Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Christmas Coincidence

For Fiona, the run up to Christmas was marred by getting her left index finger trapped in her car door when parking at Marsden Station. The rest of the morning was spent at the NHS drop-in-centre in Boots at the Manchester Arndale centre, getting the offending didgit dressed. A pm visit to casualty in Huddersfield confirmed a break.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Flash forward to Christmas day; the champagne is flowing, the turkey is done and Duncan gets out the carving knife which he sharpens like a practised butcher, catching the index finger of his left hand in the process, going in to the bone. Is this a totally unique Christmas coincidence I ask myself?   
After a quick wound dressing, carving continued with feeling and the succulent bird was enjoyed by all. Wine highlight of the Christmas meal was was a bottle of   
Zeltinger Schlossberg-Rotlay Trockenbeerenauslese 1969, Duncan's birth year. It was a perfect accompaniment to the Christmas pudding.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, Amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble. Paperback edition on amazon.com

Friday, 23 December 2011

Motivation









This is our family Christmas tree with a few presents around the base. May I use it as a backdrop to say happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all my readers.
My writing news of the week is that my first novel, The Stuart Agenda, has now been published as a paperback available from amazon.com, the US site. We are still working on how to get it to British and European readers without transatlantic shipping costs, so watch this space.
     Today I want to talk about motivation as a character driver in writing. In particular I want to look briefly at what drove Leo Stuart to  kick off the Stuart Agenda, aimed at getting his brother's grandson, Robert, an untested French youth, onto the throne of Scotland. It looks like a formidable challenge; impossible you would say!
     Leo's starting point was a historic grudge against the Hanoverian usurpers who had been put onto the British throne, finally displacing the Catholic family of James II, from whom he claimed descent. It was a resentment that seemed to build as he got older and the burden of it was turning him melancholic. Into that troubled pond, the French Justice Minister throws a veritable boulder. Leo's beloved elder brother didn't die in a boating accident; he was murdered by the British Secret Service, adding fuel to Leo's anti-Hanoverian fire. Leo perhaps over eagerly accepts this new version of history and is easily led by the Minister's anti-English stance, cloaked in EU speak. The Minister's suggestion that Scotland would sooner or later go independent and hints at a process for funding and manipulating the political and constitutional outcome created a plausible way forward.
     So Leo's emotional motivation was partly his own, fired up by new information about his brother's death from the Minister. But can we take the Minister's classic French anti-Englishness at face value? He was a friend of Leo's brother. Is he more deeply involved than he seems?
     So, we have two legs of The Stuart Agenda in place. Leo's motivation and the opportunity for constitutional change presented by Scotland going independent. The missing leg is the candidate, a credible Prince who could persuade the Scots to change horses and dump the Hanoverians for him. Enter Leo's beautiful wife, Francoise. She sensed greatness in the child Robert as she held him shortly after his birth and supported Leo's strategy all the way. She was sure that Robert would have the qualities to make a good king. But was there more to it than that?
     Robert's motivation was also crucial. He quickly inherited Leo's anti-Hanoverian grudge in an emotional visit to the Culloden battlefield, scene of the disastrous defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. The battle ended the long series of Jacobite rebellions that challenged the new Hanoverian order. At Gordonstoun School, Robert excelled at rugby and fell out spectacularly with Prince Henry, the Hanoverian heir apparent. Robert concluded that he was a far better candidate for kingship than Henry, a strongly positive driver as he entered into the final scenes of the maturing conspiracy that had been seeded by his family many years before.
     Summarising; the obvious motivations of the key characters get the story going. However many of the characters are being driven by unseen issues that reveal themselves later in the drama. And of course, motivations change in response to events, particularly when Robert falls in love with a Hanoverian!

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder - e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble. Paperback edition from amazon.com.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

String Theory- Infinite Parallel Universes

String theory has been around for some time as a total physical explanation for the existence and behaviour of the cosmos. The Physics is awesomely impenetrable and the implications mind blowing. So, just the thing to write a poem about! I don't begin to understand the physics but do want to explore what it might mean for we humans, stuck in our three dimensions, with brains that have evolved to operate within these limits.
News from CERN is interesting. The shy Higgs Boson particle has at last started its Dance of the Seven Veils, so we might see it soon, fully revealed. Just as interesting for String Theory, an experiment firing neutrinos at Italy has come to the amazing conclusion that they travelled faster than the speed of light. This is absolutely forbidden under Einstein's rules, so a whispered explanation is that perhaps the neutrinos flipped into a different dimension, within which the different laws of physics allowed them to go faster than 'our' speed of light.


                                   Infinite Parallel Universes


The Princes of Cosmology have decreed
that matter consists of endless numbers
of infinitely long wavy thin strings,
like a billion children holding hands
then lined up head to toe in sheets;
our universe a membrane or a bubble
floating in the eternity of hyperspace.


