Friday, March 29, 2013

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna--excerpt

Amazon Kindle
I am reading The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, and it's a delightful book, one to be savored. The descriptions are rich and vivid, recalling an older way of village life in Britain. This book will take you there and draw you in. Here's an excerpt.

At the top of the hill, Phineas left the road and crossed the two humped fields called Peny Brin, Bill Sikes, with a sudden show of interest in the morning, scattering rabbits feeding among the moon daisies and buttercups, Phineas’s boots shining like wet tar in the dew. And up into Cutterbach, a stretch of ancient woodland flushed each September by the Batch Valley Chase, home to badgers and owls as well as foxes, and fallow deer, relics of an ornamental deer park and a time when the Strange family and the village were young still.

They were on the very edge of the wood overlooking the valley, on a ride rutted with the recent weather and punched with the hooves of horses, when with no hint of its coming, the sun rose, and hung there, burning the trees on the skyline black, before ballooning above them as if released, a cock somewhere below crowing as if caught napping as its light swept across the valley.

Phineas felt it touch his face, warming it like a cow’s summer breath, fragrant with flowering grasses and meadow herbs and clover. With all the scents of summer ripening in the valley, under a creamy, blue and white marbled sky.
He stood looking down at the scene, as if coming on it for the first time. A field of buttercups seemed to slide, glistening, off the side of a hill, as if melting under the sweep of the sun, and among the trees above them the pale fire of rhododendrons. The meadow grasses falling away below him glinting here and there under frail webs of dew and mist, catching the light like things hidden. And the river, smoking in the sudden warmth, with the houseboats, the four paddle steamers that had once plied the home waters and a Victorian Thames, now tied permanently to the land, held there on their ropes, and the island called Snails Eye sitting at the heart of the river, where it bulged on a meander like a lake.
The small black and white farms of the valley among orchards, and the houses and half-timbered cottages of Batch Magna, a Marcher village, the cross of St George, flown from the Steamer Inn, a riposte to the red dragon of Wales above the door of the Pughs’ post office and shop. The cricket field and pavilion behind the churchyard, and the great, immemorial yew, the centuries in its vast girth corseted with rusting iron bands, shading a church which bore in its nave the marks of Norman chisels, and among its gravestones a sundial which told the time in Jerusalem.
And the tall, star-shaped chimneys and gabled black and white timbers of Batch Hall, home to the Strange family for over four hundred years, set with Elizabethan ornateness in what was left of its park, its lawns, under horse chestnuts heavy with bloom, running down to the Cluny. And the castle, a fortress once against border incursions and the forces of Cromwell, open now to Welsh rain and rabbits, the archers’ loopholes in the ruined towers blinded with creeper, its red sandstone turning to coral in the sun.
The forgotten country, this part of the Marches had been called. A country largely ignored by the rest of the world, apart from a trickle of tourists on their way to somewhere else, and the odd company rep who had taken the wrong turning, in a place with need for few road signs. A valley lost among its ancient wooded hillsides and winding high-banked lanes, on a road to nowhere in particular.
Phineas had arrived there by accident, after taking a wrong turning himself, when on a road to nowhere in particular. Falling into the valley, as he came to see it, like Alice, and five years later was still there.
He thought occasionally, in a vague sort of way, about moving on, getting back to what he vaguely thought of as the real world. But there never seemed to be any particular hurry to do so.
And that of course was the trouble with the river, as he’d had occasion to point out before, to himself and to others, sparing no one. Whether boating up and down it, or simply sitting on it, there never seemed to be any particular hurry to do anything.
Well, now he had the feeling that all that was about to change. That now, with the General no longer at the wheel, they stood exposed to more unsettled weather. That the real world, which had always been over there somewhere, beyond the blue hills, was perhaps about to come to them.
He whistled for Sikes, busy putting up a few panicking pheasants and the smell of wild garlic as he blundered through the undergrowth after the scent of fox or badger.
They had walked this wood together in all the seasons. In autumn, when it ran like a damp fire through the trees, and in weather that had shrivelled Sikes’s testicles as he padded warily through undergrowth crackling with ice or got himself buried in snowdrifts along the rides. The winter bareness like a ruin now in early summer, overgrown with new growth, letting in the sun and with the sound of birdsong up under its roof.
The sunlight lay among the drifts of bluebells and red campion, and reached with long slender fingers deep into the wood, where the new grass and ferns were tender in the shade between trees. And above him, high in the green and golden heart of an oak, a blackcap opened in sudden song. The sweet, poignantly brief notes flung, carelessly, on the morning air like a handful of bright coin.

About the author

    Peter Maughan, an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, is married and lives in the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, and the backdrop to the Batch Magna novels. All the books in the series feature converted paddle steamers on Batch Magna’s river the Cluny, and he is a former houseboat dweller himself, living for a while in the mid-1970s (the time frame for the novels) on a converted Thames sailing barge among a small colony of houseboats on the Medway, deep in rural Kent. An idyllic time, heedless days of freedom in that other world of the river which inspired the novels, set in a place called Batch Magna.
    The Cuckoos of Batch Magna is available for Kindle or print at Amazon.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chris Redding - INCENDIARY!

At Amazon

Chris Redding, author of INCENDIARY, an explosive romantic suspense, is my guest this week.
What if your past comes back to haunt you?
Chelsea James, captain of the Biggin Hill First Aid Squad, has had ten years to mend a broken heart and forget about the man who'd left her hurt and bewildered. Ten years to get her life on track. But fate has other plans.
Fire Inspector Jake Campbell, back in town after a decade, investigates a string of arsons, only to discover they are connected to the same arsons he'd been accused of long ago. Now his past has come back to haunt him, and Chelsea is part of that past.
Together, Chelsea and Jake must join forces to defeat their mutual enemy. Only then can they hope to rekindle the flames of passion. But before they can do that, Chelsea must learn to trust again. Their lives could depend on it.

The electricity of an impending storm raised the hair on Chelsea James’ arms.
She stood, barefoot, on her wide front porch, watching the wind almost blowing the trees back and forth.
And through it all, her dead sister’s voice played in her mind.
‘It’s like nature has to violently clean up,’ Morgan used to say when they stood in this very spot.
They’d both loved storms then.
The power of nature impressed Chelsea while Morgan concentrated on the aftermath. Odd that Morgan never thought of the aftermath of her own actions.
‘How so?’ Chelsea would ask her older-by-a-few-minutes sister.
Morgan’s eyes would be wide. ‘Because a storm gives the trees a haircut, gets rid of the ones that are weak. And on top of that, the rain helps the ones that do survive,’ Morgan had answered.
Chelsea nodded.
But this storm didn’t bring with it the same renewal. Somewhere deep in Chelsea, she knew this storm was different. This storm could bring destruction.
Or worse, this storm might not bring the wanted rain for those trees that survived.
Chelsea sighed. Right now she missed her sister more than anything.
Then her firehouse pager went off. “Unit 37 you have a fully involved structure fire on Briar Lane.”
Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her husband, two sons, one dog and three rabbits.  She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. When she isn’t writing, she works for her local hospital You can find her at and Her books are filled with romance, suspense and thrills.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Batch Magna on the Welsh Marches

At Amazon (new cover)
My guest this week is Peter Maughan, a gifted writer I met on Twitter. He’s the author of the delightful Batch Magna books, home of a group of wonderfully eccentric houseboat dwellers.
     The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, now a Kindle edition under The Cluny Press imprint, is the first in the Batch Magna series (with two finished sequels waiting their turn), a novel recollected in tranquillity - or any rate in advanced middle age.
     It was born out of nostalgia, of a time in the mid 1970s spent gloriously free living in a small colony of houseboats, a bohemian outpost in a village on the River Medway in Kent. The summers when life was moved outside – particularly in the long, torrid one of ’76, when it seemed summer was all we knew, summer and the river. Boating or swimming in it, or coming together for another jolly on one of the moorings, for weekend lunches that ended up in the evening, and the parties that saw in yet another summer dawn. And the winters when the lamps were lit and the smell of log fires in the air, snug around the stove below when there was rain on the deck, or the owls in the wood across the river calling in the frosty dark.
      I carried those memories of place and people around with me for years, until we moved to the Welsh Marches and I found a home for them in a river valley there, in a place I called Batch Magna. The houseboats from those days on the Medway were converted Thames sailing barges; for my houseboats, on Batch Magna's river the Cluny, I used converted paddle steamers (once part of an equally fictional Victorian trading company, the Cluny Steamboat Company) because they too speak of fun and another time. And it seemed entirely right somehow that they should have ended up in quite dotty, amiable decline in Batch Magna.
     For the fourth novel (a work in progress) in the series, Man Overboard (which opens with one of the houseboats now turned back into a working paddler), I am heavily indebted to a real-life paddle steamer skipper, Captain John Megoran, master of the PS Kingswear, the last coal-fired paddle steamer in Britain, for unstinting help with technical details. John's vessel, after her years plying the Medway, is now back in the home waters of the River Dart in Devon. In Man Overboard, my paddle steamer, the PS Batch Castle, chugging up to Shrewsbury and back, plies the home waters of the River Cluny, carrying passengers and goods, and deck cargoes of livestock from the fields on market days, and crates of chickens, geese and Christmas turkeys, and fun – and most of all, fun.

