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22. Nov, 2020

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of fellow Woking author, Toby J. Cole early in September this year. Toby leaves behind a wife and three adult children. 

Toby Cole and I never formerly met; however, we did correspond via email and social media and he kindly afforded me a complimentary copy of his debut novel, Beyond the Pales back in 2014. The book is a crime thriller set predominately at Brookwood Cemetery, and in and around Woking, Surrey. Toby who lived near me in Knaphill also penned a collection of short stories entitled The Assassination of Hilary Mantel

The Booker Prize winner, Mantel lived in a penthouse at the former Brookwood Hospital in the village, indeed, “just a stone’s throw,” from where Toby lived.

Toby spent the first six years of his working life as a registered nurse before joining the Metropolitan Police. Later in his career, he conducted police mentoring in Iraq and armed protection in Afghanistan. Like myself, he took up story writing after taking early retirement.

If you live in Woking and enjoy reading books set in and around the local area, then Beyond the Pales is for you. 

About the book:  Why is a Forensic Anthropologist murdered in the largest cemetery in Western Europe? Detective Superintendent Pandora Kingdom needs to find out and fast. As well as battling the killer, she has her own demons to deal with. She lost her arm and leg while police mentoring in Afghanistan. Does she still have the strength for the hunt? Assisted by Steve Bridger, an MI5 agent, Guy Hobbs a History professor and the ghost of the soldier who died when she was blown up. She soon finds out that she has choices to make and needs to know who is really on her side. The killer’s trail leads to a secret research laboratory in Porton Down where the victim worked. Is she following the right trail? What experiments are really going on in the woods there? Why does a police inspector kill himself? and what is the link that leads her back to Brookwood Cemetery, as the body count begins to rise. A cemetery that holds a quarter of a million dead souls holds many secrets. What do an order of Orthodox Monks guard so carefully? What are the fields of graves and mausoleums hiding within them? What is driving the killer on? Pandora Kingdom thinks she knows. Does she have the strength left to risk everything?  Or have the parts of herself, left on the dusty fields of Afghanistan, taken more than she can give. 

Kirkus Review: A debut crime thriller in which a forensic scientist is found murdered in England’s enormous Brookwood Cemetery. Pandora Kingdom is a talented homicide detective in Surrey, England. She’s also a double amputee, having lost an arm and leg to a bomb in Afghanistan. Over 20 years solving murders, however, has made her a tough, go-to detective, so she’s assigned to the case of Susan Thompson. The victim, a forensic scientist with an interest in body decomposition, was found in Brookwood Cemetery. She was shot in the head and her hands were nailed to a gravestone. At the crime scene, Pandora teams with MI5 agent Steve Bridger, who informs her that Susan researched, among other things, how chemical weapons affect pig corpses (since it’s illegal to use human bodies). Eventually, the investigators learn that Susan was fairly promiscuous - with both men and women - and enjoyed living beyond her means. Large money transfers in and out of Susan’s bank account and a storage unit (filled with strange, telling contents) point toward why someone might have killed her. But as fresh bodies begin piling up, the case assumes greater urgency. Did Susan die for the selling of government secrets, angering a lover or both? Debut author Cole begins this new crime series in a striking locale and imbues the narrative with generous historical and police procedural knowledge. The immediately likeable Pandora thrives in a male-dominated field without being completely humourless, like when she asks, “Are you checking out my wooden leg Mr. Bridger?” There’s also a touch of whimsy in scenes when she speaks with the ghost of a soldier named Daniel Sutton. And while the trope of a promiscuous victim is familiar, Cole handles it with subtlety. The narrative’s main flaw is that the punctuation occasionally slips (“What is with, the red tape?”). These moments don’t detract from a smartly paced tale, however, thick with chilly ambience and some thoroughly shocking deaths. The second volume will be eagerly awaited. A truly instructive debut characterized by heart, wit and restraint.

You can find the book on Amazon HERE

 

14. Oct, 2019

When I started writing ‘An Invisible Nemesis’ in July 2017, little did I know that three months into the process, a real life event would interrupt the project...

