army against a primitive tribe who’d barely mastered the bow and arrow.

And it only got worse when he went back to Leeds.

Our games moved online.

See above. Faulty wiring. Inability to concentrate. And when you can’t concentrate, online is not a good place to be.

You’ve taken my Queen! I wailed into the chat box.

Yes, you moved your knight, he typed back.

Well I wasn’t concentrating

That’s not my fault, Dad

You took so long to make your move that I checked the football scores

So I checked the scores again. No change…

“I’d threaten his Queen if I had any pieces left,” I complained to my lovely wife. “I managed one cunning plan. Skewered his castle – ”

“And then you sat on your laurels.”

Yes. And drank some more wine.

“I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll offer him a draw. What could be a fairer result between father and son? A magnanimous draw, both players acknowledging the other’s skill and prowess?”

I reached for my mouse. Double-clicked the ‘offer draw’ button.

Dan’s response was simple and to the point. He checkmated me…

Michael Brady had my interest from the first chapter. By the fifth I had a crush. Salt in the Wounds is an exciting story, played out in a location almost as engaging as the book’s characters. Can’t wait for the second book…”

The second book, The River Runs Deep, will be published on January 31st. You can pre-order it by clicking the link.

Welcome to the B&B

My wife has often been wrong. On countless occasions. Sometimes spectacularly wrong.

There was that time when…

And then there was…

And…

Yes, well. None of them exactly spring to mind just now. But I know I’m right.

And never, ever, was she more wrong than a week before Christmas.

Wide of the mark? Cow’s bottom, mate. Banjo. Couldn’t hit.

“We need some more eggs,” she said.

“For Goodness’ sake. There are two trays of eggs. That’s 72 eggs.”

“I bought another dozen,” she said.

“So we’ve 84 eggs in the house. That’ll last us until Easter.”

She patiently explained that Alex and Lizzie had eggs for breakfast every morning. That the Beloved Daughter and Could-be-Serious would do the same when they arrived. That baking needed a lot of eggs. That Yorkshire puddings for eight people demanded a seemingly infinite number of eggs…

“You’re still wrong,” I said. “There’s no way we’ll need that many eggs. What do you think we’re doing? Running a B&B?”

As it turned out…

Cue the music. Something gentle: pastoral. Maybe a brass band playing the Hovis theme?

It’s the soundtrack to one of my fantasies. A B&B in the Yorkshire Dales. Three rooms – six people at the most. Just enough to keep the cash flow flowing.

And there I am! I’ve cooked them a full English – ‘Proper champion. Best bacon and eggs I’ve ever had’ – they’ve paid their bills and left with a smile. And now look! I’m striding along the Pennine Way in the spring sunshine. A ten mile loop before I’m back to do the evening meal for the next set of six…

You know what?

I don’t have that fantasy any more…

They were all here over Christmas. Tested, masked, kept socially distant from Grandma. But here. Our three children, all with a plus one. Plus ones which ranged from buying-a-house-next-year to taking-it-slowly-to-begin-with. But – at various stages over Christmas – all here.

And for two days, the B&B was full.

Three rooms, six people.

Hell’s bells, where did I start?

Having a shower ridiculously early in the morning, that’s where.

And then the staff went to work. Cooking, cleaning, taxi to and from the railway station…

As they’d say in t’Dales, ‘It were never ending tha’ knows.’

Thank the Lord we had some help. Three key members of staff. On duty 24/7. Never complaining and always ready to help. Even better, the dishwasher, the washing machine and the tumble dryer didn’t even want paying.

“Could you peel some potatoes for dinner?” my beloved the landlady asked.

“No problem.”

“More than that,” she said 20 minutes later.

“More?”

“Yes. There’s football on TV but I know you don’t want to watch it.”

Fair’s fair. ‘Is there anything I can do to help’ was a much-heard phrase. But it’s your house, your children, your responsibility. Dan’s girlfriend is here for the first time. An’ t’lass is from t’South. ’Appen she needs impressing. Maybe just peel a few more spuds…

But finally we had the house to ourselves. “I’m exhausted,” I said. “But we must have taken a pretty penny. All those guests, all those nights. It must be close to a thousand pounds. Maybe more?”

