International Kittens of Mystery


I'm at one of those authorial crossroads, not quite sure which direction to take and wondering if I can get planning permission to create my own road - a far more entertaining path with lots of twists, good views and connecting all the places a good road should.

So here's my quandary. I'm still waiting for Baen to make a decision on my time travelling novel - they've had it for 14 months. In the past I would have completed the novel sans contract but, today, I find it difficult to motivate myself to spend nine months writing a book that may never see the light of day when I have a queue of other book ideas shouting 'Me! Me!' in my ear.

I'm six chapters into a police procedural with magic. I'm five chapters into a sequel to my mystery novel, An Unsafe Pair of Hands (the manuscript of which has just been requested by a New York agent). I'd like to bring out a Kitten's Guide book. I've been looking again at Nous Sommes Anglais. And, to cap it all, I've decided to try my hand at Urban Fantasy - combining my three loves, magic, mystery and humour.

Which is what I've been doing the last month. I thought I'd trial the experiment by constructing the first three chapters as a standalone short story - which I've done - and then send it out to the big mags and see what they thought. Chapter four would then be a 'setting up' chapter before going into another episode - which I'm now writing - which I'd send out as another short story.

I like the idea. Whether editors and publishers will is another matter.

Now I'm off to complete our ram shelter. We laid the concrete base yesterday, now comes the lifting of the shelter onto its base and the roofing. Unfortunately magic is not an option - so brute strength and craftsmanship is required:)
International Kittens of Mystery

It Never Used To Be Like This In My Day...

"I tried to get rid of them, but they were having a party, eating all my bread, bananas and avocados and swigging bottles of wine they had taken out of the refrigerator,” said Carol White, manager of the Camel Rock restaurant in the quiet village of Scarborough near Cape Point, South Africa.

And to make things worse they ran off without paying.

Not only that but they're above the law - immune from prosecution as they're under age ... and a protected species. Yes, the wine-swigging louts in question were in fact a group of baboons who, having been fed by tourists, had learned two things. One, humans are an inferior species put on this earth to feed baboons and, two, it's easier to steal food from a fridge than it is to find it in the wild. Put the two together and you get Scarborough, South Africa. A frontier town where no banana is safe.

The baboons have burgled houses, raided stores and intimidated inhabitants. Security bars can't stop them. The ingenious baboons push their babies through the bars and get them to open the window latches. They've even taken on the local dogs - the previous top species in Scarborough - in a gang fight. The dogs, with studded collars and mouthfuls of teeth, entered the town from one end while the baboons, in leather jackets they'd stolen from the local store, clicking their fingers and whistling extracts from West Side Story, sashayed in from the other side. Mayhem ensued.

And the animal crime spree is not confined to baboons.

Elephants from the Ang Lue Nai wildlife sanctuary in eastern Thailand turned to crime in 2003. Large numbers blocked roads and used their trunks to steal sugar cane from lorries.

Colin Jones, a builder, hired a bodyguard this year after being attacked by seagulls in Brighton. Steve Jackow followed him wearing a fluorescent bib and a referee’s whistle.

Chippy, a male chimpanzee, was exposed in 2001 as the perpetrator of heavy-breathing phone calls after staff at Blair Drummond Safari Park, in Stirlingshire, recognised his shriek. He had stolen a keeper’s phone and learnt to operate the redial button.

Lewis, a pet cat, was placed under house arrest in Connecticut last year after attacking an Avon lady. He was ordered to stay indoors for the rest of his life.

It's a dangerous world out there, humans.
International Kittens of Mystery

Emergency Hospital Dash

Another exciting weekend on the smallholding and another trip to the ER. This time the result of an accident with ... an axe.

Not the usual type of accident with an axe - we're not those kind of people. No, we found an entirely new way to maim ourselves. The story began on Thursday when, during a prodigious session of log splitting, I split the handle of the axe. So, off we drove the next day to our local DIY store and purchased a new handle. That's when the problems began. Extracting the old handle from the axe head was not easy - not only had we wedged it tight on the handle, we'd then hammered a small metal wedge into the end of the shaft to expand the wood and ensure the axe head never flew off. Even when we wanted it to.

