richard pierce

richard pierce

1 November 2014

Goalkeepers - in memory of Senzo Meyiwa

It is always awful when one of our Goalkeepers' Union is taken from us. Even more so when it's through violence, not age.

So, in memory of Senzo Meyiwa, two poems from my past (which have probably appeared on this blog before), about those most noble of football players.


It’s always like this.
The last line of defence,
The final cliché.
We are the ones who suffer.

Even in victory,
Each weakness, misjudgement,
Is sentenced a callous on our selves,
And in defeat,
Ours is the honour called to task.

We are the guardians of the grail,
Keepers of spirit and soul,
The mysteries of the game,
Always carrying guilt and glory
In our bootbag.

Lev Yashin

He dreamed he was in goal again last night,
watched the ball in flight,
caught the star with an outstretched arm
against the gleaming night, the golden night.

He dreamed he was out on the green last night,
heard the crowd call him,
flew through the heavy air like breath,
black against the shining light, the silver night.

He dreamed he was whole again last night …

(This poem was read by Josh Wicks, then DC Washington goalkeeper, at the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Festival in Washington, D.C., in October 2009).

27 October 2014

#keepingitpeel running order from 25 October 2014

I spent most of yesterday listening back to my #keepingitpeel show on Radio Stradbroke that I'd presented live on Saturday evening. The music just keeps on getting better, and I'm almost ok with hearing my own voice out of the speakers. The best thing, of course, was that there were lots of listeners and lots of social media banter, which always pleases me. It means Radio Stradbroke is firmly there, breaking new music to a worldwide audience, and worldwide it is indeed. I'll be doing it again next year.

The podcast is up at for a limited time.

And here's the running order, just so you can go find those marvellous new bands yourselves:

Grinderswitch - Pickin' The Blues
John Peel Undertones excerpt
Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device
Magazine - Shot By Both Sides
Marmozets - Born Young & Free
Stormbeist - Til Vaapen
The Coathangers - Shut Up
The Monotrons - Game's On
Amusement Park Official - Roar Ivory
Bakhtinians - The Trial
Frag mich nach Sonnenschein - aahm laut
The Black Tambourines - I Wanna Stay Away
The Comsat Angels - Waiting For A Miracle
Heel & Toe - Silver Scratches
Robert Wyatt - Shipbuilding
Ian Prowse - Lest We Forget
Billy Bragg - A New England
Billy Bragg - A Pict Song
Avind - Stummande Moerke
The Irrepressibles - Two Men In Love
Tom Cox - In the Wrong Company
Emilie Storaas - Survival
The Irrepressibles - Always On My Mind
Ferdarhag - Elvis
Cathedrals & Cars - Posterity Measures
Cathedrals & Cars - A Lost Body in Winter
Cathedrals & Cars - Blood Relatives
Cathedrals & Cars - Ivy
Cathedrals & Cars - El Alamein
The White Stripes - Ball and Biscuit
Go! Save The Hostages - I've Wondered What It Would Be Like For Me If That Shark Got You
Inuuro - Lost Siren
The Beatles - Come Together (Rhythm Scholar Remix)
Rawtee - To Eat The Planets
SED - Spooked
Joy Division - Atmosphere
Gaba Kulka - Wielkie Wrazenie
Sassy Kraimspri - Riot
Eva Black - Bitter Pill
The Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet (John Peel Session 5th April 1978)

25 October 2014


You’re too old for me
To teach you any lessons
Any more.

I’m too old to believe
In any lessons
I might have been taught.

We are all born
At the foot of a well.
We all have to learn to build
A ladder from the wood
Of life.

Often, the parts don’t fit
When we try them at first,
And we have to rebuild
And rebuild
Until the puzzle completes.

Out in the fresh air and light
At the top we are alive.
I am still reaching for
The final rung.

R, 19 October 2014 - for Charlotte's 18th birthday

11 October 2014

Life without ginseng

I suffer from mild depression. It may not appear mild to me or those around me, but, compared to those millions suffering severe depression, it is mild. Trust me. I also suffer from any number of physical problems, which are either signs of me ageing, or a sign that I was born imperfect.

To counteract these imperfections, and in an attempt to stave off what are perceived as my mood swings, I started taking ginseng a long while ago. Naturally, there was a lot of jollity from friends when I revealed this to them, as ginseng, for some reason, also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Not that I noticed any such effects. What I did notice was that I was fairly energetic most of the time, and that my moods didn't actually much deviate from their usual patterns. But the energy I needed, because I don't like particularly to sit still for a along time (literally and figuratively).

There have been times when I do go very hyper, and that's not just a question of mind speed. When it happens, I can feel my heart beating more quickly, and my body executing even its normal motions in a jagged and frenzied way, like a whirlwind in my head and in my limbs. I have to consciously slow down everything, take one hand to control the other, try to think in slow motion, try to move in slow motion. It's not particularly fun. It's like everything is over-revving.

This summer has been interesting, because, for the first time in a long time, I spent prolonged periods away from home, away from my vitamin medicine case (actually a basket), and not for work, but actually to do things wihth my children they enjoyed (and wanted me to do with them), like Latitude, concerts in other places, cricket, being real instead of office-at-home dad. A lot of it was actually fun.

The thing is, about a month ago, when I got home, and the next morning popped my first ginseng pill for a few days, the world went manic around and inside me again that evening. So I didn't take any the next day. And felt crap. So, the next day I was back on it. And everything speeded up again, and I didn't like it.

