Second book in the Gift Trilogy

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On Sale Now
The Gift

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Friday, 22 March 2019

Location, location . . .

This is the 7th day of wall wall-to-wall coverage of the Christchurch massacre, much the same length of time as media interest in the Manchester massacre. Both events had their heroes, both were subsequently commemorated by flowers and candles, and both have been weaponised, one by anti-islamists, the other by a media laden with its own agendas.

If I begin my next sentence with ‘What about’, I’m not on the verge of committing the new cardinal sin of ‘Whataboutism’ or the more serious sin of attacking an entire religion or culture. In Manchester and Christchurch the media spotlight focused on heroes and saints, and both events illustrate equally the beauty of human nature and its foulness.

And with that warning:

 What about the recent massacre in the Philippines where 20 Filipino Christians were murdered in a church attack in January 2019?
In Egypt on Palm Sunday 2017, twin suicide bombings took place at St George's Church and the Coptic Cathedral of St Mark's killing 47 Christians.
In Nigeria, the slaughter of Christians continues, 120 massacred since February this year. In one attack, eyewitnesses described how their assailants divided into three groups. One group shot and killed people, another set fire to homes as people fled, and a third group shot those fleeing. 
Such massacres were of course reported, but, crucially, in a more low key fashion and largely forgotten a day or two after. They did not dominate the news cycle for seven days running.

The question is why?

 It is not, I think, the result of some sinister anti Christian conspiracy or a matter of ‘white’ lives mattering more than ‘brown’ lives. Christchurch clearly  disproves that. The answer is largely ‘location, location.’ Lives lost in some locations accrue greater significance than lives lost in others.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Dunraven Castle

While much of America was buried under snow, Britain experienced a week of unseasonable, February warmth. We did what the English do under such circumstances— went to the seaside—Southerndown—a forty minute drive from Monmouth

We walked the cliffs and walked through history, from the early Jurassic to the present day.

Worth reading in conjunction with the picture below

One of many Iron Age forts (500 BC) lining the coast.

Dunraven itself is a corruption of the Celtic Dyndryfan, meaning the fortress of the three rocks, and defence against the sea remained a constant over the centuries. Vikings ravaged coastlines throughout Europe between 800 and 1020 AD.

In 1050 AD Saxons burnt Dunraven. In 1080 it suffered the depredations of Rhys ap Tewdwr in his war against Iestyn ap Gwrgan, the last prince of Glamorgan. Sounds mysterious and grand but the equivalent to a gang war fighting over turf. A bigger gang war was to come in the form of the Normans who systematically took over much of Wales. The Boteliers or Butlers ruled up until the first part of the C16th, when it came into the hands of the Vaughans through the marriage of Ann Butler to Walter Vaughan of Bradwardine, Herefordshire.

The coastline with its rocks and storms proved ideal terrain for 'wreckers' who lured ships to their doom with lights before plundering the wreckage for loot. One of the most infamous of these wreckers was Walter Vaughan of Dunraven. His is the story of a man who turned bad.

Following a shipwreck, Walter Vaughan rescued a large number of men, swimming out with a rope and dragging them to safety. Stirred by this, he tried to interest the authorities in something more organised than a man with a rope. Soured by their lack of interest, he went to the bad, involving himself in a thriving ‘wrecking’ business along the coast. Stories have it, he tied lamps to sheep tails, the wandering lights fooling ships to come dangerously close and fall foul of the rocks. From then on, his life was cursed. 

Three of his sons, drowned, one in a bucket of whey, his favourite son left him to travel abroad, and his wife died from a broken heart.

Vaughan met his nemesis in the form of Matt the Iron Hand. In happier days, Vaughan, a respected magistrate, had Matt arrested and in the ensuing struggle, Matt lost his hand, which was replaced by an iron hook. Now, though, Vaughan and Matt were partners in the wrecking business. It is unlikely that Matt ever forgot why it was he wore an iron hook, or who was responsible, and vengeance takes many forms.

