Sunday, December 28, 2014

Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. Druid and Iceni (Prequel)

Caledonii ~ Druid & Iceni 
Now available free on Kindle & other eBook sites

With my Caledonii (Roman invasion of Scotland) novella series now standing at 5 books, I wanted to do a free story for the many hundreds of fans now reading the saga. So I looked in Caledonii 1, and a wee story popped right out at me... a Scottish druid is sent southwards into Brigante territory (modern Northumberland/Cumberland) to bring two of the King Venutius's sons north to safety.

I planned 2000 words, but you know me. 10,000 words later, a tale of betrayal, druid magic, and adventure had found its way onto my pages. It fit my original idea perfectly; a 10,000 word prequel to the Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation series. It stands on it's own, but it also gets you into the era, the characters, the timeframe.

Druid & Iceni. Picture the scene...
It is 69AD, and the Romans have been lords of the southern part of Britain for over twenty years. Knowing their eyes are forever northward, the Brigante King Venutius decides to send two of his young sons north to safety. Sewell, a druid from the Votadini clan (modern East Lothian), is sent on the mission to locate the boys, then get them safe to his homeland in the Caledonii nation. It is a dangerous journey through hostile lands, and there are many who would stand in his way. Venutius has many enemies, ans they would pay Roman gold for the boys.
To preserve the Brigante bloodline, Sewell cannot fail.

The cover above is the link to the kindle version on Amazon of Druid & Iceni. It's 99c right now, but we'll soon turn the screws on Amazon and get it down to free for you.
However, for other formats, it's available FREE here, on Smashwords...

The full series is available in eBooks everywhere;
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 1. The Great Gather
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 2. The Druid's Plan
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 3. The Coming of Age
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 4. The Romans Invade
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 5. Druid's Work

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thunderbirds, Space 1999, Stingray, Captain Scarlet: The Definitive Top Ten Gerry Anderson Shows

If you grew up in the UK in the 60’s or 70’s, you could not fail to get caught up in the World of Gerry Anderson at some point or other.
F.A.B. Thunderbirds Are GO!

Born in 1929, Gerry was an English TV producer, with a huge imagination and equally expansive dreams. He began in the late 50’s with puppet oriented children’s television, gave us science fiction icons like Thunderbirds, Space 1999, and ended a generation later in 1983 with a science fiction classic; Terrahawks.
Children of all ages have their own particular TV favorite, and below I have listed the top ten.
In reverse order, I have taken into consideration, viewing length, formats, countries reached, and spin off value. I hope among my top ten you will find your favorite.
Four Feather Falls 1957
Number 10. Four Feather Falls (1957)… is Gerry’s Kansas adventure, a puppet western ala Wagon Train. After experimenting with The Adventures of Twizzle, and Torchy the Battery Boy, Gerry produced thirty-nine 13 min episodes of Four Feather Falls, but despite some clips being re-shown, the series was never repeated.
Supercar 1960
Number 9. Supercar (1960)… Gerry’s next venture lasted 2 series, with thirty-nine 25 min episodes, and was first to use the word Supermarionation (Anderson’s patented puppet technology). It spawned a four week run of comics in the USA, where the TV series was syndicated.
Joe 90 1968
Number 8. Joe 90 (1968)… Following the failure of the second Thunderbirds feature film, Joe 90 lasted just 30 episodes. And although it was a favorite of mine (age 10) it would prove to be the last string puppet series made by Anderson to reach television. The idea of downloading a new skill-set to accomplish undercover work has been copied many times since.
Terrahawks 1983
Number 7. Terrahawks (1983)… was Anderson’s final hurrah. In thirty-nine 25 min episodes, done in the Henson style of hand puppetry, the series was most popular in Japan. It was one of the first television shows to be made into a computer game. I am ashamed to say I never watched it. By then I was 34, and wrongly considered myself way too old for Gerry Anderson’s puppets.
Fireball XL5 1962
Number 6. Fireball XL5 (1962)… Following Supercar’s USA success, Fireball XL5 actually ran on official NBC format in the children’s hours from 1963 to 65. Thirty-five 25 min episodes were made, and it carried onto comic and book formats. I had a foot-long plastic Fireball XL5 spacecraft which I threw up into the air, watching it float back to earth in a flimsy polythene parachute.
Stingray 1963
Number 5. Stingray (1963)… Thirty-nine 25 min episodes were produced of this fantastic undersea adventure. Although colour television was still seven years in the future, Stingray was the first British Children’s TV series to be entirely filmed in colour. It was syndicated in the USA, and shown in 7 countries. It had a regular spot on the Century 21 comic.
George Sewell and Gabriella Drake 1969
Number 4. UFO (1969)… This was the first of Anderson’s real life dramas to be produced. Twenty five 50 min episodes were made, but despite huge popularity in the UK it never got a second series. The scripts for season two were re-written into the plot for Space 1999. Like the puppet series Captain Scarlet, it used sexy females in short skirts, every young man at the time would remember the purple hair and curves of both Wanda Ventham and Gabriella Drake.
Lieutenant Green, Captain Blue, and Captain Scarlet 1967

Number 3. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967)… Thirty two 25 min episodes were made of this ‘darker’ space series, dealing with death, vengeance and inter-planetary war. It was shown in 40 countries inc USA, and a 2005 animated series. The immortal Captain Scarlet was the epitome of cool, and the sexy female pilots, unshaven baddie Captain Black, and grumpy Colonel White completed the cast. I had all the matchbox die-cast metal cars. "Spectrum is Green!"
The main cast Space 1999 1975

Number 2. Space 1999 (1975)… Two series of forty-eight 50 minute episodes were made, networked in both the USA and in Canada, starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, straight from their success in Mission Impossible. International stars galore flocked for parts in the episodes, and many old faces crop up, even in small bit-parts.
The king of them all: Thunderbirds 1974

Number 1. Thunderbirds (1974)… The International Rescue juggernaut lasted 2 series, ran thirty-two long 50 min episodes, was broadcast in 30 countries, spawned two Supermarionation feature films, and a 2004 film based on the series. The Thunderbirds accessories caused Christmas shopping frenzies to find ‘Tracy Island’, and kids to buy plastic and metal toys by the million. Gerry’s wife, Sylvia, produced the voice for Lady Penelope, and who can forget the craggy voice of her driver/butler, Parker. I think every kid in our street had one Thunderbirds toy. Who can forget the complicated launch sequences from Tracy Island: Thunderbird One blasting off from under the swimming pool, and the palm trees folding backwards to allow Thunderbird Two to reach it's launch ramp.
And of course, the playgrounds rang to the sounds of “F.A.B. Thunderbirds Are Go!”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Brand New: Vampires Don’t Cry: A Mother’s Curse