It's October now, and I've been a month, at least, without ginseng. I do feel slower, I do have trouble sometimes putting my thoughts together at the speed at which I think I should be. Yet I seem to be, and I'm open for correction on this from the people I live with (if they ever read this), more patient, more kind to myself and those around me. Like all men, of course, I worry that placidness equates to lack of competitiveness in all areas, but I guess I'll cross that bridge if it ever comes across my path. My hope is, of course, that I will not suffer from my usual blackness during the winter. That is the next test.

5 October 2014

October spiders

There's only one shed in our garden that was already here when we moved in. It's an old thing, covered in ivy and other climbers, with a roof lining of straw, a broken window, and a door that we can only keep shut by propping a brick against it. The east-facing side of the shed is home to an expanding honeysuckle bush which, in turn, is home to a proliferation of my favourite creatures to watch - garden spiders, also known as cross spiders (they have a white cross on their backs); Kreuzspinnen in German (which sounds much more romantic than the English).

When we lived in Norway, one such spider lived on our veranda throughout the summer, and deep into the Norwegian winter (minus 28C). I called her (because only the females have such very distinctive markings) Victoria, probably because she was big and stately and very friendly, and talked with her every time I went out onto the veranda for a cigarette.

I haven't given the spiders in the honeysuckle names because there are so many of them, but I do go out first thing every morning and look at their webs, watch them move about in their webs, and wonder what drives them, if it is really purely instinct, or if they spend time thinking out their strategies, and indeed if any of them watch me from their upside down positions and ask themselves the same questions about me.

My fascination with these creatures is not just because there's a microcosm of killing or be killed out there on the honeysuckle branches, but because, although I'm not a scientist, the complexity of their webs impresses and illuminates me. Their determination is unsurpassed in its grittiness. They build, rebuild and rebuild. When there's been a storm, and the webs are hanging in tatters from their security lines, they are out there, clinging on for what looks like dear life, feeding their threads through and around the damage to restore what's been lost to nature.

One of the webs is particularly huge, and the spider which inhabits it is also quite big for spiders of this variety (I have nicknamed it The Fat One). It seems to be particularly discerning when it comes to prey, because I have seen it ignore small flies which have blundered into its web, whilst hurtling across its highwires when a moth or a crane fly has careered into the trap. I wonder if this has to do with damage limitation for the web (and the need to secure a big meal), or just with a complacency of mind which says that the small fry won't get away anyway, and if it does it's no great loss to spiderkind.

What I find particularly touching is that these spiders make little dens for themselves within the curling leaves of the honeysuckle, finding shelter especially in the ones that have curled top to bottom, providing perfect umbrellas to keep away the rain, and some of the cold, I presume, as any warm air that may rise will be trapped within these tiny upturned vases. I have watched them creep into these shelters in the early evenings, curl up into small balls of darkness and go to sleep, if spiders do indeed sleep. It may seem odd to say this emotionally affects me, but it does, because the need for shelter is ubiquitous whatever point along the foodchain we might be on. And I am grateful for my shelter, however inadequate it may sometimes seem in my middle class, mid-winter angst.

For the time being, I will continue to enjoy these autumn mornings with my eight-legged acquaintances, and never cease to admire them and their stoicism, and hope some of it rubs off on me this coming winter.

12 September 2014


The moon,
A half of what it was,
Behind the tops of roofs,
Of trees,
In silence.

Night closes
Around what shines,
A narrow cone
Of uncounted light,
Just an echo
Of the sun,
An unrehearsed refrain.

A rising,
The scent of
A million grasses
Cut down,
Rears into the mist.
A haze.
Tomorrow will be hot.

29 August 2014


those words I waste
on the media social
on the bullies who don’t understand

i could write that
into a poem or a novel
or a letter

black ink
i used to love that
in another age

we lived then
like breathed fresh air
and stuff
and walked and wrote
and said things to people’s faces
until they walked away
or beat us up

those were the days

fuck fuck fuck
it’s all changed
and no-one understands
a word we say
or write

they’re too busy
making up what they think
is a new language
when it’s nothing but shit
and no-one’s listening

fuck oh fuck
fuck them all

give me a piece of paper

r, stradbroke, 29/08/2014, 01:07

You Don't

You don’t know how much I love you
I spend nights awake
Whole nights
And nights away
Whole nights
And sleepless
Like the one now
And tomorrow
And yesterday
Because it doesn’t stop, in my head

You and the girls and the boy
And what I owe you
And what you all could do
That I could say you owe me
But that I don’t expect
Because it’s not expectation
It’s hope
For you to have better things now
And when I’ve gone

Somewhere else I sleep all night
Every night
But that’s another universe
And I’m different there

R, Stradbroke, 15/08/2014, 02:25

11 August 2014

My latest email to Tesco

I may, in due course, publish the whole email thread of my ongoing battle with Tesco regarding a faulty laptop, but thought a taster would do to start with:

From: Richard Pierce-Saunderson []
Sent: 11 August 2014 11:31
To: ''
Subject: RE: TES5916243NI: Re your recent enquiry


Dear xxxxx,

So much for a constructive dialogue. When I opened this email, I couldn’t believe what I was reading, especially when I received your subsequent email telling me it was my responsibility to pay for a report that shouldn’t actually even be necessary. That’s one reason why I’m not responding until now, because I am incredulous and angry at the position you are being made to take. It is seriously beyond belief.