But what happens when membranes collide?
There we have a big bang but not
The Big Bang; it’s happened many times,
ripples creating clumps of matter
that formed the stars the planets and us.
It takes time back beyond the singularity
with a new shiny theory of everything.

Our world is a spec of dust in the cosmos, 
an infinite series of parallel universes
in eleven different dimensions,
each with different laws of physics

The next dimension hovers very close
alongside, just above our skin; invisible,
where history is different from ours;
Elvis still alive and singing in one,
Nelson losing the battle of the Nile,
friends, family and lovers all different
and one where none of us was ever born.

Alas there is no link, no spy hole to let us see
what’s happening to the other versions of us,
running in blind parallel next door.
We can’t share the joy or the pain
of triumphs or disappointments
that  might have been our other lot,
even if emotion was an allowed state.


Unless the link is our unexplained dreams,
full of people and places we barely know,
or have never even met in this version of life;
each dream a  Technicolor film of detail
so clear that we could hardly make it up.
Are they our friends, loved ones and enemies
in the dimension that hovers just alongside?


Our eyes can’t see it in bright daylight,
awake it’s blotted out by the senses.
When we’re asleep the brain can focus
and make secret contact in the night,
delighting in our parallel fortunes and foibles,
meeting ourselves to swap outcomes
from the hidden world that’s just next door.

But why does the brain bury the dream?
Only fragments come through to confuse us
like snapshot trailers from an unseen movie
that can frighten and move in equal measure.
Is the brain protecting us from something?
Could we handle two or more versions
of ourselves with our evolved  3D brains?

Do the dimensions come in coupled pairs?
One for our bodies, DNA within its rules
the other limited, only electrons and electricity;
no angels or virgins to please the martyrs,
only energy to file away the endless spirits
of every man and animal that ever lived
in a digital Noah’s Ark of heaven and hell.

This is the other world that the mystic, the
shaman and priest always knew was there
and sometimes shows when ghosts get
charged up and stumble onto our stage
as holograms of their former selves.
Is this everlasting life, an electronic store
in that hidden twinned dimension?

Could love cross between dimensions in dreams?
Faithfully hopping between realities, a source
of happiness or sorrow we can’t explain.
For symmetry there must be evil spirits
that drive us mad with unseen delusion.
They were the enemies of our forefathers,
in the dream time, before we lost our sight.

Is God in the theory of everything?
The eternal dimensionless mathematician,
father of the veiled Higgs Boson
creator of mass in the standard theory.
He’s free from Einstein’s rules of the game
with his own perfect universe, reserving
the parallel ours for his experiments in chaos?

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, Barnes and Noble. Paperback edition coming soon on Amazon.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Choir, Brass and the Veto



Last night I attended the Huddersfield Choral Society Christmas concert in Huddersfield Town Hall, the finest statement of Victorian civic pride in the North of England. The Choir was accompanied by the Black Dyke Band, the best brass band in the world. The concert programme was a terrific mixture of choir, band and audience participation, belting out Hark The Herald Angel Sing and O Come All Ye Faithful, although I thought the descant in the former was a little thin- come on sopranos!
     The choir’s rendering of Still the Night was haunting and thought provoking. The middle verse of three was sung in German, something of a linguistic sandwich. That made me think of poor David Cameron, the filling in yesterday’s rye bread/baguette concoction delivered by chefs Angela and Nik. The bread turned out to be very hot and meat Dave was squeezed out as the Franco/German pincer movement engulfed him. His plea for The City of London was just too small a pimple on the vast fat arse of the Euro crisis. It was a bit like sending a poem into a novel writing contest.
     Worse still, nobody joined him in the refusenik lobby, so, not for the first time in history, we stand alone, to the delight of British Tory euro-sceptics, ever seeking opportunities to widen the English Channel.
      To describe this brutal exercise of realpolitik as the British using their veto spins the meaning of the word well beyond the Oxford English Dictionary. Cameron did not veto a treaty; it will simply be made without Britain. Having said that, I don’t expect the treaty to amount to all that much. It will take years to build on the sand of fudges and test the markets’ patience perhaps to destruction. Even then it won’t be implemented by those countries that choose to behave badly, perhaps rightly when you think of the democratic deficit and pain to come.
      Huddersfield Choral Society and Black Dyke Band both have their roots deep in our world beating Victorian industrial culture, outliving the factories and mills that spawned them. It looks as though Britain will have to look more vigorously beyond Europe, as we have so often done in the past. A degree of reinvention is required, beyond the 'big society' although more of that would help. How do you follow post-Empire, post- Industrial, post-European?