I tried chiseling the wood out. I tried drilling it. And succeeded in bending one drill bit. Whatever wood the handle had been made of when we'd first attached it, it had now seasoned into something with magical properties.

When I suggested that perhaps a trip to the chemist for a bottle of hydrochloric acid to burn the wood off might be a good idea, Shelagh intervened. Why not try and hammer it out with a cold chisel? The remaining plug of wood was honeycombed with drill holes, surely it couldn't take much more to hammer it out.

I hammered. Nothing moved. And then Shelagh, after watching her husband struggle unsuccessfully for two hours, made a huge mistake. She grabbed the chisel. "Let me have a go," she said. A phrase that precedes 60% of all trips to the ER.

Holding the metal chisel with her left hand she smacked hell out of it with the right. Next minute, blood was everywhere. Not dripping blood but a fountain of blood. To say we were shocked would be an understatement. There'd been no cry of pain. Shelagh didn't even know she'd been cut. Neither of us knew where the blood was coming from. You'd expect a hammer and chisel injury to be finger or thumb related. But this one wasn't. Our patio was looking like a CSI crime scene. Blood spatter was everywhere. Then we saw where the blood was coming from. It was spraying from Shelagh's forearm. Pumping even. Like when an artery is severed.

Panic. Absolute unbridled panic. Shelagh clamped an hand over her forearm and I headless-chickened back and forth between the house and the car - grabbing wallet, health card, car keys, extra clothes, locking up - then screeching out the gate en route for the hospital, ten minutes away.

Or possibly twenty minutes. I rounded a bend and nearly hit a tractor. They were fauchaging the hedges. It was 6:45pm on a Friday and they were still at work, blocking the road as the side mounted arm with the flail cutter slashed at the hedge on our right. I couldn't believe it.

"Hit the horn! Let them know we're here!"

I was torn. I can't remember the last time, or even if, I've used the car horn. I'm not even sure I know where it is. I'm not the kind of driver who flashes his lights or honks his horn whenever anyone get in his way. I hate that kind of driver. You see them all the time. I'm an important person and you're in my way. Move over! But this was an emergency. I had to do something!

But what? This was a small country road with deep ditches on either side. Two small cars had trouble passing each other. No amount of horn honking could make the road wider or the tractor smaller.

Time drifted into slow motion hell. Shelagh got angrier - which was probably a good sign - you can't be angry and death's door anemic at the same time.

Can you?

I saw a gap - the kind of gap only an imminent widower could see - and went for it. Luckily it was on the side that didn't have the flailing chains. But it did have the ditch.

We squeezed and slid through, defying gravity and a magnetic ditch. I gunned the car, slued around the next hairpin bend and...

Found the next tractor. They always fauchage in pairs! And this one was coming towards me, chains flailing and no doubt ready to extract revenge against the pushy motorist.

But this was a pushy motorist with his wife's blood all over his T-shirt - not to mention his face and hands. A fact that must have registered with the tractor driver. Strange blood spattered man with screaming wife approaching at speed. Reverse!

He reversed and I shot past - again avoiding the flailing chains. At the junction at the top of the hill I braked hard and managed a breath - my first official one since leaving the house - and grabbed a quick glance left and right. Then Shelagh took a trembling hand off the gaping wound and said," Oh, it's stopped bleeding."


"It's stopped bleeding."

Naturally I couldn't believe it. And I'm a person who spends half his life in a state of bemused incredulity. How can it have stopped bleeding? A minute earlier blood was pumping from her arm in one metre high jets. Had she run out of blood?

No. A debate ensued. Do we go back to the house or carry on to the hospital? The sound of flailing hedge shearers made up our mind. And surely the cut had got to be looked at? It might only be stopped temporarily.