But you know exactly how much Mum & Dad’s B&B took over Christmas.

Hang on though…

They’ve gone. House to ourselves. That can only mean one thing…

“We’re finally alone,” I murmured seductively, sliding my arm round my beloved as she scrubbed a pie dish. “What about some torrid sex?”

She flicked dirty water over her shoulder and hit me square in the eye.

“Does that mean you’d rather have a cup of tea?”

She didn’t need to answer…

Fabulous! Had me gripped from start to finish. Reminded me of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne.”

Salt in the Wounds is now available on Amazon.

The sequel, The River Runs Deep can be pre-ordered now and will be published on January 31st

Glued to the Garlic Grater

How do you get away with murder?

It’s simple.

All you need is a kitchen appliance, a tube of superglue and a stupid victim.

Stupid victim? Look no further…

My wife tried to do me in. Two days before Christmas.

Someone had broken our garlic grater. Is that what you call them? It’s lovely. A small dish, maybe four inches across. Very clearly hand painted. Blue round the rim, fading to yellow and then orange. A hundred jagged edges on the bottom. You whizz a clove of garlic over it and hey presto, you’re in Spain or Mexico. You have grated garlic – and very smelly fingers…

Anyway, the garlic grater had made an unscheduled visit to the floor, and a large shard had broken off.

At which point Lucrezia Borgia saw her chance. A poisoned dish of mushrooms? Why go to all that effort? The poor sap will do it himself.

So she bought a tube of superglue, left it next to the grater and waited…

‘Ah ha!’ I thought, seeing them there. ‘I can glue the garlic grater back together and score a hefty wodge of husband points.’

I didn’t even say anything. Usually I announce that I’m going to do a job. With a considerable fanfare. Ostentatiously write it on my to-do list.

Not this time. I quietly picked up grater and superglue and went to work.

Carefully, gently – a lot can go wrong with superglue – I pierced the top of the tube. Delicately ran a thin line of glue along the edge that shouldn’t have been an edge. Pressed the two pieces back together. Held them. Gave the glue time to do its work.

Walked proudly back into the kitchen.

…And made an announcement.

“I’ve glued myself to the garlic grater.”

“You’re joking aren’t you?” Lucrezia said.

“No,” I said, holding up my finger – and the garlic grater – to show her.

“You’re going to have to get it off,” she said. “You can’t peel the parsnips with that stuck to your finger.

More to the point I can’t type either. Maybe that should be mre to the pint. I’d glued my ‘O’ finger.

“I can’t take you to A&E,” she said, smiling at me. “Not two days before Christmas.”

It was the smile that gave her away. Because – if I couldn’t get rid of my new Siamese twin – I’d have to go to A&E. And what percentage of people have caught you-know-what in hospital?

Now, of course, you see the plan.

Just another stat. Not even name-checked by Smilin’ Matt Hancock…

At this point regular readers whose senses have not been blunted by over-indulgence may be puzzled. Hang on… Notoriously lazy, hates domestic chores, book to finish… And yet he’s found time to fix something. Badly, obviously, but still…

The explanation was simple. A conspiracy theory.

The internet had gone off. The whole town, just like that. Transported back to the 16th Century. Some hocus-pocus about BT and the exchange. Either that or the town crier had forgotten to put a groat in the meter.

So I volunteered to go to the Co-Op. “No problem at all, darling. I know how busy you are.”

Nothing at all to do with the reliable signal in the car park.

It was busy. And full of interesting people. “We’re an experiment, mate,” a fellow madman said as he panic bought iceberg lettuce. “Covid, masks, can’t see your grandma, and now they’ve turned our internet off.”

I said as much to Bill Gates as he came into the shop to inject us all with microchips.