I cannot believe that even Tesco is stooping to such depths and bullying one of its customers who is coming to you with a justified complaint about a faulty product, and that Tesco is ignoring my rights to a replacement or free repair for an obviously faulty laptop. This is a simple issue which could very simply be resolved. Tesco is choosing not to resolve it simply.

The FT recently said that “Tesco needs to take drastic action to protect its future.” I would suggest that one of the steps it needs to take is to actually listen to its customers and protect those customers’ rights rather than trying to beat those customers into submission. Tesco will lose more than just me as a customer if this approach continues, and then it will be looking at more than just a halving of profits as it is now.

I do expect this issue to be resolved to my, your customer’s, satisfaction, and I will continue to argue my case here, privately, as well as online, until it is.

Best regards,


7 August 2014

This Suffolk Idyll

When I tell people I don’t know that I live in a Suffolk village, they invariably sigh and say “How idyllic.” And that’s how I, too, thought it would be when I first moved into Stradbroke in 2006. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the way it is. In fact, idyllic is the last word I’d use to describe the poisonouos atmosphere pervading in this once-friendly village.

There are many people in this village I would gladly put my hand in the fire for, but they aren’t the people seeking to dominate this place of 1,200 souls; they’re not the people seeking to become latter-day squires because they have nothing better to do. Actually, come to think of it, my friends are those who work hard from dawn to dusk, and then spend an awful lot of their time volunteering for the causes in the village they hold dear. And democracy is one of those things my friends hold dear.

There have been wider and more earth-shattering protests against the 1% than this village could muster. However, when the village was in danger of losing its library some years ago, 250 people lined the streets, asked serious questions of politicians, signed petitions, and fought tooth and nail to save the library, which, thanks to their efforts, is, at the moment safe.

But now, in this village, today, there are direct threats to democracy, citizens’ rights, and freedom of information. The Parish Council is a deeply divided and divisive body, certain members of which believe it is acceptable to make personal attacks on people who don’t share their opinion, personal attacks not limited to fellow councillors, but members of the general public, too. There are parish councillors who believe that their word carries more weight than anyone else’s, including the word of the law. And when anyone disagrees with them, they intimidate and bully. I have heard it said that they even boast that justice will not be able to touch them because the person they are attacking hasn’t got enough money to take them to court. This is obviously a village where time has stood still – for some people at least – those who wouldn’t know the meaning of pro bono if they were educated, those who wouldn’t know the meaning of democracy if they had to vote for it.

Take note, you nameless bullies, oafs and law breakers. Justice will have the last word. And it won’t be on your side.

5 August 2014

WWI Pentaptych


The lights go out over Europe
Where war is too remote for understanding.
Though it's less than a generation
Since genocide.


In homes without walls
In homes still at war;
Not from middle-class choice
But from fear and despair.


to remember the war to end all wars
and still we fight
over power and organised religion.
Man's inhumanity to man


we honour our fallen friends
in all conflicts,
not the politicians
who perpetuate war
from safety and wealth.


over europe
if you give fascists
your vote
regardless of colour
or nationality.
remember the future
as well as the past.

5 June 2014

23 x 52 x 7 x 24 x 60 x 60

I have walked these years
And failed to keep your pace.

I have stepped out
Beside you
And lost your hand
In the race to the mundane.

We forget what we live for.

In future,
I will jump into puddles
To make you cry
With laughter.

How lonely would we be
Without this?

You write the music
To my words.
You are the scent
Of the living.

I have these years
With you.

More. Please.

Richard, 25th May 2014

23 May 2014

England, Pale Mother

With deference and apologies to Bertolt Brecht. A paraphrasing of Brecht's Deutschland, Bleiche Mutter poem, in view of the elections in England on 22nd May 2014. Brecht composed the poem when the Nazis came into the ascendancy in Germany in the 1930s.


May others speak of  her shame;
I speak of mine.

O England, pale mother!
How you sit now, abused
Amongst all other peoples.
Even amongst the aberrant,
You attract attention.

The poorest of your sons
Lies dead, beaten.
When his need was greatest
Your other sons raised their fists against him.
This is now infamy.

With their fists thus raised,
Raised against their brother,
They walk around you with arrogance
And laugh in your face.
Everyone knows it.

In your house,
Everyone yells lies,
But the truth
Must not be spoken.
Is it thus?

Why do all oppressors praise you,
But the oppressed accuse you?
The exploited
Point at you, but
The exploiters praise the system
That was invented in your house!

And everyone, everyone sees you
Hide the hem of your coat, bloody
From the blood
Of your best son.

When they hear the speeches coming from your house, everyone laughs.
But those who meet you reach for their knives
As if confronted by a robber.

O England, pale mother!
What a state your sons have left you in,
That you sit amongst the peoples,
Scorned or feared.

And here is Brecht's original and brilliant German poem.


Mögen andere von ihrer Schande sprechen,
ich spreche von der meinen.

O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter!
Wie sitzest du besudelt
Unter den Völkern.
Unter den Befleckten
Fällst du auf.

Von deinen Söhnen der ärmste
Liegt erschlagen.
Als sein Hunger groß war
Haben deine anderen Söhne
Die Hand gegen ihn erhoben.
Das ist ruchbar geworden.