Our latest vampire novel is a slight change in direction for us. Rather than being set in modern times like the rest of the Vampires Don't Cry series, A Mother’s Curse spans a century of struggle from 1859 to the early 1960’s. It is written in our usual two voiced style, following the adventures of two beautiful young vampires, Valérie and Theresa.
Valérie, Florence, Italy 1859: As her mother undergoes the violent transformation from human to vampire on the cold wet cobbles of a Florence alley, baby Valérie is ripped from her mother’s stomach. With this cruel beginning, the childhood of Valérie Berthier was never going to be easy. Unable to comprehend her own uniqueness, she spends her infancy in violent confusion before being institutionalized into an asylum as a young child. She matures under questionable medical supervision, only to break free in her late teens. It would take a strong spirit to tame her wildness, and Amos Blanche, a power hungry vampire is a perfect fit for the job. They form an alliance, an uneasy partnership that lasts eighty years.
Theresa, small town New Jersey, 1958. Theresa (Finch) Scholes is a typical teenager in her first year at college. There is little extraordinary until she’s turned by the local bad boyvampire, recruited into Amos's ranks. Amos has work for Theresa, and soon her life is taking the most unexpected turns. She’s befriended by Valérie, who helps her adjust to her new species, but as they are drawn into Amos’s power struggles, they have no idea of what fate has in store.
Valérie and Theresa receive specialized training, but will it be enough to survive the vampire conspiracy that surrounds them?
Born into vampire life, Valérie is unique and seen by some as “the most important person on the planet”, and although she sees herself as normal, unknown to her, she is feared and venerated by some of the elusive Council of Elders.
We think we’ve woven a great story, and hope to continue the story into a trilogy. The clicky link cover above will take you to our Amazon page where you can read the first few chapters for free. We hope you enjoy.
Details at;

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Modern Zombie: Just How Un-dead Are They?

Well, of course there are more opinions than we have aficionados; everyone seems to have their own interpretation of the properties of the modern zombie.
Movement… In some films of the George Romero type, the un-dead are simply shufflers, hardly capable of more than a mile an hour. They can move faster as they close in on flesh, but they’re hardly a problem if you have some form of enclosed transport. In others like 28 Days/Weeks Later, and World War Z, the rage-consumed populace run like sprinters, their strength and rage making it impossible for the survivors to outrun them.
Intelligence… This runs the gamut from totally stupid to having the ability to play video games (Sean of the Dead). If their ability to learn is transferred from their original human selves, we would assume that given enough time they would eventually gain some form of intelligence.
Physiology... Okay, they’re un-dead, but what does that word actually mean to their physical makeup? Do they still have some form of internal physiological system? Do they breathe? Do they have hearts that pump blood round their bodies? Does their hair continue to grow? Their nails?
All the above leave the zombie world an easy place to write in, the parameters are wide, the possibilities endless. In this world, we place our newest offering: The Zombie Safe Sex Guide: Mating and Dating in a Post-Apocalyptic World.
The Zombie Bible has been around for a year or so, teaching all forward-thinking humans to prepare to survive the holocaust/apocalypse AS A ZOMBIE.
Yes, you heard me… as a Zombie.

And we’ve had a few laughs on the way. But now, by popular demand, we’ve re-visited its dusty pages and breathed some new life into its hallowed tomes. We’ve inserted The Zombie Safe Sex Guide between the covers, and credited our shuffling colleagues with the sense of sexual passion. With chapters on dressing, hairstyles, oral sex, with the emphasis on safety, and acronyms galore, we think we’ve given you zombies out there a chance to get your jollies in a tortured and twisted world.
Available on Amazon now, and on eBooks everywhere else pretty soon.
catch up with all my outpourings here...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Nazareth Stories a Decade Apart, and my Contribution to Rock History: The Long Black Veil

These Nazareth albums were a common sight in Greenhall High School corridors.

Two Nazareth Stories… in two separate continents… a decade apart…
Nazareth are a Scottish rock band from Dunfermline, usually associated with the worldwide hit Love Hurts, from their 1975 album, Hair of the Dog. I remember their albums as a teenager at Greenhall High School, just ten miles south of Edinburgh (maybe 25 miles from Dunfermline)… they were our real local band, no matter what Bay City Rollers fans said. Their version of Joni Mitchell's This Flight Tonight is still one of my favorite songs, and My White Bicycle is a superb rock song. I still remember the album covers, swapping bootleg cassette recordings… Razamanaz, Loud and Proud… man, those were the days.
Years later, in the early nineties, Nazareth played a Community Centre in Cowdenbeath, just ten miles from their home base, and I went along. I looked forward to hearing their hits, but I did have a hidden agenda… A few months earlier, BBC had done a cool local history series on various Scottish towns, and Nazareth had performed a version of The Long Black Veil in the closing credits… in the show they sang A-Capella, with only drums as their accompaniment, each band member beating some kind of rhythm, with a four or five part harmony. I waited through the first half of the concert, then they had a break… we all went to the makeshift bar. To our surprise, the band also joined the fans, drinking their beers, standing in a small circle, being ignored by most of the audience, most being far too star-struck to intrude into their circle.
Not me. “I’m going to ask them where I can get a recording of it…” I said to my first wife, who, to her credit, tried to hold me back. But it was too late; I was off, weaving through the groups, my target? The band.
Nazareth, Long Black Veil; A very bad still from the BBC credits

“Hey guys” I said quite nervously, I mean, they were Nazareth, but to my surprise I was welcomed into the circle with smiles and chinks of our glasses. “I have a question.”
“What’s up, man?” Dan McCafferty croaked at me.
“You guys sang on a BBC documentary.”
“Yes we did!” the band enthused. “Long Black Veil” they chorused.
I knew I was close to my goal. “So what album is it on?” I asked. Well… that threw the cat in with the pigeons… they couldn’t decide, they suggested various albums, then shook their heads, amicably arguing amongst themselves. McCafferty muttered to himself, scratching his chin. “I don’t think we’ve ever recorded it.” He finally said. “Do you want us to play it tonight?”
Well, what could I say? I nodded enthusiastically. They asked my name, and I shook their hands, gave my thanks, and left them to their beers. In their second half, after a heavy rock song, they all kinda drifted off their instruments, and shuffled to a line on the stage. One by one they picked up drums, some unscrewing them from the drummer’s kit.
“We’re going to do a request.” Dan said, “One we’ve never done on stage before.” The crowd cheered. I stood in awe, hoping that they’d go through with it. “This is The Long Black Veil.” They began a slow dirge beat, then as Dan McCaffrey stood to the microphone, he said… “This one’s for Ian.” I felt chuffed, and stood in the audience smiling throughout the performance.
The crowd loved it.
Nazareth; a more modern version of the band.