Not that Bill would be interested in someone with a garlic grater glued to his finger…

Loved the book from the first page. Straight into the story, very well-written. The characters have great personalities. Love Brady, Ash, Archie, Dave and Mozart. Can’t wait for the next one…”

Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon

The River Runs Deep will be published in January

Gin, Pale Ale and Mushy Peas

“I need to go to Whitby,” I said to my lovely wife. “Do some research for the book.”

“And would you be having mushy peas with that research, dear?”

“As it happens, yes. There’s a scene in the book where the hero eats fish and chips. By the harbour. I need to get it right.”

My wife consulted her laptop. She checked her phone. “Astonishing,” she said. “They’re both faulty. They’re both saying it’s December. When obviously – if you want to stand by Whitby harbour and eat fish and chips – it must be July.”

“We all have to suffer for our art, dear.”

You’d better imagine her reply. It’s best I don’t quote it word-for-word.

But a few days later here we were, trundling across the Moors. And with the car full to bursting as well.

Alex back from university – and with Lizzie. I’d explained the plan. They’d looked doubtful. But they’d dutifully climbed into the back of the car. “Not long,” I said. “Ten more minutes and we’ll be there.”

No-one whooped with joy…

I parked the car and we walked the deserted streets of Whitby. No room at the inn? Not a light on in any of the inns.

I pulled my coat round me. The wind did seem a touch sharp…

“What do you want to do?” my wife said.

“Stand by the harbour. Eat fish and chips. Make sure I get the scene right.”

“You realise it won’t do a lot for Alex’s relationship if his girlfriend dies of hypothermia?”

“I’ll just take some photos,” I said. “Then I’ll get the fish and chips.” I left them huddled on the swing bridge and walked down to the edge of the water. Checked what my hero could see. Did exciting researchy things like pace out the distance to the rubbish bin.

I walked back up the steps. “We’ve taken a vote,” my wife said.

“What do you mean you’ve taken a vote?”

“What I say. We’ve voted that you’re taking us to the Magpie. I booked a table while you were staring at the harbour. And I’ve got to tell you…” she added.

“What?”

“…I’m fairly certain Hemingway never photographed a rubbish bin.”

“So three to one?” I said.

“Yes. And no time for a recount. We’re due there in five minutes.”

So it was that I found myself face to face – or face to mask – with a waitress.

“Can I get you a drink while you’re looking at the menu?” she said.

What else do you drink with fish and chips? “Pot of tea for four,” I said confidently.

My wife coughed. Alex said, “Hang on, Dad…”

Another tradition was carelessly tossed out of the window. My beloved had seen the word ‘botanical’ on the menu. You know what that means.

And my youngest son had spotted his favourite initials – IPA.

“It comes in a pint bottle. Is that alright?” the waitress said.

“More than alright,” the boy replied.

Two craft gins were added to the order.

“And for you, sir?”

“I’m driving,” I said glumly. “Mineral water, please. And we’ll need bread and butter for four.”

Nope, we wouldn’t. The younger generation didn’t even have fish and chips.

But the meal was delicious – once we’d got the plates the right way round.

“Are the mushy peas for you, madam?” My wife swiftly reached for her crucifix. “That’ll be a ‘no’ then…”

“Have you got all your research done? Can we go back to the car?” Beverley said half an hour later. After another round of gins and another pint of IPA.

I stared at the bill.

What was that about suffering for your art…

An engaging plot, interesting characters and a real sense of place. I usually keep a book on the go to dip into when I want some distraction – but not this one. I read it over the weekend – I really needed to know how it finished!”

Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon.

The follow up – The River Runs Deep – will be published in January

Why Am I Here?

Thank God, you think. After a year’s wittering about trivialities he’s finally addressing a serious question. Something worth reading. Some deep philosophical insight…

Why am I here?

Why are any of us here?

What is the purpose of our lives?

Nope. Sorry. I’m in the bathroom. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, I’m standing by the washbasin. And I’m asking myself that very question.

Why am I here?

What am I doing in the bathroom?

Bluntly, I have no idea.

But there are a limited number of things you can do in a bathroom. It won’t take long to whizz through the checklist…

Do I want to clean my teeth? At 4:30 with red wine to drink? Not a chance.