Mit ihren so erhobenen Händen
Erhoben gegen ihren Bruder
Gehen sie jetzt frech vor dir herum
Und lachen in dein Gesicht.
Das weiß man.

In deinem Hause
Wird laut gebrüllt, was Lüge ist
Aber die Wahrheit
Muß schweigen.
Ist es so?

Warum preisen dich ringsum die Unterdrücker, aber
Die Unterdrückten beschuldigen dich?
Die Ausgebeuteten
Zeigen mit Fingern auf dich, aber
Die Ausbeuter loben das System
Das in deinem Hause ersonnen wurde!

Und dabei sehen dich alle
Den Zipfel deines Rockes verbergen, der blutig ist.
Vom Blut deines
Besten Sohnes.

Hörend die Reden, die aus deinem Hause dringen, lacht man.
Aber wer dich sieht, der greift nach dem Messer
Wie beim Anblick einer Räuberin.

O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter!
Wie haben deine Söhne dich zugerichtet
Daß du unter den Völkern sitzest
Ein Gespött oder eine Furcht!

Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956)

1 May 2014

A View From The Gallery - in which I talk about parish councils

“Parish council – The administrative body in a civil parish.” Oxford English Dictionary
“Parochial – relating to a Church parish; OR having a limited or narrow outlook or scope. Derived from the Old French paroche – parish.” Oxford English Dictionary

I usually go ballroom dancing on a Monday. This being the Easter holidays, I had to look elsewhere for entertainment on the 14th of April, so I went to the Stradbroke Parish Council meeting. I was not disappointed. In fact, it’s true to say that if I had not been laughing so hard (inwardly, of course), I would have been carried out of the meeting crying.

Here were all the stereotypes and clichés normally associated with bad novels or with romans à clef from the France of the seventeenth century. Power brokers; hysteria; apologies; low-key manipulators; truth brokers; defeatists; a public gallery split by sentiment and politics and family affiliations; innocents brought to the slaughter; slanderers, libellers and story-tellers. The only thing missing was a love interest, but I’m sure that could soon be invented or arranged.

I don’t intend to dwell on people specifics here; that’s not my style nor my role.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

·        That all men (human beings) are created equal;

·        That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;

·        That the opening of the Post Office has been delayed, outcome unknown;

·        That some parish councillors do not get on with each other;

·        That some members of the public do not like some parish councillors;

·        That some parish councillors do not like some of the members of the public;

·        That the Parish Council needs a stop watch with a buzzer to keep the time for which members of the public can speak to the 2 minutes as defined by standing orders;

·        That it will soon be legal to record by audio and video parish council meetings and indeed to broadcast them live;

·        That Laxfield Road is becoming a death trap because of speeding lorries and cars;

·        That the Parish Council meeting agendas are very long;

·        That the use of web sites is governed by the free market not by individuals;

·        That the Parish Council should really have its own web site;

·        That all the parish councillors are human beings;

·        That all the members of the public are human beings.

Meanwhile, in the real world, MH-370 is still missing; tension is rising over Ukraine; the families of the Hillsborough 96 are still seeking justice; hospices are underfunded; the NHS is underfunded; London house prices are rising to stupid levels; cancer is killing someone every minute, as is poverty; and the few are still profiting from the miseries of the many.

And this is the crux. Local government needs to be forward-looking and strategic; it should be about the few volunteers looking after the needs and interests of the many, and not just within the narrow boundaries of the parish, not just within the narrow boundaries of parochialism. It should not be about building individual empires, nor about appearing to be the most powerful human being in the parish. It should be about making the world a better place. All I can say is that the meeting might have made my world a better place for ninety minutes on a Monday evening because of its entertainment value, but it certainly didn’t make the world a better place because of the flaws of human nature it revealed nor because of the decisions that were made.

7 April 2014


I've very kindly been asked by Lisa Hinsley to take part in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. This is a tour where you can follow a thread across the blogs of lots of writers, all of whom answer the same questions. It's thrown up some very interesting blogs so far.  To see Lisa's answers (and she is an outstanding writer, so if you don't know her yet, you're in for a very pleasant surprise), go across to

What am I working on?

Good question. I started The Jewel That Was Mine, about one particular item of the Cheapside Hoard, in November last year. The first half is set in the 17th century, with the second half supposedly taking place in the 21st century (a departure for me, who tends to mingle past and present in seemingly random chapters), and I reached 23k words about five weeks ago. It wasn't working, and I woke up one morning and decided to ditch every one of those 23k words. I'm now back up to about 6k, and I'm hoping to be able to fit in writing it somewhere in my chaotic and maddening schedule.

The biggest problem with this is that I've got another four books in my head that I feel I should be getting on with. One of them is already in its second re-write; that's The Emperor, The Practitioner and I, all about the origins of acupuncture, the effects of losing a friend in a war in Afghanistan, and the exploration of what if a patient fell in love with his or her acupuncturist? Another, The Trojan Corpse, is three chapters in and deals with some interesting and mysterious happenings in World War II. The other two aren't even started, but could well be sequels to Dead Men, not merely in response to the many requests I've had to write a sequel, but also in response to ideas I had about sequels to Dead Men when I was sitting in an Antarctic Symposium in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in June 2012, notes which sit scribbled on some crumpled pieces of paper in my box full of Dead Men stuff.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The thing is, I never see myself as writing in a specific genre, and that's something I've been told off for by a whole variety of people ranging from my ex-agent, to publishers, to friends, to anyone who I know I won't listen to (although sometimes I have had to, which might explain why I sometimes get naffed off with writing).