I next bumped into Nazareth in America early in the next millennium.
The local radio station in Topeka, Kansas, announced their concert in a kinda seedy part of Kansas City, and the race was on.
“Let’s go.” My second wife, Karla, said, looking to wind down after finishing a long day at work, “It’ll be fun. They’re your countrymen.” I have to be honest, I’d been drinking through the Saturday afternoon, so I couldn’t drive. I nodded my consent, although I didn’t relish the alcohol-free hour drive from Topeka to KC. But I nodded, and got in the car… I mean what else does a good husband do?
Well, we’d left it pretty late, and it was dark when we got into the area of the bar in question. Karla seemed to have an inherent idea of where she was going, and eventually, we pulled into a packed parking lot, just as the band got out of their large bus. “We’re going to be late!” I yelled, but no matter what we did, no matter what route we took, threading through the cars, we couldn’t beat the band to the door. I walked in right behind Dan McCaffrey, and the doorman put up his hand at my attempted entrance.
“There’s a cover charge!” he shouted.
“Thank God we’re not late.” I said, out of breath from our run across the parking lot. “I just traveled five thousand miles to see these guys!” I joked. “They’re from my home town!” To our surprise, the last man from the band turned round, hearing my accent.
“Where are you from?” he said in heavily accented Scots. I swear it was Dan McCaffrey, but like I said, I had been drinking. “Fife!” I shouted, laughing at the irony of the situation. “They’re with the band!” the musician said, waving us inside, challenging the doorman to take money from us. Heck, my accent had got me another freebie.
Well, they didn’t play Long Black Veil in the seedy bar in eastern Kansas City, but we had fun. We’d gotten in free, and my notoriety had increased a notch.
Today, as I wrote this story, I looked up Long Black Veil, and found Wikipedia’s listing…
“A version by Scottish rock band Nazareth was never released on an album, but is played at live concerts.”
My contribution to Rock History….

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Vulnerable Vampire... Lost in Tudor England

A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur's Court: Time Traveler by Misfortune, Lost in Olde England

Imagine you’re a vampire; a present-day vampire.
You are the pinnacle of human evolution, you are faster, stronger, and will outlive every human on the planet, as long as you keep your head on your shoulders, or stop people putting a wooden stake through your beating heart.
You do not fear a 'normal' human's death; you simply wake up a few hours later, usually still at the scene of your demise, or on the coroner’s stainless steel table. You rise, you escape, and you slip back into your vampire lifestyle, with nothing missed.
Wounds that would scar a human for life, heal in hours, leaving your skin flawless.
You are immune from bacteria and disease, incapable of prolonged pain, and have the hypnotic ability to elicit total control over normal humans.
And to make matters far better, you live in an age when people are reading about vampires all the time, while also not believing in them in real-life for a second.
You are virtually immortal.
Life is good.
Good, with a capital G.

Then imagine yourself the same cock-sure vampire thrown back in time 500 years.
Back to a time where every man in the land carried a weapon, usually of the thin sharp steel variety, or worse still, the sharp wood variety.
And to make matters worse, you've arrived at a time where, although the people are rabid church-goers, they're also fanatically suspicious, and are perfectly able to believe in demons, and monsters from hell.
You are suddenly rather nervous regarding the inviolability of your supposed immortality.
But it gets much, much worse…
Imagine, in this Tudor England, when you kill someone, a ‘shimmer’ happens around you, rendering you immobile and vulnerable for several seconds… a shimmer which only you feel… a shimmer which places you completely at the mercy of those sharp weapons.
Your supposed vampire imperviousness is stripped from you, leaving you to rely on other traits to survive.
Under these conditions enters Richard DeVere, present-day Connecticut born and bred. A vampire suddenly transported to a strange time of which he has little knowledge, his normal advantages stripped from him.
You have entered the world of “A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur’s Court”, the latest novel from Ian Hall.
Available as an eBook everywhere, and a paperback at
Get more information at

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation Book 5: Druid's Work

I'd like to announce the imminent arrival of the fifth part of my Roman/Scottish saga, Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation.
The story so far… It is now the winter of 80AD, and the Romans have already invaded lowland Scotland, establishing a perimeter across the narrowest part of the country, an earthen wall between the Clyde and Forth rivers. (Sixty years later, this wall would be fortified again as the Antonine Wall). The Roman plan for the destruction of the Scottish (Pictish) people is simple; they will exterminate or bribe all who stand in their way. The Votadini clan in the eastern lowlands laid down their weapons, and received huge amounts of gold for doing so. The Selgovae on the borderlands were not so fortunate; determined to resist, they were crushed by the weight of two Roman legions.
Thus begins Caledonii, Book 5: Dhruid's Work.
Calach, the young Caledonii leader, has plans underway for the unification of the clans against the Romans, but needs time to bring his plan to fruition, and time is not on his side. The Roman commander, Julius Agricola, is under direct orders from Emperor Titus to quash the northern tribes not under Roman control, and planned a swift two year campaign to do so. With the first year safely running to plan, he winters his forces behind his earthen wall, ready to strike into the Scottish highlands and drive the Caledonii into the sea.
Uwan, Calach's younger brother, is a druid with knowledge and wisdom far beyond his years, and the druid hierarchy has plans of their own, using Uwan as the spearhead. He travels to the Irish kingdom of Dalrieda and confronts the Irish druids, enlisting the aid of the Scotti clans in a lowland rebellion against Agricola's forces. With the planned rebellion in place, their hope is to give Calach one more year to prepare.
But Uwan's eyes are on a far greater prize, not only has he work to do at home, he also has a life-changing journey to make; he must travel to the center of the empire, to Rome itself, and confront Titus.
Caledonii Part 5: Druid’s Work is the tale of Uwan’s mission and the second year of the Roman invasion of Scotland.
The words of a Scottish poet yet then unborn, the Roman’s would find out that “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”
Book 5 will be released in the Autumn of 2014, here are the other volumes.