Do I need a wee? A quick conversation with my bladder. The answer’s ‘no.’

Shower? Cut my fingernails? Whatever I think of, the answer’s the same.

What did you say? Clean the bathroom? No, that one didn’t even cross my mind.

And then a light dawns. Slowly but finally, a light bulb goes on.

I don’t want to be in the bathroom.

I’m supposed to be in the bedroom. I’d been sent for the Christmas decorations. I’d forgotten in the time it took to walk upstairs. Turned left instead of right when I reached the top.

Not the first time, sadly. When the children were at home it would occasionally happen. “Hello,” I’d say, walking confidently into the lounge. “Does anyone know why I’m here?”

But of late, it’s getting worse. Obviously, I’ve an excuse. The book needs finishing. I’m already plotting the next one.

Even so…

I wandered into the lounge yesterday lunchtime. My wife was watching the news. Brexit. Covid. Experts…

“They haven’t got a clue,” I said. “They don’t know a thing.”

“Well what do you know then?”

“You want to hear what I know?”

“Yes, that’s what I just said.”

“What I know – for a fact – is…”

The sentence trailed away. I did know something. Definitely. And something that would have scored a significant point off my wife.

“What I know for a fact is…”

“Yes?”

“I’ve forgotten…”

Ah well, it’s an isolated incident. Well, technically two isolated incidents. Nothing to worry about.

Except that I’m also trying to burn the house down.

It’s the hob. Front right. That’s where I cook my porridge. And heat up my baked beans. Both of them – in my view – require long, slow cooking. Yes, the squeamish should look away now. I let my baked beans simmer away for a while. Until my wife says they look like… Well, you might be eating your breakfast.

But as I pour the porridge into the bowl (I’m a Golden Syrup boy) or I tip the beans onto what Masterchef would describe as a ‘bed of hand-crafted, artisan toast…’ I forget something. I forget to turn the gas off.

Where’s my ready-made excuse? Don’t cook and plot your novel at the same time.

But this cuts no ice with my youngest son. He’s already noticed this behaviour and ticked the relevant box on the care home application form. That was in the summer. And by the time you read this he’ll be home for Christmas.

‘Why am I here?’ may shortly be the least of my worries.

Interestingly for medical science there’s one time of day when I don’t have a problem with my memory.

Five o’clock. Every day, reliable as clockwork.

I remember it’s time for a gin. Not for me. No, no. no. For my lovely wife.

“What’s that, darling? It sounded like ‘I don’t want to drink alone.’ Alright then. Just to keep you company…”

Very enjoyable book. You know you’re hooked when you like or dislike the characters and actually care what happens to them.” Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon.

The sequel – The River Runs Deep – will be published in January

Chopped Mixed Nuts

I’m standing in the corner shop. Hopefully I’m in front of the bakery section.

I say ‘hopefully’ because I can’t see.

It’s the same every time. Put my mask on, walk into the shop, my glasses steam up. I wander round the shop with a basket in one hand and my glasses in the other. Can’t see a thing.

And yes, I know you’re supposed to pinch the mask over your nose. It doesn’t work. Not for me.

So come on Boris. Do your job properly.

Before I give you today’s figures and explain why lockdown is continuing until June 2026 I’d just like to ask Professor Van Tam to tell that grey haired bloke up in Yorkshire how to stop his glasses steaming up…

The fog gradually receded. Those seemed to be baking things looming out of the mist. But I was impatient. I took my glasses off and stared myopically at the shelves.

What did she want? Chopped mixed nuts? Or mixed chopped nuts?

Was there a difference?

No, because the corner shop didn’t offer me a choice.

Well, technically it did. Buy the bag of mixed nuts or don’t buy the bag of mixed nuts. Go home, admit defeat and face the consequences.

I handed over my £2.90 – on my phone, obviously. What is ‘cash’ by the way? – and returned home in triumph.

“Mixed nuts,” I said. “All they had. I’ll chop them for you.”

“No. Not chopping. They need smashing with the wooden mallet. You don’t want to trip over half a nut in your Christmas cake.”