So off we shot to the hospital and queued at the Urgences. By then we'd surmised that a shard of metal must have flown off the chisel when the hammer had struck it and shot sideways into Shelagh's left arm. Having active imaginations, we then postulated that the shard of metal was now either sealing the cut artery - and therefore preventing further blood spurts - or was inside her artery and whizzing around Shelagh's blood stream - probably piloted by a group of killer bacteria.

Luckily our French was not up to sharing all our theories with the doctor. But we tried. And after he stopped laughing he assured us that no boat-shaped shards of metal were circulating in Shelagh's bloodstream. An X-ray was ordered and a half hour later back came a picture of a small piece of metal lodged in Shelagh's arm. The magnification wasn't large enough to see if it was being piloted but the suspicion must have been there as a course of antibiotic depth charges was prescribed.

The metal though would have to stay. It was not easy to spot and it wasn't anywhere vital. An observation that didn't sit very well with Shelagh who regarded the entirety of her arm as eminently vital. And don't you have any magnets? Shelagh has long been a believer in the Lex Luther school of surgical practice and assumed all hospitals would have super magnet 'metal shard suckers.' But, sad to relate, in the real world our tax euros are put to more mundane purchases.

Life is now sliding back towards normal. I removed the last remains of the old wooden handle from the axe - by immersing it in my Lex Luther death watch beetle and woodworm preparation - and Shelagh is alive, well and setting off metal detectors at all good airport security stations.
International Kittens of Mystery

Murder Stone - It's Official

We went along to our first village patrimoine (heritage) society do on Saturday. It was billed as a morning renovating a holy fountain, a lunchtime barbecue and an afternoon trip to see the Pierre Tomberesse (our dolmen and aforeblogged murder stone - yes, our dolmen really does have a name)

As is usual in France a ten o'clock start means sometime around ten thirty, and by ten thirty a surprising number of people had arrived armed with billhooks, slashers, scythes and wooden stakes. And we hadn't even got to the afternoon trip to the murder stone:)

The fontaine turned out to be a bubbling spring at the bottom of a steep cow-lined field. The spring source had been cleaned up and stone lined so that it looked like a well - a two foot deep well with a pipe going into the side to feed the water into the stream for which it was the source. Our job was to apply the finishing touches - a stone cap, reattach the old cross, fence it off from the cows, build a stile for visitor access and clear the brambles and undergrowth from the path.

Also being France, we had the assistance of what in England would be called an antique tractor. In France they're not only very common but also still used - often for shopping! Ours was a Massey Ferguson 140 - originally built in the 60s.

Job done and no one hospitalised - which was a surprise given the large number of heavy weaponry - the workforce climbed the newly-cleared track to attend the barbecue. Which is when even more people turned up. And out came the benches and trestle tables. This was the first time we'd seen such an event since leaving the South of France. There, it had been common - every time there was a village fete the whole village would turn out, put up the trestle tables and spend the next several hours eating, drinking and solving the world's problems. All you could eat and all you could drink for a ridiculously small amount of money. But in Normandy most of the village fetes we'd seen had been more like English ones - with car boot sales, games and cycle races.

On Saturday it was a return to the old days. Forty villagers and a neverending supply of food and drink - including something blue, extremely alcoholic and homemade. Naturally this went on for hours. And what better way to conclude the festivities than an afternoon walk to see a public execution?

Public execution? Indeed, for, as we were to find out, our dolmen was more famous not as a piece of Neolithic architecture but as a site of judicial execution. Everyone knew the story and everyone wanted to have a go.

Here's a picture of our dolmen. The Pierre Tomberesse - which very roughly translated with a bit of artistic license means The Stone of the Fallen.

It's about eight feet high and the massive granite slab that forms the roof is where the executions took place.

Here's a picture of the roof. As was demonstrated - several times - on Saturday, the prisoner would be laid out on the slab with his or her head placed in the head-shaped depression in the top left. The executioner would then wield a two-handed sword and - as old women knitted excitedly in the front row - remove the offender's head.

I am tempted to have a dig around the base and inside of the dolmen. But then again...

PS There's an interesting legend about the stone - if you see a spectral blackened image of a person holding onto their head in the picture above then ... there may be a murderer in your family:)

International Kittens of Mystery

Perseids - anyone else see them?

For countless years the Perseid meteor shower has come and gone unobserved by me - I forget, the weather's cloudy, or I fall asleep. This year I saw them. By accident.

When I went to bed the sky was overcast, the outlook was poor and I was resolved to pass on the opportunity for another year. Then several owls and two kittens decided to intervene. At 1 am. So, wide awake, I thought I'd open a window and have a look - just in case. And was rewarded with a cloudless, crystal clear sky. No moon, no mist, not even a shimmer amidst the million points of light. The Milky Way was prominent and - flash! - there was the first meteor. A small line racing across the sky to the south east for a quarter of a second. I watched for about five minutes counting six meteors - all in roughly the same area, most carving the same course.

Definitely worth the effort. The kittens and two of the owls agreed.
International Kittens of Mystery

The Murder Stone

Had a very interesting visit lunchtime from a member of the village patrimoine (heritage) committee asking if he could bring a party of fifty people to see our dolmen next month. Not that he actually used the word 'dolmen' - from my spattering of French it sounded much more like murder stone - 'pierre de meutrier' or something similar with a lot of pierres and meutriers in it.

And they're going to clean it up and clear a path to it for us. Excellent! It's currently covered in brambles. So, come late August, I'll post some pictures of our murder stone.

In case anyone is wondering why it's called a murder stone - and I know I am - it's supposed to be because of a local legend. Or maybe far more than a legend. When the estate agent was showing us the property he took us to the dolmen and told us that - according to local history - this was a place where human sacrifices were carried out. People were brought here, placed on the stone roof, their heads placed in that head-shaped depression and...

It was then that I noticed the red tint covering the head-shaped depression in the stone. A very fresh looking red tint. How old was this story? The estate agent peered over for a better look and, being an urban estate agent, decided that now was a very good time to beat a hasty retreat - if not a running-for-your-life screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs I-live-in-a-town-not-the-pagan-countryside sort of retreat.

Watch this space for further details. I am determined to get to the bottom of this legend.

International Kittens of Mystery

Author Tea - Web chat

I'm doing a web chat at noon EST (that's 6pm CET, 5pm BST and 9am PST) today. It's my first ever visit to a chat room - so there's plenty of chance for me to get lost amongst the virtual furniture and maybe even fall out of the window. But I'll be there for a couple of hours - maybe longer if I can't find my way out.

The site is here and you enter the chat room by entering a name at the top right of the page.

Apparently it's a moderated chat using UserPlane and here's a few of the guidelines I've been given:

In the blue colored box, you will type in your comments and responses. Please only type in TWO lines at a time. The program automatically cuts off after two lines and does not tell you where it stopped. You will see your whole post, but others will only see part of it. You transmit by clicking on SEND or hitting ENTER on your keyboard.

If what you have to say takes more than two lines, just type … before you hit SEND. When you've finished, type DONE.

We'll chat informally a few minutes until guests arrive. When five guests show or it is 12:10, the moderator will formally begin the chat by explaining how the chat works and announcing the following rules:

* To ask a question, type ? The moderator will call people in order.
* To make a comment, type ! and the moderator will call on you as convenient.

The moderator will briefly introduce you, then pass the chat over to you for your own opening comments. In the meantime, she will start taking requests for questions. You will see other people popping up with ?--just keep typing in your opening comments.

When you say DONE, the moderator will call on questioners. You answer questions, say DONE and themoderator calls on the next. If the audience runs out of questions, the moderator will ask some. You are also welcome to interject other comments.

So if you'd like to chat you know where I am. I might even bring an international kitten of mystery with me.
International Kittens of Mystery

Nous Sommes Anglais: Chapter Thirteen (Headers and Handwriting)

To recap: it's September 1995. We'd just survived eight months in France and then this happened. Someone stole my identity and grabbed our life savings. And, according to a witness description - that someone might be David Jarvis, our estate agent - the man who I arranged to have all the evidence sent to...