    The Batch Magna novels are feelgood books (The Wind in the Willows for grown-ups, as one Amazon reviewer described Cuckoos), pure escapism - for me now, looking back, and I hope for my readers.

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna 

     When Sir Humphrey Miles Pinkerton Strange, 8th baronet and huntin’ shooting’ and fishin’ squire of the village of Batch Magna in the Welsh Marches, departs this world for the Upper House (as he had long vaguely thought of it, where God no doubt presides in ermine over a Heaven as reassuringly familiar as White’s or Boodle’s), what’s left of his decaying estate passes, through the ancient law of entailment, to distant relative Humph, an amiable, overweight short-order cook from the Bronx.
      Sir Humphrey Franklin T Strange, 9th baronet and squire of Batch Magna, as Humph now most remarkably finds himself to be, is persuaded by his Uncle Frank, a small time Wall Street broker with an eye on the big time, to make a killing by turning the sleepy backwater into a theme-park image of rural England – a vacation paradise for free-spending US millionaires.
     But while the village pub and shop, with the lure of the dollar in their eyes, put out the Stars and Stripes in welcome, the tenants of the estate’s dilapidated houseboats are above any consideration of filthy lucre and stand their ground for tradition’s sake … and because they consider eviction notices not to be cricket.
     Each disgruntled faction sees the other as the unwelcome cuckoo in the family nest.
     So, led by randy pulp-crime writer Phineas Cook, and Lt-Commander James Cunningham DSO, DSC and Bar, RN (ret) – a man with a glass eye for each day of the week, painted with scenes from famous British naval victories and landscapes that speak of England – the motley crew run up the Union Jack and battle ensign and prepare to engage.
     But this is Batch Magna, a place where anything might happen. And often does…

About the author 
     Peter Maughan, an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, is married and lives in the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, and the backdrop to the Batch Magna novels. All the books in the series feature converted paddle steamers on Batch Magna’s river the Cluny, and he is a former houseboat dweller himself, living for a while in the mid-1970s (the time frame for the novels) on a converted Thames sailing barge among a small colony of houseboats on the Medway, deep in rural Kent. An idyllic time, heedless days of freedom in that other world of the river which inspired the novels, set in a place called Batch Magna.
A wattpad post by Peter.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Time of Death excerpt


Alex, the artist. After a tree falls on her house, she joins her aunt on an unspoiled island, but something wakens her family psychic streak. She draws eerily accurate scenes of violence, but she knows nothing about them.
Connor, the prosecutor. He’s building a case against a drug lord one piece of evidence at a time. For him it’s personal, and he can’t risk a relationship with a witness, especially a psychic who’ll blow his case out of the water. 
Rollins, the killer. He’s a cog in a much bigger wheel, and the witness to his acts of violence threatens his operation and his life. He’ll do anything to see that doesn’t happen.
When violence is near, Alex is compelled to draw the scene. While she relaxes on an unspoiled island near Charleston, South Carolina, violence disrupts the tranquil scene when a dead man takes shape on her sketch pad. She knows nothing about the man, but the killer believes she witnessed the murder and sets his sights on Alex. After seeing her drawing, the police think she's involved, and the prosecutor fears a psychic witness will destroy his case. Now, with danger at every turn, she must uncover a killer before he destroys her and her loved ones.

Ace Basin, near Charleston, SC. Dave Allen Photo
Alex smoothed the paper on her board and took a number 2 stick of Payne’s gray from the box, gazing toward the water. The bleached skeleton of a tree lay on its side, smooth and ghostly in the fog. Thin light from the morning sun touched the trunk, giving it a shimmering, ethereal glow. She began drawing, selecting pastels without conscious thought. She worked steadily, intent on capturing the scene before her.
When she was satisfied, she replaced the used sheet with a fresh one and shifted so she could see the old pier. The last wisps of mist hung there, creating the image of a translucent walkway floating above the water. The fog hid the broken board—senseless violence. She sketched without thought, her hand moving automatically over the paper. The pier faded from her vision as her fingers flew. A face, swollen and distorted, took shape under the charcoal.
She blinked, startled by what she’d done. Not the mist-shrouded wooden structure, but a dead face. The face that belonged to yesterday’s body, so misshapen she couldn’t tell if she’d ever seen it. Shaken, she ripped the paper off her board and crammed it into her bag. Later she’d examine it, think about what she’d drawn. Now she wanted only to get away. She packed her materials and hurried from the cove, heading toward Chicora’s breezier ocean side to clear the images from her mind, to concentrate on happier things.