Awesome. If there’s one culinary skill I’ve mastered, it’s smashing things with the wooden mallet.

“Idiot!” my wife shrieked. “Put them in a bigger bag. Otherwise you’ll burst the bag.”

For some reason she didn’t seem to like the idea of nutty shrapnel ricocheting all round the kitchen…

I dutifully did as I was ordered.

And that, dear reader, was the end of my involvement in the 2020 Christmas cake.

Correction, cakes…

She’s a wonderful woman. She’s made four of the little rascals.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Four Christmas cakes? How many people are they having round? Let’s dob ’em in and claim the reward.’

Not so fast. She’s made four small ones. The logic – I think – was that half of one of the small ones could go to her mum. Which was fine, because the other half could stay with me. After all, someone had to check that the nuts were small enough.

And if a job’s worth doing…

“Why are you getting some cheese?”

“To go with a slice of cake. I’m just checking the nuts are small enough.”

“Why don’t you go the whole hog and pour yourself a glass of wine?”

“You don’t think 3:30 is too early?”

It’s been downhill ever since.

We’re cutting down before Christmas. Makes sense obviously. It’s either that or take the battery out of the bathroom scales.

My wife has lost weight – I won’t tell you how much because I’m a gentleman – and I’ve er… Well, technically I’ve gained a kilo.

My fault? No, obviously it isn’t my fault. This case of craft beers arrived…

So far I’ve eaten half a small Christmas cake, drunk a bottle of the Christmas wine and polished off a case of craft beer. It’s December 4th.

And none of the children – do they ever lead their poor old dad astray – are home for Christmas yet.

This isn’t going to end well.

But you know how it is over Christmas. You’re always short of batteries. Good job there’s a spare one in the bathroom scales…

I’ve have many late nights reading this book and even set my alarm half an hour earlier to squeeze more reading time into a busy day. Authentic and believable, gritty and dramatic, compassionate and compelling. I’m very much looking forward to the next instalment.”

Salt in the Wounds is now available on your Kindle and in paperback

The Ten Minute Warning

When I were nowt but a nipper we ’ad t’four minute warning.

The Cold War. Four minutes. The time you had before a Russian missile landed on your head. “Only four minutes left. What would you do?” we cheerfully asked each other as teenagers.

“Ask Angela Miller out again,” I dolefully replied. “Couldn’t say she was washing her hair, could she…”

Anyway I’m married now. Whoops, insert ‘happily…’

And the Cold War is long gone.

Except…

I still need a four minute warning. A ten minute warning if I’m honest. And if I don’t get it then you can forget the Cold War. It’s the Cold Tongue War…

The ten minute warning is integral to married life. It’s the glue that binds man and wife. If I remember correctly, part of the service…

Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and protect him and phone him ten minutes before thou art due to come home?

I will…

‘I’m going out,’ your lovely wife declares.

‘OK, when will you be back?’

‘Well, it’s Saturday afternoon, so it’s going to be busy. A couple of hours?’

‘OK, give me a ring when you’re on the way back.’

‘While I’m out… Can you tidy the kitchen? And put the rubbish out?’

‘Of course, sweetheart.’

But not now. Football’s on the telly and the big race is off in half an hour. Two hours of peace. Is it too early to have a beer? I don’t think so…

Not quite two hours, of course.

‘I’m just leaving town, darling. I’ll be home in ten minutes.’

Ker-pow! as old Batman used to say. Ten minutes to tidy the kitchen, get rid of the rubbish – and as she’s walking through the door the kettle’s boiling.

‘I knew you’d want a cup of tea, darling.’

‘Oh, darling. You are wonderful. I’m so lucky.’

Well, so much for the theory. Last Sunday was the practice. The mother-in-law’s birthday. She was coming round for lunch.

“I’ll be about an hour. Make sure you set the table and get a bottle of white wine.”

“No problem.”

“Don’t – DON’T – still be sitting there writing when I come back.”

As if I would be. Twenty-seven years of married bliss? Ten minutes is all I need.