Find out more at or at

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Aftermath of Bannockburn: The Long Journey Home

Photo by David Robertson Photography
To the rulers of the day, wars are little more than statistics-not so to the common man.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Bannockburn, King Edward’s only thought was to reach Dunbar Castle, and find some safety in this suddenly dangerous land. He fled with his personal bodyguard of mounted knights and came to no menace on the journey east. The rest of his army found the retreat a little more perilous.

For hundreds of years the Kings of Scotland had bowed to their southern cousins, and for much of that time English Barons held positions of power in Scotland. The Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, so recently cut to pieces at Bannockburn, had been “Warden of Scotland” and “Captain of Scotland and the Northern Marches” in 1308 and 1309. The Scottish people had already endured much suffering at English hands. But with the English army in such complete disarray, the statistics of war were now firmly on the Scottish side.

It is estimated that 10,000 Englishmen died or were captured at the field of Bannockburn, or in the immediate vicinity. That leaves a schism of another 10,000 men scattering all over lowland Scotland, leaderless and frightened, all trying vainly to reach the English border and escape this wild and vengeful land. In their eagerness to flee, some men would band together, taking refuge in large numbers, knowing that the lowly Scottish farmer could not attack such a force. Some would run in pairs or alone, seeking safety in guile and cunning to sneak southwards.

Historian Peter Reece has given us a very frightening statistic. After the battle of Bannockburn only one group of men is recorded to have reached England in safety; a bunch of Welsh spearmen under the command of Sir Maurice de Berkeley arrived at Carlisle Castle many days later. In Reece’s opinion, less than a third of the survivors from Bannockburn ever got home. Cutting the refugees down singly or in small groups, the people of Scotland wreaked their own bloody vengeance for centuries of English oppression. The name Bannockburn would be spoken of proudly for 700 years and more.

Ultimately, the events of these ‘border wars’ so long ago still undermine a curious relationship between  two countries now at peace and allies for many hundreds of years. While we Scots shake hands with our southern neighbors, it seems that even today we do so somewhat grudgingly. Scotland votes on independence this year, hoping to finally cutting the ties that the Union of the Crowns achieved in 1707. We live in historical times again.

I am a historian, writer and folk singer, so have sung and written about the cause of Scottish Freedom for many years. I was a member of the SNP and campaigned vigorously for the first bid for a Scottish Parliament years ago. I love my country and insults to her honor run deep, as illustrated vividly by this personal story:

On 15 June, 2012, England played Sweden in the group stages of the European Championship. I drove to a local "pub" in my new home town of Topeka, Kansas, where I knew I’d find huge screens to watch. Scotland hadn’t qualified, so I was here to support a Scot's next favorite team; “anyone who’s playing against England”.

In the huge bar, there were only four of us watching the game, and it became quickly clear that the two men at the next table were actually English, with the accompanying English accents. To be honest, they didn’t really converse with us much and we all watched the match with interest. Then Sweden scored, and I jumped out of my seat in exclamation. “Yes!” I punched the air. When the euphoria had died down, the nearest Englishman leaned over.

“’S’cuse me, mate?” he began in a very London accent. “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?”

“Yes!” I proudly declared, wishing I’d bought a Sweden shirt for the game.

“Then why are you supporting Sweden?” he asked.

“Seven hundred years of oppression, mate.” I crisply answered.

My wife cringed in her seat as I turned back to watch the television screen oblivious to her fears. Perhaps luckily for me England won, but when I was questioned later as to why I’d said such a cruel thing to my ‘fellow countryman’, I realized that I had not considered the snub for one second. The words had been so natural, so quickly out of my mouth, that I never gave it a second thought. Yes, to "the punters" wars are much more than mere statistics...

PHOTO CREDIT: David Robertson Photography

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Road To Bannockburn: And Sent Him Homeward

The Weary Warriors

In the darkness of the night between 23rd and 24th of June 1314, the English army moved into position. Scotland's own mosquito-like insects from hell (midges) plagued the 20,000 men as they moved half a mile north-east to the far side of the waters of the Bannock Burn. The troops made ready to attack from the east instead of the south, where they’d had so little success the day before. Weeks of forced marching, followed by a dismal first day of battle had already sapped the English morale. Add the sleepless night and the ever-present midges bombardment and they were hardly at the top of their game. Most slept in position on the battlefield, hoping the Scots would rise late, giving them some much-needed rest.

Now aware of the English army’s low morale, the Scottish army emerged from Balquihidderock wood at the first light of dawn. Forming quickly into their hedgehog-like schiltrons, the closely packed spearmen marched onto the battlefield. Then as one ten thousand Scots fell to one knee and bowed their heads, praying to almighty God for a swift victory. To the English king and his troops it appeared that they were offering themselves for surrender. Edward's cry of victory quickly changed to dismay as the Scots rose and trumpeted their readiness to fight.

The Battle Rages

King Edward's nephew- Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester- was just 23 years old and had been fighting in the Scottish wars since he was 15. He held the reigns of the biggest section of Edward's Cavalry, and ranked first amongst the nobles. He argued that they army needed rest, but King Edward would have nothing of it. Because of the rules of siege, Stirling Castle must be reached today if it were to be rescued. An argument ensued leading to Gloucester’s charge against the Scots.

It mattered little. The Scottish schiltrons had advanced far onto the field to stop the English cavalry from reaching any momentum in their charge. At the edge of the concentrated spears, Gloucester and his men died in their hundreds. Buoyed by their victory, the schiltrons closed on the English lines where they met the rest of the English knights with their cavalry. Trapped between the advancing spears and their own army behind them, the advantage of the knights on horseback was lost. In minutes, the English vanguard fell all along the front line, it became clear that the day was lost. Then the rest of the weary English army came under the Scot's determined assault. Trapped in boggy land, and unable to flee quickly because of the number of men and the river behind them, the men soon were cut to pieces.

Historic Defeat

The English army stood in chaos. King Edward was dragged from the field and rode eastward with his personal bodyguard for 65 miles until they reached Dunbar castle, where he boarded a ship to England. Leaving his ‘superior force’ to be cut to pieces in their thousands on the field of Bannockburn, his campaign was over, and Stirling Castle given to the Scots.

Victory belonged to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Nine English knights, earls and barons met their end at Bannockburn, with another nine captured and held for ransom. With their leaders gone, the army splintered. For the first time in all the wars between Scotland and England, thousands of English were caught behind enemy lines in complete disorder. It would be a difficult journey home.