That must have been the reason he'd delayed so long in sending the faxes. He'd been sifting through the bundle and suddenly saw the word CASTLENAU flashing neon-lit back at him - probably alternating with the words 'guilty bastard'.

And it must have been one hell of a shock. It was a header page, not part of the actual fax itself, but a page of A4 with all the details concerning the sender, the destination, everything. I doubt he even knew it had been sent as part of the fax.

He'd have taken one look at it, panicked and spent the next day wondering what to do. He'd have to send something as he knew I was waiting. So he removes the incriminating page and posts the rest.

Then another thought hits him. He'd only bought himself a few days time. Someone's bound to notice the Castlenau post office stamp eventually. So he invents Peter Kennedy; gives him a job in Castlenau - handy for the post office - and keys to our house. Then he sends the missing page.

It fitted.

Case solved - send for the black cap.

Then I looked closer at the page of fax details.

La Poste at Castlenau was not the only stamp. There was another one for Villeurbanne, wherever that was. Both stamps contained a date and time. Both were dated 16th May. But the Castlenau stamp said 17h. Villeurbanne said 14h15.

The fax originated at Villeurbanne?

I dived for our road Atlas. Villeurbanne, Villeurbanne, I sifted though hundreds of French towns beginning with Ville. Until I found it; Villeurbanne, page 70, département 69.

It was a suburb of Lyon.

I checked the telephone code for Lyon - 72 33. Close enough. The fax came from 72 34, Villeurbanne.

Which opened a considerable number of questions. Where did La Poste at Castlenau come into this equation? Was someone trying to make it look as though the faxes were local by routing them via Castlenau? To hide the fact that they were coming from Lyon? Or to frame David Jarvis?

And where were the faxes from Mutual Friendly going to? Villeurbanne? Was someone going to Lyon to collect their faxes or having them sent on elsewhere?

I rang Andy. I had about five minutes-worth of solid facts to impart. He said he'd add David Jarvis to his list of names to check out. But he had some bad news from the Irish Police. They'd asked the Spanish police to investigate the bank account in Bossost and had been told it would be at least four weeks before they could even think about it. They were far too busy.

So much for international co-operation.

In all the excitement I forgot to ask what fax number they'd used to contact my impersonator.

I'd have to save that for next time. Meanwhile, I'd gather everything together and try to construct a time-line of events. There were too many stray faxes and telephone messages running around in my head. I needed to put everything down on paper and impose some sort of structure.

(next instalment: the net closes)

International Kittens of Mystery

The Bushman of Fisherman's Wharf

Having survived my first night in the Bay Area, the next day dawned with a forecast of fog and 60°F temperatures for San Francisco and maybe slightly warmer inland. So I dressed accordingly and went for a stroll to the Hayward Park mall. As soon as I stepped outside the skies cleared and I started sweating from places I didn't even know I could sweat.

This was my introduction to the weird weather of San Francisco which can be cool and foggy with a cold breeze in one part of the city and hot and sunny in another.

In the afternoon I took the Caltrain - my first ever double decker train - into the city for a stock signing at Borderlands Books. And saw my first Indian restaurant for 16 years. Valencia Street had two of them in fact. And then I hit the tourist sights - taking a tram down to Fisherman's Wharf.

Where I met the bushman (pictured below)

If you look closely you can just make out a knee protruding from the left of the bush - just above the can. And you can see the crowd gathered behind waiting for the next victim.

The bushman raises money - hence the can - by putting on a show. At least that's what it looks like. But I have a suspicion that he makes more money from contract killing. What better way to arrange an accident for the unsightly relative with a heart condition than to take them for a pleasant stroll to the wharf and introduce them to ... the bush that roars.

And he does it very well. He waits, holding two branches of foliage in front of him, until the unsuspecting tourist is about a yard away then he spread his arms, jumps up and roars.

People jump even higher. Young children, ailing millionaire husbands with very young wives, all of them become stratospheric. It's very funny and everyone - except the disinherited children of the dying millionaires - roar their approval.