Assuming I get a ten minute warning.

I didn’t.

You can imagine the rest…

Then there’s this other thing your wife does. She asks you to peel the potatoes. Now, if you’re newly married you’ll just think, ‘Oh, she wants me to peel the potatoes.’

Older, wiser heads recognise a hand grenade lobbed casually into the lounge.

‘Can you give me a hand? Come and peel the potatoes?’

‘Yep, sure. I’ll be there in a minute.’

Now, not for one second do you mean you’ll be there in sixty seconds. No, sir. What you mean is, ‘Yes, I’ll come and peel the spuds but I know you don’t need it doing right now, so I’ll just watch the end of the footy.’

There’s absolutely no intention NOT to do the spuds. Just a calm, rational ordering of priorities.

And there you are. You’ve finished – regrettably – your craft IPA, the ref’s blown the final whistle, and now it’s time to peel the potatoes. You walk through to the kitchen.

‘Right, I’m here. Ready to peel the spuds.’

‘I’ve done them.’

‘What do you mean you’ve done them?’

‘I got fed up of waiting.’

‘But you don’t need them now.’

‘No, but I needed the space.’

So you slink away feeling guilty. You were definitely going to help. Definitely. No question.

But it’s too late. Your wife’s placed another tick. No, not in the ‘peeled potato’ column.

Couch potato…

Well plotted. Great characters. Set in a place I love. What’s not to love about Salt in the Wounds? Looking forward to hearing more about Michael Brady.”

The River Runs Deep – the next book in the Michael Brady series – is now available to pre-order on Amazon.

The Soggy Middle

Last Friday. Three conversations with my wife.

8:30 “I got on the scales this morning. Must lose weight before Christmas.”

11:30 “I’m just having one of these new chocolate biscuits with my coffee.”

3:30 “It must be five o’clock by now. Shall I open a bottle of wine?”

I’m currently half way through my second novel. The euphoria of the opening chapters has worn off. I’m a long way from the end. I’m in what writers refer to as ‘the soggy middle.’

I said as much to my beloved.

She gazed lovingly at me – in my sagging track suit bottoms.

Yes, her reply featured ‘soggy middle’ – or words to that effect.

So – how many times have I written this in my life? – something has to be done.

I am not fit. The words ‘me’ and ‘fitness’ are not so much in different postcodes as at opposite ends of the country.

Last year I walked round County Kerry with my youngest son. I was 3kg heavier than I wanted to be when I sent off. And now I’m 4kg heavier than that.

What has caused this sad state of affairs? Simple folk would say, ‘your pathetic lack of will power.’

No, no. The answer is much more complicated.

There are two culprits.

Writing – and my wife.

Ladies first. She bought some ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ – which she then left in the kitchen. Well what’s a chap to do when he has a coffee? How did I know they were for Christmas?

Seriously, the box has ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ written on it. She buys it in the middle of November. And expects me to look at it for six weeks?

And writing. According to the research thinking uses a lot of calories – 320 a day just for the basics like remembering to put your socks on. So it follows that planning a murder – is the answer in Gina’s past? – must use about 1,000.

Sadly my waist hasn’t realised. Possibly because I find thinking a lot easier with a luxury chocolate biscuit for company.

Here’s an interesting question. I’m a stickler for imperial measures. I’ll have no truck with that kilometres malarkey. I know how many chains there are in a furlong and I know how many furlongs make a mile. I like talking about rods, poles and perches – and if something is less than a quid I’ll cheerfully convert it back to pounds, shillings and pence.

Long division of pounds, shillings and pence… There’s a phrase to make the teaching unions tremble…

So why do I express my weight in kilogrammes? Easy. If I express it in old money I’m a fat pig. Or ‘pat fig’ as I said after my extra glass of wine.

Kilogrammes? Bah, it’s just a number. A big number, but not one that conjures an image of the stones and pounds monster.

What I need is some retail therapy. I don’t mean I need to buy something. No thanks. My black track suit bottoms are fine. And when they’re in the wash I’ve got a navy blue pair.