The words of our National Anthem, Flower of Scotland, written by Roy Williamson of the Corries, recounts this day with a passion that still stirs the hearts of Scots the world over...
O flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
 And sent him homeward
 Tae think again

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
 But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again
Part 6 of 7 in my Road to Bannockburn series

Monday, June 23, 2014

Road to Bannockburn ~ Battle is Joined

It's June 23rd! Happy Birthday to me, a Scot born on the anniversary of the greatest battle in Scottish history. Here follows my account of day one of the Battle of Bannockburn, a story that has fired my imagination since I was a wee lad...

23 June 1314

This morning 700 years ago today brought close to 30,000 men together on the boggy land around the stream called the Bannock Burn. With dew thick and heavy on the grass, like chess pieces arriving on the board to start a new game, the two armies arrived on the chosen field and began to move into position. Across the few hundred yards between the armies, trumpets sounded, cheers roused, and tension built.

With their shining armor glinting in the morning sun, the English army under Edward II slowly moved into sight. They had marched for weeks to arrive just one day before the deadline to lift the Scottish siege of Stirling Castle. Edward had almost 20,000 men, which included almost 3000 mounted, heavily armored cavalry, easily sufficient to deal with the much smaller Scottish force before them.

Although 16,000 pikemen, archers and crossbowmen had marched hard to reach the castle in time, and were weary from the last march from Edinburgh, the English were in confident mood. But Edward’s scouts had disturbing news for their sovereign. In the weeks that they had moved north, King Robert Bruce of Scotland had carefully mined the battlefield. Deep pits covered with grass littered the area in front of the Scottish position, and the only clear routes for a charge had been left in marshy areas of deep, cloying mud. A straightforward cavalry charge would be fraught with danger.

Perhaps reticent to launch a full attack, the English cavalry advanced and in the face of the Scottish chiltrons, they could not press to sufficient advantage. As the English cavalry withdrew and regrouped, the most celebrated single combat in Scottish history took pace.

The Solitary Charge

Henry de Bohun was the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, an English knight in full heavy plate armor, armed with a long lance. With an armored heavy horse under him, the partnership weighed more than a ton. Perhaps frustrated at the ineffectiveness of the first English charge, he lingered on the battlefield. Then he spotted an opportunity far too good to pass up.

King Robert Bruce had no such protection. Mounted on a light horse, he rode in front of the Scottish lines in light armor, rousing his troops. Armed with only an axe, he wore his golden crown on top of his helmet to identify him in the midst of battle. His tabard would have shown the single red rampant lion against a shining yellow background.

With the crown of Scotland for his prize, Henry de Bohun spurred his horse into a canter, heading straight for the Scottish king. There was little time to act, and although shouts of warning reached the king’s ears, he held his position facing the Englishman, and slipped the axe into his hand, ready for the strike.

This was all or nothing.

As the thundering of the charge neared, de Bohun’s lance lowered, ready to skewer Bruce and win the day in a single action. Behind him, Bruce heard the cheer fade, every eye on the battlefield on the two men, one charging, one standing ready. The only sound under the afternoon sun - the heavy hooves of de Bohun’s horse.


As it seemed that victory could only fall to the charge of sinew and steel, as Henry de Bohun  reached King Robert, the scot spurred his horse a few steps to one side. At such speed, and such momentum, you cannot change the direction of charge quickly. As Henry de Bohun tried in vain to alter his aim, the lance passed uselessly along King Robert Bruce’s side. The scot stood high in the stirrups of the light horse, and as Henry rode past, he swung his axe at the knight’s helmet.

The sound rang around the battlefield like a bell.

Bruce’s axe clove the helmet in two, and also the head of Henry de Bohun. The man was dead before his body fell from his horse. And as the scots cheered their king, Edward of England knew the day’s fighting was over. Battle would begin again tomorrow, on the last day to lift the siege...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Road to Bannockburn - King Edward leaves Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, an imposing structure in any age
Seven hundred years ago on this very day, June 20th, 1314, King Edward of England’s trumpeters roused the weary English army. They had crossed the Scottish border at Wark on the old Roman road called Dere Street, just three days ago, fording the river Tweed, and marched at breakneck speed to reach Edinburgh, Scotland’s magnificent walled city.

For a medieval army to march ninety miles in three days is a particularly arduous task. The daily structure for an army on the move was regimented and disciplined. Around 5 a.m. in the first rays of the morning sun the men must first be roused from sleep, and prepare and eat breakfast. They then strike camp; tents are collapsed, horses groomed and fed, and knights carefully armored. Coals from the campfires would be carefully preserved in iron pots for easy lighting the next evening, then the army would form up in columns, ready to march. Scouts would be sent north, both to look for possible ambushes and new sources of food. Trumpets would sound, and the long caterpillar of men would commence their march. Sometime around midday the army would stop and feed again, eating cold meats and dry bread, before returning to the march, where they trudged onward. Even at a walking speed of three miles per hour, the English army would still have needed to march ten hours per day to accomplish the task. King Edward was determined to reach Stirling Castle by the 24th June, and lift the Scottish siege.

Earliest known illustration of Battle of Bannockburn

On the morning of 20th June, 1314, after marching north for many weeks, the English Army turned abruptly to their left, and departed from the outskirts of Edinburgh, with its castle high on the grey volcanic rock, and headed eastwards for Stirling. The Lothians, the land surrounding Edinburgh, is an area of good arable farming land, and after pushing through rough moors for many days, the English army would have eaten well, finding easy pickings of sheep, poultry and cattle. The populace would have either fled into the hills, into the walled city of Edinburgh, or just hid as well as they could, as an army of 20,000 men rampaged through their lands.

Leaving an angry populace at their backs, the army marched away regardless. It would be a mistake many would rue to their dying day.

Part 4 of my Road To Bannockburn series

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Road to Bannockburn: Robert the Bruce Prepares His Troops

Robert the Bruce Sculpture via
Seven hundred years ago today-15th June, 1314- as King Robert the Bruce prepared the battlefield at Bannockburn, the possibility of defeat lay heavily on his mind. At forty years old, he was a seasoned campaigner, and his motto of “live to fight another day” had served him well in his eight year reign. He had faced defeat at English hands, but had also a victory at Lowden Hill under his belt, and seven years of a successful guerilla campaign.

King Edward II of England had until 24th June to touch the walls of Stirling, and relieve the castle’s siege. The long truce had given the English King sufficient time to gather a strong army and lead it northwards, the largest to invade Scotland in many years. But the Scottish king had not been idle; he had used time to his own advantage. The truce had allowed him to choose the field of battle, the confluence of the Bannock burn and the mighty River Forth, the main route to the castle.