I had already decided to set my new conspiracy and murder thriller on the beautiful Maltese island of Gozo, a paradise I have visited frequently and somewhere I have always called my second home. The book tells the story of the calculated murder of a hard-nosed but much-loved investigative journalist called Suzanne Camilleri who was investigating a possible cover up involving the well documented death of Diana, Princess of Wales which had happened over twenty years earlier. The tale involves the Sicilian mafia and both the governments of the UK and Malta.

On Monday 16 October 2017 news came through that the popular but often controversial Maltese journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia had been assassinated in a car bomb attack near her home. Daphne was also a writer and anti-corruption activist who had reported on a number of political events in her own country. In particular, she focused on investigative reporting into government corruption, patronage, allegations of money laundering and much more.

For my part, it was time for a bit of soul-searching. Why had a real life event collided with my latest heady excursion into fiction? Indeed, like my key character in ‘An Invisible Nemesis’, Daphne had been killed just for doing her job, something which can never be acceptable. It's also worrying to think that according to recently released figures, ninety-five international journalists died in 2018 alone.

As an author of fiction and one with a conscience, I now had a dilemma. Should I shelve my new book or continue writing the story I had been harbouring for years? After all, there were so many parallels aligned with Daphne’s gruesome murder and a vital plot in my manuscript. It all felt more than just a coincidence. In the end I decided to bite the proverbial bullet, tread carefully and eventually publish. 

Today, the investigation into Daphne's murder continues but without much support from the Government of Malta, the same government that is unbelievably bringing at least forty-eight libel suits against Daphne two years after her death which in a way tells it own story. To date, three men have been arrested for her killing but the person said to have ordered it, mysteriously remains at large. A cover up? - A conspiracy? I tend to think so...  Daphne’s ultimate sacrifice for simply telling the truth must NOT be in vain.

You can find out more about Daphne’s life, her achievements and her untimely death @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_Caruana_Galizia

 

UPDATE: 

On Thursday 5 December 2019, following the arrest of a prominent businessman for complicity for murder and suggestions that Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was implicated in a cover up, Simon Busuttil, opposition Leader, MEP and former leader of the country's PN Labour Party stated, “This is worse than a murder, worse than an assassination. It is STATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM where the organs of the state, directed from Castille, aided and abetted the killing of a journalist. Then, they left NO STONE UNTURNED to make sure that the whole thing was COVERED UP!”

 

 

2. Jun, 2019

My third novel ‘An Invisible Nemesis’ is out ... and what a ride! - I’m talking about the whole process from concept and writing the first page right through to publication itself. I started writing the book in July 2017 and already had the main character, Jack Compton on board. He featured in my previous novel ’Fly Back and Purify’, as a fledgling journalist harbouring a mental health condition. This was in 1994 when he was just twenty-eight-years old... Fast forward twenty-five years and now, he’s a seasoned freelance reporter in his fifties.

I finished writing the book in February this year but didn't have time to relax. Patience isn't one of my virtues and I wanted the book out by the summer. February was when the serious bit, the editing and proofreading process came into play. To say that it's an arduous and tricky part of the procedure is an understatement, but we authors always seem to get through it. 

Moving on, what to do with the book when published?  I purposely channelled the paperback version through just one distributor. This has enabled the book to chart. Indeed it made No.1 in Lulu.com’s Top 100 Mystery and Crime chart in its first week of publication and then hit No.1 in their ALL FICTION Top 100 table for May.  

What now? Well, there’s already been a very successful book launch and signing evening in my local pub and other similar events are being planned. Press Releases are going out, including to the Maltese press where the book is predominately set. I’m also looking at the possibility of launching a Facebook promo campaign with a similar event on Amazon.

People who know me will be aware I’m not in this for the money. UK publishers released more than twenty new titles every hour over the course of 2014, meaning that the country published more books per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world. UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013... If I manage to sell just 1,000 copies of any of my books then I consider that to be an achievement. Essentially, I write primarily for my own enjoyment and if just a few people enjoy my work along the way, then the whole journey through to publication and beyond is worth it!

The nucleus for the next novel (something completely different) is already swirling around in the grey matter!

 

16. Nov, 2018

Most books have a back story, or at least some of the sub-plots do. For me, my paranormal novel Fly Back and Purify is no exception. Pub landlady. Carol Baker, (pictured) formerly of the Royal Oak in Knaphill, Surrey is also a psychic medium and assisted me greatly with my research. The following is from a piece I did when working for the Woking News & Mail in 2016...

When most people walk into a public house and think of spirits, they are probably looking at the choice of whiskeys, rums or vodkas from the optics behind the bar. At the Royal Oak at the bottom of Anchor Hill in Knaphill, the term spirit can take on a whole new meaning as the pub’s landlady Carol Baker is also a psychic medium. Carol and her partner Mark McDermott have been running the pub since March 2015.

Carol told the News & Mail, “Many psychic mediums use a spirit guide to describe an entity that may be attempting to make contact with the living. With the help of a guide I can use my ‘third eye’ to see spirits, the images can then become full apparitions; they are vivid and appear very real.”

She describes clearly seeing a couple who were previous landlords at the pub, a priest, an old man who sits in the corner at the front by the window and two children in Victorian dress who play upstairs.

It is known that in 1851 the landlord was William Collyer who ran it with his wife Sarah. By 1891 the pub was being run by Alfred and Phoebe Brighton. From 1900 to 1935 the landlords were Joseph and Minnie Searle and Minnie took sole responsibility for the establishment’s liquor licence following Joseph’s death in December 1935. Joseph who was born in 1869 had also been a local dairyman. Could one of these couples still be living there in spirit? 

Indeed, the Royal Oak has a very rich history and dates back to the 17th Century. In the mid 19th Century Wesleyan Ministers formed a Sunday school which met there until the completion of the original Methodist church in Knaphill in 1867.

Carol says that she picked up her spirit guide, a young child called Emily when she worked at the White Horse pub in Steyning in West Sussex. Emily has stayed with her ever since. She believes that the girl had been murdered by a seven-foot tall poltergeist after hiding a wallet at the White Horse.

Carol added, “Whilst many people sense or feel the presence of a spirit, most will never see them. Communicating with the spirit world is a gift that I am blessed with and very happy to talk about. My ‘third eye’ is really my mind’s eye. Behind my physical eyes there is an intuitive eye and I am able to use this for soul to soul seeing and that’s how I can interact with my friendly spirits right here in the pub.”

Carol admits that most customers at the Royal Oak are totally oblivious to its ghostly occupants, however if anyone should ever sense or see something or are perhaps even sceptical about their existence, she will always be on hand to happily talk and explain the phenomenon from her point of view. 

Note: Carol has since left the Royal Oak and now runs a pub in Hampshire

 

 

13. Nov, 2018

If you have read The Asylum Soul you will know all about Mrs Pengelley's Knaphill Pie. One reader has asked if there was a real recipe. The answer is yes. Bacon & Leek complete with all the 'secret' family ingredients. The recipe comes from a family who lived in Queens Road, Knaphill at the time the book is set and is known to have been a favourite among those who worked at Brookwood Lunatic Asylum.

Records show that the pie got its name simply because the bacon came from the Middle-White breed of pigs that were bought and reared at the institution. The breed was actually favoured by the asylum's bursar because of the fine quality and quantity of its pork. 

Since its mention in The Asylum Soul, the pie has been included on the menu at The Crown and, The Garibaldi pubs in Knaphill. 

 

ORIGINAL KNAPHILL PIE RECIPE (Bacon/Leek)

  • Full stove/oven.
  • Melt 2oz knob of lard in large pan.
  • Add 16oz bacon (chopped) and stir for 5 minutes until beginning to slightly brown then allow cooling down slightly.
  • Transfer to deep medium oven dish and add 2 finely chopped leeks.
  • Add level tea spoon of grated garlic and stir again.
  • Grate 8oz strong cheddar cheese and sprinkle over top.
  • Whilst bashing washed King Edward potatoes in saucepan add salt, water and milk and sprinkles of white pepper.
  • When fused set potato into dish on top of other ingredients and add tram-lines with fork and then sprinkle rosemary sparingly on top.
  • Cooking time 1 hour 20 minutes. Check and prod with a long fork every 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven when potato is browned. Allow 10 minute rest.
  • Best served with carrots and cauliflower.

Note: Quantity of ingredients based on 4 served/imperial measurements.