If I look deeply at what I do differently to most other male writers is that I write genuine women's fiction. Even if Dead Men might be perceived to be an adventure book in the first instance because it deals with exploration and the South Pole and the death of explorers, it's actually about one particular headstrong and fragile woman trying to find her place in the world, and trying to solve a mystery from the past as part of that. And she's not a wholly agreeable human being, and many readers haven't liked her. But that's real life; that's how people are. We're all horrible, selfish, fragile, in need of love, intolerant of love, lustful, lustless, listless, or manic at some time.

The same applies to the lead female character in A Fear of Heights which I'm shopping to agents and publishers at the minute, a woman thinking of calling it quits on her 10-year marriage because her husband is constantly jealous, because he fears climbing and flying, because life has been in stasis since she rescued him on Mount Everest years ago.

I refuse to deal in myths about the human condition, or in gender stereotypes, or in cliched characters. I want my characters to be real, believable and honest, not two-dimensional caricatures. Because the world's not like that.

Why do I write what I do?

How long's a piece of string? I write about what moves me, about what preoccupies my mind most of the time. And the things that I think about all the time are love and death. As simple as that. I sometimes ask myself if I'd ever be capable of writing a story (for that's what a novel is, just a story) that doesn't involve someone falling in or out of love, or one that doesn't involve being obsessed by death or have someone who is loved dying. I've come to conclusion that I won't ever be capable of doing that. Maybe that limits me. Maybe it doesn't. Because I want to write universal truths.

How does my writing process work?

Weirdly enough, I often think of the title of a book first, and then I write the book. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's the way it is. I will probably have had some story or other jiggling around in my head before the title hits me, but not really consciously.

And once I start, I try not to stop until I get to the end. I don't plan the plot or the story arc or whatever it's called. I let the characters lead me. And if it doesn't work, I start again. I don't believe in writer's block, and what's happening to me at the moment with trying to get The Jewel That Was Mine written is a conjunction of adverse circumstance and the speeding up of time. I always say to people that it's best to write lots (which will include a lot of rubbish) than not to write enough. It's easier to shorten a book than it is to make it longer. Having said that, I have been sadly remiss, lately, to follow my own dictum of writing for an hour at least every morning before anything else. I must start doing that again. Because, despite my process possibly sounding slapdash, it is a craft, and the rythm and weight of the words is crucial. And they need to be the right words.

I hate the editing process. Although I have the advantage of having been a proofreader in my first job, it's still not lots of fun going through, for the umpteenth time, something I've written. On the other hand, writers owe it to their readers to produce stories which are well-written and as perfect as possible. That's one reason I always try to go down the trad publishing route, because I'll get input from someone else whom I won't have to pay to edit my book but who will invest in me and my book instead.

One reason I think I have been praised so much for my dialogue is because of the way I let the characters lead me. They talk to each other and me and my readers about their lives, about their dreams and desires. And that is, after all, where the heart of any story is.

Who's next?
I am passing the #MyWritingProcess on to a cracking author, Craig Hallam who writes in a genre I could never manage - Steampunk.

By day Craig is a mild mannered nurse from Doncaster, UK. By night (or any time he gets a few minutes to himself) he writes fiction. While he loves to write anything that pops into his head, his horror stories and darker material have gained him the most accolade. He started tackling short stories in 2008 and since then his credits have included New Horizons (The British Fantasy Society), Murky Depths and the anthologies of Misanthrope Press and Pill Hill Press.

His first novel, a Gothic Fantasy called Greaveburn (published by Inspired Quill), has had some very nice things said about it, and his next project, an epic Steampunk adventure called The Adventures of Alan Shaw will be hitting shelves both virtual and corporeal in June 2014 alongside a collection of his dark short stories, Not Before Bed. He hopes to see you staring hovering above one of his pages in the near future.

You can find Craig at these various internet locations:

Twitter: @craighallam84

2 April 2014

Why Stradbroke Library is the perfect home for Stradbroke Post Office

It's more years ago than I care to remember, that we managed to get over 200 people to protest outside Stradbroke Library against the threat of its closure. And it's still open, and now run as part of a not-for-profit organisation. The Tories, naturally, still threaten intellectual individualism, as encouraged by libraries, so the threat is not over, but we're in a better position now than then.

The Court House Trust, a charity, is now seeking to operate the historic Court House in Stradbroke, central to the community, for the community, with an Internet cafe, a radio studio, and the village archive. And it has successfully applied to the Royal Mail (unfortunately recently privatised) to also run a post office. That successful application is now subject to a public consultation which expires on 3rd April.

Today, I sent my comments on the proposed location of the post office in the library to, for the attention of Julia Marwood, who is the Regional Network Manager. I think what I say is self-explanatory. If you have a view, you still have time to submit your comments as part of the public consultation.

Here's what I said:

Dear Julia,

Stradbroke has now been without a post office for almost two years, and the news that Stradbroke Library is being considered as a host for a post office is great news indeed. The village also lost its shop some six months ago, which was another blow.