As his army grew the Bruce had them dig thousands of small pits in the ground- most with wooden spikes and covered in grass- but not in any haphazard arrangement. The canny king ensured that the pits were strategically placed like a modern minefield, guiding the enemy into 'safe' channels, thus directing the flow of the English attack. Not only had he chosen the battlefield, he had also dictated the route of the English charge. He had laid his ‘mines’ in the better, firmer areas, and left the attacking channels in the marshier, heavier ground.

Battle of Bannockburn Day 1 by John Fawkes (Click to purchase)

It is said that he turned away volunteers that were not well equipped, and that he did this out of a kind, kingly disposition. This may not be so. The king wanted well equipped men, yes, but he also wanted highly maneuverable, highly trained forces, arrow shaped groups of men called ‘chiltrons’, who carried long sharp pikes. He formed them into groups of a thousand strong, and drilled them every day. After weeks of practice, as they advanced and turned they were like a well-rehearsed porcupine; ready to spear unwary cavalry and infantry alike. The fore-runner of the infantry squares at Waterloo.

These lightly armored, mobile troops had one other advantage; they could run away quicker than the English could follow. If Robert lost Stirling Castle, he was determined not to also lose his army. As King Robert gazed south on this day, he knew that his destiny approached.  As he thought of the thousands of Englishmen, marching towards the Scottish border, perhaps he composed the address to his troops on the day of battle…
“Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tae yer gory bed,
Or tae victorie…”
(Robert Burns)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Road to Bannockburn: Edward II, No Longshanks

In the lead up to the historic commemoration of the landmark Scottish Battle of Bannockburn lets travel back in time ...700 years ago today, 7th June 1314:

The English King:

Edward II was no Longshanks like his father, but he was tall, athletic and good-looking, and had been king for seven years. Born in 1284, he was thirty years old when he invaded Scotland, heading for Stirling Castle and Bannockburn. It was not his first trip north. From the age of sixteen, he had accompanied his father, Edward I (of Braveheart fame), many times as he ‘hammered’ the Scots. This did not endear the king to the Scottish people.

When Longshanks died, the English nobles bustled for power, and unfortunately the new King did not quite have the strong grip of his father. Edward II’s relationship with his nobles were like a wealthy boarding school lad warily staring down a bunch of bullies. He controls them with his rank and money, but they run around him doing whatever they please most of the time. From the age of sixteen, Edward had a special ‘friend’, Piers Gaveston, and many historians have placed various suggestions as to the depth of their ‘relationship’. Suffice to say, the man held so much power over the king that the English nobles captured him and executed him in 1312. Not the best way to endear yourself with your king, but it does illustrate the nobles’ disdain of the king’s power over them.

As Edward II marches north his nobles do join the crusade, one by one, but each want the highest rank, and are prepared to fight for it. If we think of a canine analogy, the king would be best served by a team of eight huskies (the nobles) in a dog sled race... each pulling, each sharing the strain, each working in harness with each other, pulling the sled towards Stirling Castle.

In reality it is far more like the king is standing with eight pit-bulls on separate leashes, each trying hard to pull the king off his feet and use the excuse to fall on his neck, in for the kill. They pull at their leashes, while biting and snarling at each other, none of them co-operate, and the only way the king can get them to move in one direction is to throw them a bone. The bone being Stirling Castle.

From the outset, Edward has a difficult job on his hands. And he has to liberate the castle before 24th June, less than three weeks away.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Road to Bannockburn: 1st June 1314- Bannockburn Beckons

The Battle of Bannockburn is Scotland's Waterloo. It shaped the relationship between Scotland and England for many years, and allowed peace between the two countries for decades. I was born in Edinburgh on the same date as the battle, 23rd June, and as the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn nears, (and my 55th birthday) it seems as if both myself and the Battle collide once more. It made me wonder what was happening seven hundred years ago, how the battle was shaped, how the armies prepared. So we look back into a dark and primitive time, and I embraced my Scottish roots once more.

The scene...
The English King Edward’s plan was simple, take his English army, march north, and relieve Stirling Castle, which was under siege in lowland Scotland. But Robert Burns, writing ‘To a Mouse’ almost five hundred years later knew that even the simplest plans can often crumble or go awry; The best laid plans o’ Mice an’ men Gang aft agley. Under the agreement by King Robert Bruce’s brother, King Edward had until the 24th June to reach the castle to stop it falling into Scottish hands. Supposedly an easy task when you outnumber the enemy by four to one. Supposedly.

On the English side…
Seven Hundred Years Ago on This Day… on June 1st, 1314, King Edward rode at the head of a huge English army, his men marching slowly over the moors near the English border. They probably advanced up Dere Street, a still-existing road built by the Romans more than a thousand years before. English armies had used this route in the past, and they would use it many times again. With between 2000 and 3000 mounted knights, the procession would have looked impressive. With an accompanying force of 16,000 foot soldiers, consisting of pikemen, archers, crossbowmen and common soldiers, at around 19,000 men it was the largest force to advance north into Scotland for many years. The army had been preparing and assembling for almost three months, they were superior in every way to their waiting Scottish counterparts, and they knew it. And all they had to do was get to Stirling Castle, touch the walls, and the siege would be over, the result of a two year gentleman’s agreement.

On the Scottish side…
Seven Hundred Years Ago on This Day… on June 1st, 1314, King Robert Bruce held camp in the Tor woods near Stirling Castle. His army knew that a force to relieve the castle was already on its way. Gradually, in ones and twos his army grew, but he knew the significance of a small well-trained and equipped army, so sent home those who presented themselves with little arms or armour. Robert Bruce had the advantage of picking the terrain, and he chose the marshy land where the Bannock burn (stream) meets the much larger river Forth. Bruce knew the force had to come by 24th June, and used his time to prepare small pits in the battlefield, three feet deep, spiked at the base, and covered in dry straw. Through the strategic positioning of these holes, he could funnel Edward’s army through a small bottlenecks. Bruce had far fewer men at his disposal, no more than 6000 or 7000 foot soldiers and perhaps 500 mounted knights. He needed every advantage he could draw from the ground, and he meant to use it.

Seven Hundred Years Ago on This Day… on June 1st, 1314, neither the men marching north, nor the men digging pits knew the significance of their actions. No one knew the carnage that would befell them just 23 days later.