No, I need to go and try something on in Next. See myself in those surround mirrors the changing rooms have. When my football team scores a goal I like watching it from ‘every angle.’ Seeing myself from ‘every angle’ is truly terrifying. But last time I tried something on in Next it shocked me into losing half a stone.

Anyway, time for some more creative thinking. Don’t tell her – helped by the new packet of LCBs that’s arrived in the kitchen.

Look at this. She’s written me a romantic love message on the packet.

Oh! A two word romantic love message…

So is the answer in Gina’s past? ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the follow-up to ‘Salt in the Wounds’ – is now available to pre-order on Amazon. It will be published in mid-January.

Salt in the Wounds is a brilliant book. Couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend. Can’t wait for book 2 to come out from this great author…”

The Whipping Boy

Where did we leave it last week? Ah yes, a slight accident with the bread. The wife had carelessly left me in charge.

A slight loss of concentration. Forgot the timings. Had to take a wild stab at it.

Don’t worry. She’s none the wiser. “Hmmm…” she said, “This bread hasn’t risen very much.”

I nodded my head sagely. Straight outta Bake Off. “Probably not kneaded enough, dear. Under-proved maybe…”

I got away with it.

And then it struck me. How had I not thought of it before? Twenty-seven years of marriage. The occasional helping of cold tongue pie. And now I have a way out. An excuse. A scapegoat.

A whipping boy.

His name’s Michael Brady. He’s the hero of my novels. And the answer to all my problems.

Forgot to put the bread in? “I was working on Brady, sweetheart.”

Forgot to put the bins out? “Brady, darling. Crucial part of the plot.”

Staring into space and ignoring my wife? “What was that, dear? Just doing some creative thinking. Yes, Brady…”

There’s only one problem Brady can’t protect me from.

Christmas.

Fortunately Amazon are on the case. But not with any degree of accuracy…

As regular readers know, last time there was an Amazon special event their all-knowing, all-powerful algorithm suggested – ‘based on your previous browsing history’ – that I might like to buy an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I thought about it – the woman next door will insist on parking in front of our drive – but it was the merest fraction too wide for the garage.

Now they’ve gone one better. As we limber up for Christmas and Amazon insist my life will be meaningless without Alexa in every room – ‘Alexa, lift the toilet seat for me will you?’ ‘I’m having trouble connecting to the internet’ – they’ve gone one step beyond.

Based on my previous browsing history they’ve suggested I buy…

A pogo jumper.

Not sure what a ‘pogo jumper’ is? It’s a pogo stick on steroids.

Seriously, I have fallen in a bog. I have walked a mile of the Pennine Way in my underpants. I have accidently applied a cow dung poultice to my own leg. Amazon think I should be let loose on a pogo jumper?

‘How did your husband die?’

‘He lost control of his pogo jumper. I told him not to use it on the pier…’

Maybe this is the modern equivalent of Demonic possession. Instead of your head turning through 360 degrees, instead of projectile vomiting if you see a crucifix, maybe your Amazon account goes mad…

Maybe the Dark Lord is down there in Hell, hacking into my browsing history. ‘What next? The battle tank didn’t work. Ah, yes. A rocket-powered pogo stick…’

Mind you, the Dark Lord won’t be needed if I don’t get organised for Christmas.

I’m thinking of buying the wife her own gin still.

You know, cut out the middleman…

Mind you, I’ve made a rod for my own back. Or whatever the maritime equivalent is. I’ve spent the year waxing lyrical about An Dúlamán Irish gin – made from seaweed hand picked by Donegal virgins at the full moon.

And I might need to be careful…

‘I wanted to make a batch specially for you, darling. I know how much you loved that Irish one. Yes, I’ll make it with seaweed. Well, no, sweetheart. Not ordinary seaweed off the beach. I thought when it was low-tide. Really low tide. You could harvest some rare seaweed. At the full moon. There’s that rock pool… Yes, it is a long way out. Yes, I know the tide rushes in and catches people. But I’m only thinking of you, darling…’

I’m delighted to say that ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the second book in the Michael Brady series – is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the link.

Brady stood up and walked over to the window. Tried to process what Frankie had told him. Tried to work out the implications. He turned round. Frankie was bending forward, reaching for her laptop. “You need to prove this to me,” he said. “And you need to do it now. Because there’s no way I’m going to sleep. Not knowing I’ve wasted two weeks. And that Kershaw has known all the time. And that…”

That someone has to tell Ian Foster.”

What did I say in the car? His life was unravelling. This is going to tear it apart.”

King Alfred’s Heir

As regular readers know, I have long considered myself to be the rightful King of Northumberland, descended – on my mother’s side – from King AElla.

Once I’d heard the story from Auntie Marjorie I needed no further convincing – despite the fact that she lived in a semi in Wakefield, rather than a hill fort commanding the Cheviots.

Then my lovely wife took a swab and researched my DNA. “Good God,” she said, “I thought you were from a long line of Yorkshire peasants. You’re Swedish.”

That was enough for me. AElla was dismissed. “So I’m a direct descendant of Eric Bloodaxe?”

“He was Norwegian.”

“Close enough.”

Sadly neither may be correct – especially if behaviour has any bearing on genetics.

If any royal blood pulses in my veins then AElla and Eric are out. And King Alfred is in.

Yes, that one. King of the Anglo-Saxons. And famously associated with cakes…

You know the story. Alfred is on the run from the Vikings. He takes refuge in the hut of a peasant woman. She asks him to watch her cakes – small loaves of bread – baking by the fire. But poor old Alfred is more worried about the Vikings. He lets the cakes burn and ‘is roundly scolded by the peasant woman.’

There you are. Cold tongue pie was alive and well in 871…

“I’m going round to my mother’s,” the peasant woman – whoops, beloved wife – said on Friday morning. “Can I leave you in charge of the bread?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “How many times have I done it before?”

Despite my City and Guilds as a master baker my wife insisted that I write it all down.

15 minutes, bread out of the basket, put it in the Le Creuset dish to bake. Twenty minutes for the rolls, 30 minutes for the bread.

“No problem,” I said. “What could possibly go wrong?”

My wife left. I spoke to Siri. “Hey, Siri, set a timer for…”

Sadly there was a problem. I’d been distracted. Writing the latest chapter. Easily done.

In the time it takes to think, ‘I’ll just finish this sentence and then I’ll set the timer…’ I forgot to set the timer.

So technically I didn’t say, ‘Hey, Siri.’ I said, “£$%& Siri, we’ve forgotten the timer.”

Give AI a couple of years and Siri will say, ‘What do you mean we?’

I took a stab at it. “Hey, Siri, set a timer for … ten minutes.”

Ten minutes passed. A very old car sounded its horn. I walked into the kitchen.

‘Hmmm…’ I thought. ‘That hasn’t risen very much.’

And then – for some unaccountable reason – I pressed the top of the bread. Which meant it had risen even less.

A vague feeling of unease crept over me. “Two minutes, mate,” I said to the bread. “I’ll give you another two minutes to rise. Or prove. Or whatever you’re supposed to do.”

It didn’t do anything. Sat there like a lump of dough. So I stuck it in the oven, already turned on for me because – obviously – finding gas mark 6 is a tricky business.

You know that saying? Lighting never strikes twice? It does…

Somehow between thinking, ‘Now I need to set the timer’ and walking back to my laptop, I forgot.

See above. Writing, distracted, easily done.

I took another wild guess. Let’s just say the bread was well baked. Well baked and squashed.

“Hmmm…” my wife said. “What’s happened here?”

I shrugged. “I did exactly as you told me, darling.”

I don’t think she suspects. So keep it to yourselves, will you?

Being chased by the Vikings is one thing. Being chased by my wife is quite another…

Have not enjoyed a book so much for years. If you enjoy a good detective story I cannot recommend highly enough, this one is a real 5 star page turner.

My new novel ‘Salt in the Wounds’ is now available on your Kindle and in paperback.