As far as I am concerned, the co-location of the post office in the library is the best solution for the village, for a variety of reasons:

-      The library is at the centre of the community;
-      The library is a not-for-profit organisation;
-      Use of the post office in that location will encourage even more increased library use;
-      Use of the library will encourage use of the co-located café (with internet access);
-      Co-location cements the role of the library and its building (the historic Court House) as the centre of the community.

I realise there are moves afoot to object to the co-location of the post office in the library and to have it sited instead inside a re-opened shop on the site of the former Spar. This would indeed be a negative move, mainly for the following reasons:

-      Any village shop is operated for profit (quite rightly);
-      Any village shop is operated to profit the individuals or companies running such a shop (quite rightly), and for the profit of any companies and individuals which own the leases on the shop property (this point is more arguable).
-      It follows that any post office co-located with a profit-focused operation will be subject to the vagaries of such an operation, which could include sudden close-down due to adverse economic conditions, onward sale of premises and/or goodwill, onward sale of shop operations and/or goodwill. This would affect the primary aim of a post office, which is to be of public benefit.

In conclusion, therefore, I would like to re-emphasise my support for the location of the post office in Stradbroke Library. Such an outcome is central to the regeneration of the village and can only be for the long-lasting benefit of those who live in the village
Yours sincerely,

Richard Pierce-Saunderson

Stradbroke needs a library that is run for public benefit and backed by a multi-million pund charitable organisation. It does not need a library situated in a privately-run shop where the rent is too high because convoluted lease agreements are focused on providing profit for a single household in the village.

If you feel strongly about this, please email Julia Marwood at, and support having the post office in the library. It would make Stradbroke unique in more than one way.

31 March 2014

The Past Is Silent

The past is silent,
An old film.
There are memories but no voices.
Pictures, filtered,
Fade in and out
With a rare combustion of colour.
We have forgotten more than we remember,
Something, everything,
Lost along the way.
It is not a path
Because we didn’t choose it
We just found it.
Maybe it is better for that.
There is sound in the present,
A noise that wants
And craves our attention,
An audible passing of seconds,
Uncountable and unpredictable.
Nothing about them is infinite.
They will count our years
When we have gone
And make up their own memories of us.
The future is silent,
Form it to your will.

For Kara, on her birthday, 30th March 2014

24 March 2014

The Jewel That Was Mine - WIP

Chapter 1


London, January 2014


My name is Molly Cloud, and I’m going to rob a museum.



Chapter 2


London, 1635


         On the Thames, ready to sail, a stout ship, colours long dissipated beneath the salt of many seas. The tide moved the wood of it up and down, right and left, a gentle sway, and no weather. Halfway up the masts, the crew listened for orders, all the way out on the ropes, palms burned already from the rough hemp. A listless sea, out there, down the river, waiting. Destination unknown.

         Robert Lindsey was a sprawl of a man. He filled space wherever he was, with his tall face, his tall body, too long for normal beds or chairs. Today he was staring at the wall, through his man servant, nothing in his mind but his secret dreams, the ones that never reached his eyes. The swell of the river, harbinger of the far-off tide, only magnified his power. He pushed past the silent servant, ripped open the door of his cabin, onto the quarterdeck. ‘Let’s sail.’ He waved his arms about him as he shouted. ‘And let’s be quick about it.’

         The crew jumped, sails rumpled and ruffled, dropped and squatted into the breeze. Ropes fell into the water from the quay, and the ship loosed itself from its moorings into the centre of the river. They were heading east, out into the open, bound for somewhere south of this damp island. Lindsey hated the swamp that was England, hated it almost as much as he hated the foreign countries he had to visit. He was at his best when the horizon was nothing but water all around, when all he could see was the ocean. He slammed the door closed, threw himself onto his divan, reached out for the decanter of port and poured himself his first glass of the day. He stared at his servant again.

         ‘You know we have an additional passenger, don’t you?’ He lifted the glass of port to his lips, felt the heat slide down into his belly. ‘His name is Finn.’

         ‘Yes.’ And I’ve seen him already, and he’s not a man, you blind fool.

         ‘Be careful with him. There’s more to him than meets the eye.’

         The servant inclined his head, managed to suppress a smile. Really?

         ‘I’m betting on him having a load of jewels with him.’

         ‘What makes you think that, sir?’

         ‘I can feel it in my bones.’ Lindsey drained his glass. ‘And Job, I want you to go through all his boxes. I didn’t save your red skin for nothing.’

         ‘Very well. What am I looking for?’ You stole me from my people.

         ‘Gold. Pearls. Moonstones. Value. Something to make this trip even more fruitful for me.’ He refilled his glass. ‘What are you waiting for? Go. Now.’

         Job didn’t move.

         ‘You think I should look for the loot myself, don’t you?’

         ‘You’re already thinking I won’t look hard enough.’

         ‘You’re much too clever to be a slave. You know me too well.’

         ‘Only as a slave knows his owner.’

         ‘You were cheap.’

         ‘As you remind me often.’

         ‘Don’t come back until you’ve found what I want.’ The Earl of Lindsey waved his hand, dismissed his slave. ‘I’m serious.’

         Job, already merging into the darkness, stopped and swivelled on his heel. ‘I am quite aware of that, as always.’

         Lindsey waved again. ‘Enough.’

         Job pushed his way through the gasping door of the quarterdeck, his hands calm on the greasy wood, out onto the soaking deck, rain and fog now sluicing along the grain, and the sea swaying in time with the sails and the warren of masts. He shrugged, wiped his face against the weather, strode across the straight-lined decking, lifted the nearest hatch and jumped down into it, ignoring the ladder, bracing himself as he landed, silent-soled, on the grey treads of their passenger’s quarters. There, the gloom was held at bay by an orchestra of candles, flames floating a distance away from their wicks, or at least that was how they seemed to him.

         ‘I know you’re there, whatever your name is.’ The voice was a soft, accented whisper. ‘Has he sent you to find what treasures I have?’

         ‘Yes,’ Job said, still in darkness. ‘But I know I won’t find anything.’

         ‘Why?’ The voice came closer to his hiding place.

         ‘Because I’ve guessed your secret.’

         ‘Come out of the dark and tell me what you think my secret is.’

         Job stepped into the guttering light and looked at the stranger.

         The quickening wind pushed into the silence, levered the boat harder into the oncoming swell, the room rolling and swaying, the table shuddering with the contradictory motions, and yet neither of them sought anything to hold on to.

         ‘Come on, tell me.’ The stranger’s cheekbones were flushed, as in a fever, and sharp by the flickering light of the candles.

         ‘You’re not a man,’ Job said. ‘How he didn’t see it, I don’t know.’

         ‘Are you going to tell him?’ She didn’t seem surprised or afraid.

         Job shook his head. ‘It’s nothing to do with me.’

         ‘You’re not going to coerce me or blackmail me, or take advantage of me to keep quiet?’

         Job laughed.

         ‘Good,’ she said. ‘Because if you did, I’d kill you.’

         ‘I don’t doubt it.’

         ‘And you’re not afraid now?’ Her eyes were a bright, pale blue, cutting through the gloom.

         ‘I see no reason to be.’

         She laughed, lowered herself into one of the rickety skeleton chairs, pushed her legs under the table and leaned back. ‘Come, sit.’

         Job sat down opposite her, took in her baggy clothes, ragged hat set upon short black hair. ‘He’ll notice before long. When you don’t grow a beard.’

         ‘I’m going to be ill for the whole voyage. They’ll all think I’m dying, and you’ll be the only one brave enough to tend to me.’

         ‘You think that will work?’

         She lay her long-fingered hands on the table. ‘I don’t see why not. Sailors are superstitious.’

         ‘He’s not a sailor. He only does this for the money.’

         ‘What’s your name?’

         ‘He calls me Job.’

         ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Interesting. I’d have expected you to be black not red with that name.’

         ‘It’s not my real name.’

         ‘I’d gathered that. You’re not very good at hiding things. Not from me, anyway.’ She wiped something from her face, left a smudge of dirt on her cheek instead. ‘Are you going to tell me your real name?’

         ‘Not now.’ He leaned forward. ‘And you, what’s your real name?’

         ‘It’s not that far away from what Lindsey thinks I’m called. I’m Fien.’ The way she pronounced it made him think of light breezes in the heat, of whispered sounds across savannahs, of summer, of light and shade and dew. ‘I’m from the Low Countries.’

         ‘And what are you doing here? Why dress up as a man? When he finds out what you are, he’ll throw you overboard.’ Job wiped his face. He was sweating although it wasn’t warm.

         ‘Do we trust each other yet?’ She seemed impervious to fear.

         ‘I think so.’

         ‘Shake on it?’ She reached her right hand out across the table.

         Job nodded.

         They shook hands, the storm not far away now, held each other’s gaze for one second too long, until, by mutual consent, it seemed, they looked down at the table again.

         ‘It’s too dangerous to tell you what I’m doing. That way you have nothing to give away.’ She wiped her nose. ‘The best thing for you to do is to look through all those chests and tell him you found nothing.’

         ‘What if I do find something?’

         ‘You won’t.’

         ‘What are you?’

         ‘A slave like you,’ she said.

         ‘Don’t make fun of me.’

         ‘I’m not. I am a slave, to revenge and justice.’

         ‘So you do still have a way to escape if you really want to. You have a choice.’

         ‘And you don’t?’

         ‘His power reaches further than I can run or swim.’

         ‘Even when you’re away from England?’

         ‘Even then.’

         ‘What if I buy you and set you free?’

         ‘He wouldn’t allow it.’

         ‘You’re too valuable to him, you mean?’

         ‘I suppose so.’

         Fien ran her hands, palms down, across the table smooth with age and touch and salt, tracing the lines in the wood with sharp nails. ‘Why do you mean so much to him?’

         ‘I’m a shadow,’ Job said. ‘No-one sees me.’

         ‘So you spy for him.’ She looked at him, the muscles in his arms, the tattoos on his hands. ‘And worse.’

         ‘I try to mitigate his malice.’

         ‘And he hasn’t noticed yet?’

         Job raised his eyebrows. ‘There have been some men he wanted dead whom I wanted dead, too.’

         ‘So you killed them.’

         One sharp, curt nod.

         ‘So why won’t you do what he tells you to this time?’

         ‘You intrigue me. And, as you say, you have none of what he wants.’

         ‘Won’t he get suspicious if you go back and tell him you found nothing?’

         Job shrugged. ‘He would never do his own dirty work. And he’ll find another way to profit.’

         ‘And you, why won’t you try to flee? You can’t be afraid of him.’

         He looked at her again, and again for longer than he should have. ‘I suppose I feel I can do more good pretending to serve him and being merciful when I can get away with it rather than fighting him.’

         ‘Come with me,’ Fien said. ‘When we get to the end of this journey, come with me, and be my friend, not my slave nor my assassin.’

Chapter 3


Those weeks at sea weighed heavily on Job, and sleep was rare. When he was not running the errands his master gave him, when he was not pretending to rummage still amongst Fien’s empty boxes, he could be found standing in the stern of the vessel, at the dead of night, nose in the air, trying for the scent of the land he had been stolen from, the scent of which her name had reminded him. And when those nights were without cloud, he sat in the bow, a rough blanket over his shivering legs, his eyes on the waves coming towards them, when his real name would carry from the land of his birth across the oceans and cut into his face. It was at these moments he wished he could grab one of the galley knives and push it into Lindsey’s throat as he slept, and free himself.

         He heard, like all the others, Fien’s heavy footsteps in her cabin, kept his secret and hers wrapped closely inside him, reported to Lindsey each day that the passenger’s illness seemed no better, that slight men do not tread heavily when they are well, that he thought death could not be far. He found that lying for her came even more easily to him than any lying he had done before, and that he rejoiced in telling untruths for her. And the excitement of it almost pushed away the homesickness he felt whenever he was at sea, made him even more determined to find his way, once again, to freedom, something he hadn’t known for more than ten years.

         Fien, for her part, never left her cabin, not even to fulfil her most basic needs. She left her meagre waste and some blood in a covered leather bucket in a hidden corner of the room, and waited until after dark to empty it out of the one narrow, stained window she had. When Job offered to do it for her she refused. And during the day she continued to wear her disguise, and sweated into the rough sheets that covered her up to her neck.

         One night, a fierce storm blew up, shook the ship to its keel, rattled across the decks so violently the men had to tie themselves to the realings not to be swept away. Job, under the howling sky, pulled himself into Fien’s cabin, and let himself gingerly down the ladder as everything around him danced in maddening circles. She was sitting at the table, one hand holding onto the candle, the other clasping a book.

         ‘You can read in weather like this?’ Job said.

         ‘I’m not a little girl afraid of thunder and lightning.’

         ‘Aren’t you afraid of sinking?’

         She laughed. ‘If we’re going to sink we’re going to sink and there’s nothing I can do about it. And nor can you.’

         Job sat down next to her, looked at the book she was reading. ‘You’re learning Persian?’

         ‘Reminding myself of Persian,’ she said. ‘It’s not an easy language to learn.’

         ‘It took me an age.’

         She raised an eyebrow. ‘Why would you learn Persian?’

         ‘I might ask you the same.’

         ‘My father taught me. He travelled a lot.’

         ‘Did you travel with him?’

         ‘Sometimes.’ She closed the book and let it drop onto the swaying table. ‘And you?’

         ‘Curiosity. The need to drag me away from feeling sorry for myself for being his slave. And because the first trip he took me on was to Persia.’

         ‘Does he know you speak it?’

         Job shook his head. ‘No. And I don’t want him to. It means I can find out things he can’t.’

         ‘And impress him with them? And be even more precious to him?’

         ‘You’re too perceptive.’

         ‘Men are very predictable.’ She grabbed at the book as the ship lurched, and caught it with one hand just as it tumbled off the table’s edge.

         ‘And women aren’t?’

         ‘We’re not allowed to be predictable or unpredictable. We’re just expected to be in our place.’ She slammed the book back onto the table. ‘That’s not the way it should be.’

         ‘In my tribe, most of the women came hunting with us.’

         Fien smiled. ‘You must miss that.’

         ‘I try not to.’

         ‘Then you can understand how I feel.’

         Job nodded.

         ‘That’s why you’re doing all this.’ She tried to reach across the table and take his hand, but he pulled it away.

         ‘Slowly,’ he said.

         ‘What are you afraid of?’


         ‘I’m sorry.’ She pulled her hand back, let it drop into her lap. ‘I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m white.’

         It was Job’s turn to laugh. ‘That’s what he would like to think. He keeps telling me that species shouldn’t interbreed, and that includes people of different colours.’

         ‘That’s what most people think.’

         ‘You, too?’

         ‘No,’ she said. ‘That’s just the accepted way of thinking. It will change, some time. Some time soon, I hope.’ She looked at him through the smoke of the guttering candle. ‘Because I want to be free, too. I don’t want to be a woman, I want to be a person.’

         Job rubbed his hands together, embarrassed at how forthright she was. ‘It’s very difficult. Women are … very difficult. Here, in this white world.’

         The wind began to subside, the ship no longer feeling out of control.

         ‘The storm’s going,’ she said. ‘You’d better get back to your master.’

         ‘He’s probably out of his mind on drink by now.’

         ‘That’s when he’s most likely to look for you.’

         Job stood up. ‘You’re right, of course.’

         She was next to him now, just about the same height as him. She put her arms around him before he could even react. ‘Thank you.’

         He tried to pull back against his instincts, and managed only to awkwardly return a half-hug. ‘I’ve done nothing.’

         ‘More than you know. … See you tomorrow.’

         Job turned and jumped up the ladder, his heart lighter than he could remember it ever being.


The days grew longer and warmer, and then hot. In his cabin upstairs, suffocating in his luxury, Lindsey fidgeted and sprawled, and fretted about the promises he had made to the king, and to Buckingham.