Part 1 of 7 in my Road to Bannockburn series

Friday, May 23, 2014

Of Inspiration, Dreams, The Elms Hotel, Steampunk Detectives, and a Clockwork Killer

Novelists take their inspiration where they find it; songs, life dramas, friends stories, whatever. They have to, because inspiration is sometimes difficult to find, let’s face it, there’s no new idea under the sun. But the inkling for my last novel came to me in a strange way. A dream.
I was at The Elms, a huge sprawling Hotel in Excelsior Springs in Missouri, attending my local writer’s group weekend retreat. The Hotel is the third built on the site; the previous two buildings burnt down in huge fires, and was a frequent base for Al Capone and boxer Jack Dempsey. We had a great weekend overall. We done some writing in the same room that Harry S. Truman had once used, and we drank into the wee hours in the snug bar on the Saturday night.
Suitably tired, my wife and I retired to our old-fashioned room, and fell asleep. Imagine my surprise, when I woke in darkness, roused out of my deep slumber by a shocking dream. The bright red numbers on the bedside clock read 4:35. I sat and recalled the dream, and to my shock, found a whole novel in my head. A whole crime novel, thorough in every way, and in a genre I’d never touched before, Historical Crime.
I had all the main characters, an image of them, and their names. I knew the complete plot, from the first murder on page one to the final throes of the murder suspect. I had the period, a year after the American Civil war, I had the location, Chicago, Illinois, and I even had the surprise final plot twist that turned the book on its head.
I lay sweating in the darkness, wondering if I could sneak my laptop out and start writing, but my wife slept soundly, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I considered leaving the room to write in the Hotel foyer, but the thought of her waking up to find me gone dismissed the idea. So I settled back on the pillows, and determined to stay awake, the dream still fresh in my mind. But of course, nature weariness and the residual effects of the alcohol took its toll, and of course I fell asleep again.
When I woke, the morning sunshine was trying to break through the heavy velvet drapes, and I sat up, terrified that I’d forgotten the dream. The clock now read 7:35, and that made a trip downstairs far more acceptable. To my astonishment, I still remembered every nuance of the dream/novel, and jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, grabbed the laptop, and set off down to the foyer, leaving a sleepy wife behind who questioned my leaving through heavy eyelids.

In the expansive tiled foyer, which a hundred people could have easily played football in, I sat in a very comfy leather armchair and wrote the synopsis, plot points, and the first chapter, 1500 words in all. As the morning wore on, one by one the writers arrived and were told the whole dream thing, and they read what I’d written.
“You have to finish it!” They said. But of course, I already had many projects in the pipeline, and this new one had to sit for a year or three before I got the next surge of inspiration. It turned out to be a chance meeting and a chat in a bar, where I told the whole story to a writer colleague. “Why not make it Steampunk?” she asked. “Steampunk is very big right now.”
That did it. I set off that afternoon, and pushing all other projects aside (I usually have about six or seven novels on the go) I started work. I wrote the book in three months. I introduced some new characters not in my dream, and to my surprise book two automatically beckoned, looming large on book one's final pages, making my novel the first of a series.
The Clockwork Killer: Book 1 of the Steampunk Detectives, will be available soon, and I hope you enjoy. And to writers everywhere I say, take your inspiration by the throat and write well and hard. Never discard what you dream up, and always remain open to suggestions.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

FREE Novel: What’s in an Amazon Top Rank?

What does the Amazon Ranking System mean?
Well, sometimes it actually means quite a lot.

Scenario 1; An excellent author has done his job, and written a fine outstanding novel. The editors have taken the book, and sought out every mistake, and the “Comma Police” have trampled on every sentence making certain that no extra punctuation marks mar the structure. The cover has been painted by Van Gogh, and the title fonts have been carved in gleaming white marble by Michelangelo. The back-flap has reviews by the Queen, Gandhi, and God himself, and the preface was written by William Shakespeare. The book then sold 50,000 copies per day for six months, made every concerned very rich and got added to every bestseller list in the world.

This is what that ranking would look like;
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1 in Kindle Store #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks

Okay, okay, I know it doesn’t usually go like that, but a good Amazon Best Seller Rank could give that impression. Of course, it could be a very different story… (Yes, I know authors like this… and they know who they are!)

Scenario 2: This author has no writing skill whatsoever, but he thinks he has. He surrounds himself with a lot of rabid friends who tell him so every day, who then dash onto Amazon and write a number of superb five-star reviews, basically telling lies about the book’s contents. The editors have never gotten a hundred miles from the book, because the author is either so egocentric to think it’s already perfect, or has such a fragile ego that he can’t stand any form of critique at all. The book has been dropped in the “FREE” section of the Amazon Kindle store, with a bunch of naked torsos on the front cover advertising the “smuttiest porn you have ever read” while somehow maintaining a strict holier-than-thou attitude. Yes, it looks like porn, and it’s been downloaded a few thousand times. But this author has a secret weapon. He’s mastered the art of the Amazon Ranking System. Believe it or not, in Amazon you can actually pick your own genre to link your book to. And you can make it so specialized, that even with the three million books that Amazon sells, there’s only about ten books in the category. SO… even if your book is totally CRAP, and you’re the lowest book in that rare section, you’ll still show up as ranked number TEN.

As an example, here’s one of my own rankings in such a rare section.
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,109 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store) #10 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Anthologies & Literature Collections > Horror

You see, there’s not much call for Literary Horror Anthologies, trust me. And this is how some authors look good on Amazon, while their actual product is way below par.

My own book?
The one with the #10 ranking?
It’s here…

Come see me at
Oh, and if you see any mistakes that the editors missed? Shh! It’ll be our little secret!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Can TV or Books Survive Without the Long Story Arc?

Can TV or Books Survive Without the Long Story Arc?

Sometime, back in the Black-and-White ages of television, viewers got hooked on shows, and watched each episode like opening a new bottle of beer (no one cares what order you drink a six-pack!). And in the days before video recorders, TiVo, and the DVD hard drive, it was essential that the television production companies keep each episode free-standing, so that if we missed one, it didn’t matter; we didn’t actually miss anything important.
In books, we more or less did the same, many authors had series of books about the same character, yes, but mostly they were essentially stand-alone volumes, single stories. They were written that way, meant to be read, and passed on to friends. Yes, you could be pedantic, and read them in the correct order, but mostly it didn’t matter. You enjoyed the characters, and you were enthralled by the stories, no matter what order you got them in. Let’s face it, in those days many of us got our books from the library, school, or friends, and we couldn’t guarantee them in any order anyway.
Then, in the dawn of the video recorder, around 1971, things began to change, people could record episodes when they were out, on vacation etc, and TV series began to have two part stories, and include details from previous episodes. The beginning of the long arc had surfaced.
In books too, writers had made the trilogy the mainstay of the long-arc novel, and it took guts to extend the series beyond that iconic number three. But again, mirroring television, the novel was about to change.
With the advent of increased cable television stations, the need to draw an audience grew, but a loftier goal was the keeping of an audience, and for that the television companies needed a hook to draw you back to a certain channel on a certain day at a specific time.
The long plot arc was born through necessity, and it’s here to stay. Today, we cannot imagine a television series without a long-arc plot. In fact, if the long arc is not presented quickly in the series, therefore giving us something to get our collective teeth into, we swiftly turn off, and watch somewhere else. There is a burning need to have a mystery behind every show, whether it be science fiction, horror, or soap opera.
In books today, we have so many series available in every genre that it is difficult to conceive of a single standalone novel anymore. Some authors do not even publish until they’ve completed at least two connected books. The age of the series is firmly upon us, and I for one am all in favor.
So, in summary, I ask the question. Do you, the book reader, read single books anymore, or do you hone in on a series?
In either case, tell me about your best stand-alone, your best series, the one of which you cannot wait on the next volume.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vampires Don't Cry: Original Sins... a brand new start to our Vampire world.