 One night, during a terrible storm, Vaughan stood on the cliff top organising the lights that would lure another ship to its doom. The ship foundered and all were lost, but for a solitary seaman who struggled ashore. Matt was authorised to kill the potential witness. In doing so, he recognised Vaughan’s last remaining son and with some glee cut off the dying man’s hand with its Vaughan ring. This he presented to Vaughan, and we can only imagine his reaction when he held his dead son’s bloody hand with its family ring.  Walter Vaughan never recovered and reputedly died mad and alone.

 In 1642 it was sold the Wyndhams who held it well into the C20th . In the C19th the family, like so many Victorians, built something grand.

And there, the story ends, C20th shenanigans destroying a heritage. The fine Victorian mansion with its castellated walls became a refuge for soldiers in the two World Wars. After World War II it became a WTA Guest House (Workers Travel Association) and when they couldn’t afford the lease the Wyndhams proposed turning the grounds into a caravan park holding 800 caravans.  Glamorgan mercifully refused planning permission, and so, in 1963, the entire building was razed to the ground by the Wyndhams through penury or pique? I don’t know.  

What remains are remnants and a lovingly preserved walled kitchen garden

Aspects of the Kitchen Garden including views of the sea, and old greenhouse, castellated walls, ornamental pool and a Victorian ice house
The ghost of a Blue Lady is said to haunt the grounds but I failed to get a picture.

 That fine 'Norman' tower in the distance is a Victorian Ice House.

And finally, because we all love cottages

For more detail

Friday, 8 March 2019


You can sell a book by its cover. You just have to hope the book matches up to it. What’s fascinating is the creative interplay that goes into its making the occasional false start and mutual sense of when something’s not all together right. It helps when you have no fear of offending or being offended; it helps to be honest.

The process begins with a detailed questionnaire, highlighting the key aspects of the book; remember, the cover artist has no idea what it’s about.

A blurb helps
Bloodline is the second book in The Gift Trilogy, which traces the occult rivalry between two sisters, Elizabeth and Elsie McBride. In the first book, Elizabeth escapes the forces that seek to corrupt her. In Bloodline, Elsie faces the same struggle—one even more intense with both her soul and the world at stake.

The struggle is played out against a backdrop of approaching war as magic manipulates key figures and real life events in the unseen shadow of Hell.

A key section of the book can also prove useful. This scene leads up to where Elsie makes a decision, one that proves irrevocable:

Emma had insisted on travelling by plane, disembarking at Omsk, where a heavily laden sledge and a team of dogs awaited them. As the day neared its close, Elsie understood why. There were no roads, the landscape enveloped by snow. It stretched as far as the eye could see, a gleaming white sea. All day the dogs panted, the only other sound the hiss of sledge on snow. All day they travelled, rising and dipping on frozen billows etched by a sharp Siberian wind. Night fell, and still they travelled, dogs and the two travellers buoyed by strange magic.

Every so often, Elsie slid her eyes sideways, keeping her head straight. In the cold night air, Silverman looked younger, her features sharply chiselled and smooth.  She reminded Elsie of an old illustration of the Snow Queen, and she wondered if everyone carried ghosts from days past, shadow spiders lurking at the back of the mind, biding their time.

"We are nearly there," Silverman said at last. "They have been waiting."

On the basis of this snippet, it seemed a good idea to go with something like this—a preliminary rough

But can a snippet that may or may not lead to a strong visual image capture a book? What was the essential theme of the story? Maria Zannini caught it, her mind fishing in the dark and landing a gem.
There were three minor variants akin to the Goldilocks problem—the porridge being either too hot or too cold. One, we thought, was too in your face,

 the other possibly too subtle.

 The rest is history and hopefully the writing is as good as its cover.

And I almost forgot, the almost as important back cover.

Buy it now (as they say) Bloodline 
Also on

And for those in search of a cover: