The Dark Side

“Congratulations on writing what is obviously a very good book, and welcome to the dark side” – Mark Dawson

Well that was a great start to 2020 wasn’t it?

The year in which I was finally all set to get going again with Sassana, before finding myself blown about and battered more times than Santiago up in the Crow’s Nest of the Santa Maria de Vision. Talk about choppy waters and a challenging time on so many fronts. Such a crazy year that the actual confirmed sighting of UFOs didn’t even make headline news (!)

But I digress, more about the writing:

As I said it’s been a crazy time the last few months, what with the virus causing havoc and all. So what was I doing before lockdown, back in 2019? Apart from receiving a few nominations and awards for Sheriff? Well it’s a long story, not sure I should go into all of it here. But suffice to say that I’ve got my rights to Santi back at last (mine! My own!) and that we can now kick on again with the Lynx of Haarlem’s anticipated return.

And did I also mention the latest manuscript I completed? A small novella I managed to pull together during an extremely turbulent time which included moving house, fleeing raging bushfires, enduring power cuts (yes, unheard of in Sydney) because of a mini-tornado which just happened to pass through (I mean, seriously, what the hell’s going on with all this environmental mishap?), flash floods, hospitalisation of the wee fella etc. – hell even the dog injured himself! And then of course the small matter of – in the words of a certain Brazilian – ‘a little flu’. Trying to get stuff done while kids bounced off the walls, what an absolute nightmare. Anyway those are my excuses for publishing inactivity and I’m sticking to them.

 

Yet it’s not all been slim pickings on the writing front. My stream of book reviews on Goodreads did not go entirely unnoticed, so that the boys at Grimdark Magazine asked me to write a trial review for them before inviting me to join their Reviews Team. Which is very exciting, especially since I get access to all kinds of advance review copies of the latest Grimdark titles. And if fantasy isn’t necessarily your thing, please do note that Grimdark Magazine also publishes reviews about sci-fi, historical fiction and other genres, so long as they’re grimdark in tone. There’s plenty of reviews on their website to provide you with as many great reading suggestions as you need, plus they also review screen dramatisations and even records from time to time. I’m just delighted to find a great home for my writing and hope that you also enjoy the reviews as well as any of the novels I’ve reviewed.

As for the grimdark novella I mentioned earlier: it’s a great little story which I’ll be publishing anonymously and independently. A literary guinea pig through which I hope to learn the self-publishing ropes. For of late I’ve also been up to my knees in dark and treacherous Indie waters, which should soon be reaching up to my waist before tickling my neck and swallowing me whole.

What else is news? Oh yes, did anyone catch the Spanish Armada 1588 short film which was recently released? I watched it yesterday and greatly enjoyed it, thought it was worth five times the paltry 8 bucks I spent to watch it. Was also good to spot a cameo featuring Eddie O’Gorman, chairman of Spanish Armada Ireland. Well-deserved too, given all he’s done to promote the Spanish Armada landings in Ireland. I’ll never forget how he generously devoted half a day to guiding an aspiring Maltese-Australian novelist around many of the Armada sights back in October 2012.

 

 

So that’s it from me really, just a quick hello to let you know I’m still alive and that the wheels which will lead to Santi resurrection are turning again, as I learn all I possibly can about the dark side before relaunching. Please God our macro disaster quota has been met for a while to come and that – bar a World War III breakout – we might finally enjoy a bit of good old peace and quiet again to get on with things.

I hope all you friends, patrons, Pigeons, readers everywhere are slowly returning back to your lives and that some smidgen of good might come out of this shocking and unexpected kick in the teeth.

Also wanted to provide you with a reminder that not all of my author website’s Wall updates are heralded by mailshots like this one, so do check in to the website from time to time as I do post the odd unannounced update here. And if you ever receive another author email from me like this one in coming months, you’ll know that I’ve climbed back out of indie waters and that ‘A Rebel North’ is within touching distance.

So chins up, keep on swinging & Go Santiago. Come what may, always and forever: GO SANTIAGO!

And most of all: keep the faith

Best,
James

PS and here’s another half-edited, little excerpt from the upcoming Sheriff sequel ‘A Rebel North’, just to give you an idea of what’s in store. Hope you like it.

 

The sight of them filled me with a deep misgiving, for I could already foretell the tragedies which would befall the tribe once the men they had rescued made their recovery.  I almost gagged at this thought while also recalling the enthusiasm with which I had flung myself into the Spanish army in my youth, when I still believed it to be a force bursting with chivalrous men both honourable and valourous. Only to find that it was in fact an force filled with scores of unprincipled, self-serving ruffians, who joined a mutiny at the drop of a hat and were capable of the most despicable of crimes. Crimes that all too often went unpunished by incompetent officers of Ramons’ ilk. So that I still cursed the day when I had signed up to form part of these men’s number, since most of them were but looters and rapists parading beneath a glorious banner.

  As my eyes became accustomed to the poor light I could better make out their sneers, so that there was no doubt left in my mind that once the Spaniards were recovered enough to leave the infirmary, there would be many an Irish tribesman cuckolded and swindled at dice or cards. The castaways were also men who would draw arms at any perceived slight, men in whose company I had been forced to sharpen my wits and often relinquish my humanity just to stay alive. I could already envisage the duels that would break out in the passageways between the huts in the town, whenever a native refused to make way for an armed Spaniard.

  Yet upon recalling my protector’s errand, I dispelled these thoughts from my mind, doing my best to engage in a cordial address. For despite my low opinion of Spanish soldiers, I clung to the hope that not all of them were unruly, since a pair of them had already nodded to me in greeting although their eyes were mostly fixed on the ground. I later discovered that these two stowaways were but unfortunate peasant boys from the Canary Islands, who had been press-ganged into joining the Grand Armada against their will.

  So frightened were they from their recent ordeals, that not a peep was heard out of them, not even to sound a line of silbo gomero to one another, that famous whistling tongue for which the shepherds of their country were famous. In any event, it seemed a small mercy that none of the Spaniards appeared to be of rank, although this did not make them appear any less haughty. This thought had hardly crossed my mind when one of the rescued men rose to his feet. He was a short, stocky specimen and also appeared to be the most senior of the lot.

  ‘Who are you?’

  I cleared my throat awkwardly at his abrupt question, while resting my hand upon my sword pommel to assume some air of authority. Given my ragged state it was at once a gesture both futile and piteous, although I did my best to assume the man’s overbearing tone which was a timely reminder of the Spanish soldier’s arrogance.

  ‘My name is Juan de los Hospitalarios. I am a survivor of the Santa Maria de Vision.’

  The short man eyed my blade without betraying any fear, then spoke again in a thick Catalan accent.

  ‘You look none the worse for wear, Juan de los Hospitalarios.’

  He uttered my name slowly and contemptuously, and I caught a proud glint in his eye as he stepped before the hut’s entrance and rested his hands upon his hips, with his legs spread wide apart as if to bar my way. I ignored his words and grimaced as I tried in vain to sidestep any unnecessary confrontation.

  ‘I was the first to reach Dartry’.

  A lanky castaway squinted at me from his bed of rushes, with his Milanese accent betraying his Lombard origins.

  ‘Tell us, Juanito. What do these savages have in mind for us?’

  His crude reference to the natives left me feeling taken aback, so that it took a few moments for me to regain my composure.

  ‘They want nothing more than to be our allies.’

  ‘Ally themselves with Spaniards?’ exclaimed another, before feigning to choke with shock, ‘does not everyone hate us?’

  His jest drew some nervous chuckling from his fellows while one of them squinted at me suspiciously. 

  ‘How did you reach these people so quickly?’

  I sighed aloud. For although I hoped that the truth might placate them, I could already predict the direction in which our conversation would flow.

  ‘I was escorted here by the natives. After I rescued Manglana’s daughter.’

  Two of the men instantly whistled to each other before one of them called out to me with a wink and a broad grin.

  ‘Helped yourself to their women already? You are quick off the mark Juanito!’

  Before I could object, another held his crotch with both hands and pulled a face.

  ‘Better find me a hussy before they burst!’

  Raucous laughter erupted and men slapped their hands against their thighs and crude boardings, wrapt as they were in their vulgar mirth. When the loudest hoots were ended, a few of the fools could still be heard tittering from their beds. Without waiting for their chortling to subside my arm shot out as I held O’Rourke’s letter aloft.

  ‘Never mind that’, I snapped, ‘for we have another, more pressing priority. Our protector has asked that we sign this billet.’

  As the chieftain’s parchment was waved before them the Catalan raised his pudgy nose towards it, almost as if I had just presented him with a turd. He then sneered wickedly, hissing a riposte from the corner of his mouth.

  ‘How do we know that this message is what you claim it to be? And besides, I never sign anything on behalf of anyone.’

  I rolled my eyes as I often did when confronted by mulish, Spanish stubbornness, knowing full well that my attempts at reason were of no use. For the haughtiness of these men was such that they were known to fight twice their number in battle without batting an eyelid, and would also approach the gallows with a spring in their step, if it meant preserving the slightest bit of their misplaced pride.

  ‘I swear to you that I do not speak false. I have signed it myself.’

  The Catalan chuckled.

  ‘And is that meant to provide us with comfort? In any event, I do not know my letters’.

  ‘It matters not,’ I shot back, ‘for I expected as much. Yet if you but scrawl a little cross on this note, I will write your name alongside it.’

  The men cast dark glances at me as they drew closely together and mulled over my offer in muffled whispers, while the fattest one of them could be heard asking if I had just mocked the Catalan.

  ‘What does the letter say?!’ they shouted at last, ‘read it to us word for word! And the devil take you if you speak false or omit anything.’

  At their request I read them the contents of the message which I had borne them. In it the O’Rourke sought to assure Don Alonso de Leiva that he was a faithful subject of the King of Spain, who was sheltering Spanish soldiers at great personal risk. The overlord also informed the good Don that the troops of the English crown in Dublin numbered only two thousand men, of whom half were Irish. He strongly encouraged De Leiva to join with the northern rebels, to form a force that could drive the heretics out of Ireland and into the sea. Silence reigned when my reading ended, and after a few moments I noticed one of my listeners peering at me in suspicion.

  ‘How do we know you haven’t recited all this from your head?’

  I exhaled loudly, finding that my patience had reached its lowest ebb.

  ‘Are there truly none among you who can read?’

  The Catalan strode up to me, his chest puffed out in defiance.

  ‘Yet even if you speak the truth, why the hell should we fight with these barefoot yokels?! Let us instead ready ourselves to flee this hellish backwater!’

  His last word was barely uttered when I grabbed him by the throat and flung him onto the ground like a straw doll. He glared back at me with bared teeth, desperately trying to remove my tightening fingers from around his throat with his bruised hands. I snarled back at the miscreant, my face only inches away from his.

  ‘Have some respect for our hosts, whoreson…do not slap the hand of friendship in this hell in which we find ourselves…’

  A great rage had seized me at the thought that my stay amongst the Dartrymen was to be threatened by these ruffians gathered before me. For in recent days I had earned a grudging, growing respect from the natives. Manglana himself had seemed impressed during our long discourses, often questioning me about battle tactics and weaponry. Worst of all, the behavior of these Spaniards was set to embarrass me with the high born tribesmen, for although I was world-weary and tired of life, it would take a lot more setback for me to forget my manners.

 

 

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