News, hot off the press;
As April showers splash the world with a taste of spring, the editors at Hallanish Publishing have been doing the same... slaving over the midnight oil, putting the finishing touches to our latest volume; "Vampires Don't Cry: Original Sins".

It's the introduction of a few new characters, and involves a few old ones too....
Valérie Berthier (in VDC4: Blood Red Roses) is born into a world of strife and confusion. Torn from her mother’s womb, she is ultimately forced to accept that her view of the world is unique; she was born a vampire. From Italy to America she battles an asylum life, until the day she breaks free. But even as a vampire, there are consequences in life.
Theresa (Finch), a brand new character to VDC, is an average New Jersey high school senior until she’s smitten by the latest vampire in class. Rocked by the transformation process, she turns to Valérie to help her through. 
In the midst of a vampire turf-war, the two are soon separated, but Valérie refuses to accept her lot, determined to get out of her drudge-like life  and re-unite with her vampire friend.
VDC: Original Sin is a two voice epic that spans a century and two continents.
Ian writes as Theresa (Finch) Scholes; a very determined teenager, forced to grow up quick in the violence of a vampire world.
April writes as Valérie Berthier; born a vampire, with the words of her mother still ringing in her head, guiding her through a tumultuous life.
Twisting and turning, Valerie and Finch find themselves drawn to an inescapable climax against two of the oldest vampires alive.
Yes, they have skill and training, but will it be enough to avoid defeat and ensure surv
Available soon at all good eBook stores.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pinkerton Detective Agency is Scottish!

Pinkerton, left, with President Abraham Lincoln

Who knew that Allan Pinkerton, the head of the greatest private detective agencies, was born in Glasgow, Scotland?
Born in the Gorbals, where the Glasgow Central Mosque is now, in 1819, just four years after the Battle of Waterloo.
Pinkerton is Scottish? before delving into research for my newest novel, I certainly didn’t know that.
And he was a bit of a rebel, a hot head… well coming from the Gorbals, I don’t doubt it. He secretly married a Glasgow singer, and then, finding out that politics were far better in the colonies, sailed to America.
He settled in Dundee, Illinois, near Chicago, but couldn’t keep politics out of his life. He campaigned for the Chicago Abolitionists and was so vehemently anti-slavery that his home was a part of the famous “Underground Railroad” which provided help, safety and security for runaway slaves. It is estimated that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had been saved by this network of such safe houses. He was the first detective appointed in Chicago.
He formed the North-Western Police Agency, which later became Pinkerton & Co, the famous detective agency.

During the American Civil War he invented/developed the art of surveillance, and following subjects.
During the American Civil War he invented/developed the art of the spy; going behind enemy lines for information.
During the American Civil War he formed the Presidential protection group, and saved President Abraham Lincoln from an assassination attempt.
During the American Civil War, his “Intelligence Service” became the basis for the US Secret Service.
After the war, he farmed out his talents to the highest bidders; the railroads, and foiled many robbers such as the Reno gang and Jesse James.
When he died, in 1884, he was working on a brand new idea; a national database for criminal cases. What a man ahead of his time.
And Scottish! Who would have known?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stovies; a Traditional Scottish Dish from Left-overs

Stovies is a traditional Scottish dish, basically made from the left-overs of another meal.
There is a possibility that the word Stovies comes from the French "étouffée", to steam, and it would make for a good piece of table trivia, but no one can be certain. Personally I doubt it.
It is, however, commonly accepted that it was originally a Monday dish, re-hashing the left-overs of an extravagant Sunday roast, and that would lead to the meat content in most of the recipes.
So for the traditional Monday cooking, it is based in the old beef gravy, and all the components are either cooked I this gravy or heated up in it. Because of this, every component of the dish soaks in the gravy, heightening the taste.
To recreate the dish from scratch, in its very basic form, we have beef gravy, onions, potatoes.
That’s the basis of the dish, and many would argue that’s it… don’t add anything else. That’s the way some households made the dish. However, that’s not holding up the traditional conception of using up left-overs. In the old days of the dish’s history, any addition would be based on whatever left-overs you had, added to the mixture and heated up.
In our house, to add meat/proteins, my mum would brown some minced beef, and sliced or chopped sausage. I’ve also heard of chicken, turkey and more commonly corned beef (Popular at the time, tinned/canned).
Adding vegetables also enhances taste, and keeps the traditionalists happy; my mum added chopped carrots and turnip/rutabaga.
I put these additions on a Scottish Facebook site recently, and got all kinds of friendly, yet vehement comments. Seems everyone had their own version, and that became a family tradition. And anything different from the home favorite is sacrilege.
But whatever the mixture above, the bulk of the dish is potatoes; perhaps two to five times the quantity of the rest of the pot; anything to eke out the left-overs and feed the family. Cooked real slow as to not burn the contents at the bottom of the pan, it simmered for a good hour, gently bringing the dish to fruition.
I even remember mum sometimes putting a potato masher through it, just to make it more mushy.
In my house I always garnished the steaming plate with some kind of ketchup, or broon or fruity HP sauce.
It makes a bit of a mockery of the dish’s primary intent to see it included in some Scottish fine dining restaurants, but I’ve seen cod or mackerel used as the protein, served with a fresh salad, hot oatcakes and beetroot.
 But it gets worse, there’s even a casserole version, topped with roasted cheese. “Serve with a sprinkling of chopped chives or parsley”…
OH PLEASE. Stick to the basics, and it’ll be braw.

Friday, January 3, 2014

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