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder- e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble. Paperback version coming soon.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Your Body Chemistry

Here we have two statues, two representations of human figures. The figure on the left is a 'black' madonna from a church in the South of France. She was in a side-chapel at the back of the church, hidden out of the way. Tradition says that this is a representation of Mary Magdalene, a relic from the Cathar set of beliefs that were never quite completely stamped out by the Roman Catholic Church. On the right we have a figure of Scottish reformation man, general difficult character and scourge of popery, John Knox from St Giles Catherdral in Edinburgh. 
In sculpture the human form is mainly depicted in marble or alabaster, both forms of calcium carbonate and less frequently in wood, an organic material composed mainly of cellulose.
The real bodies of the madonna and John Knox would have had a very different compositon, consisting of approximately - water (40 litres), muscle (28 kg), bone (14 kg) and fat (14kg). Looking at the elements and minerals in more detail we would have -
Carbon (16 kg), enough for 9,000 lead pencils.
Calcium (1 kg), the same amount as in 1,450 pints of skimmed milk.
Potassium (140 g), the same amount as in 333 bananas.
Sodium (100 g), the same amount as in 32 bottles of Heinz tomato ketchup
Iron (4.2 g), enough to make two 2.5 cm nails
Fluorine (2.6 g), same amount as in 26 large tubes of toothpaste
Zinc (2.3 g), the same amount as in 181 0ysters
Copper (72 mg), Gold (0.2 mg), Uranium (0.1 mg)

So each one of us is a walking chemistry set, put together very carefully under the influence of sets of genes that scientists are just beginning to unravel.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble. Paperback print version coming soon at Amazon.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Know your Vitamins

The picture above shows the contents of our 'vitamin box,' not that we take all of these all the time. Rather it's an accumulation of dietary supplements recommended over the years for various ailments or more particularly their prevention. These are the products of a multi-billion dollar industry, selling us products that the fit and healthy who follow a balanced diet don't really need. The understanding of the link between paticular vitamins or rather the lack of them and specific ailments was worked out mainly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by pioneers in the world of biochemistry.
    The critical breakthrough was announced in 1912 by the English biochemist Sir Fredrick Gowland Hopkins who laid the foundations by creating a model artificial diet of highly purified carbohydrates, proteins and fats plus essential minerals. When fed alone, rats failed to thrive but the addition of small amounts of milk or yeast extract to the model diet restored vitality, indicating the presence of powerful life enhancing substances. His work persuaded a new generation of scientists to begin the search to understand the chemical structures of these substances, then dubbed 'vitamines' subsequently shortened to the modern 'vitamins'.        
    That the absence of certain nutrients causes disease was of course not new. The Scottish surgeon James Lind showed in 1753 that fresh lime or lemon juice protected sailors from scurvy. In the nineteenth century it was shown that the incidence of beriberi was reduced among sailors who ate unpolished rice rather than the pure polished material.
   Work on rice polishings continued before and between the wars to uncover the B group of vitamins. Thiamine (vitamin B1) was identified as the agent whose absence from polished rice caused beriberi in humans. Hopkins himself showed that margarine lacked  vital nutrients present in butter. These were subsequently identified as vitamins D and A. Vitamin D, plentiful in cod liver oil, protected growing children from rickets. The structure of the active principle of lime and lemon juice, vitamin C or ascorbic acid was also established in the nineteen thirties. These discoveries had a profound influence on public health policies and led to the state provision of milk in schools as well as cod liver oil and orange juice and influenced nutrition policy worldwide.
     As the father of the science, Hopkins was awarded the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine in 1929 jointly with Christiaan Eijkman. Think of them the next time you pop a vitamin pill.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com.amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble

Monday, 28 November 2011

'Good' Xmas Presents for the Kids

Some sociologists and childless journalists berate modern working parents for the paucity of quality time that they spend with their offspring. This leads to Christmas becoming a guiltfest, expunged by the giving of ridiculously expensive and indulgent presents. This year, the signs are that the financial crisis will take the wind out of the sails of this tendency, putting a more economical model in place.
     I have a couple of suggestions for parents looking for ideas that combine thrift and quality contact time.
     The first comes from an unlikely source-IKEA, master of the flatpack universe. Their gingerbread house comes as you would expect, flatpacked in a see through plastic container with assembly instructions.  It consists of two roof panels, two sides, two ends and a cute four piece chimney. A screwdriver is not required! The whole thing glues together, either with icing or melted sugar. For convenience we chose the latter since it sets instantly but I had forgotten how dangerously hot it is so would advise using mobile icing if the kids are doing this bit. Decoration is then a question of self expression with icing for snow and small sweets for patterns. After admiring it for a few days you can then have a little party to eat it-yummy. All that for less than £3.
    The second comes from National Geographic in their Dinosaur Dig series. It's a set of plastic dinosaur bones buried in a friable clay martix. Tools are provided to dig out the bones one by one and gradually reveal the structure of the skeleton. Smaller children will need a little help with this stage.
The final assembly job gives a model for permanent display.

On the writing front I'm waiting for the galley proofs for the print version of The Stuart Agenda with fingers crossed that it will be available to order for Christmas.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder- e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Tale of two Angelas

In my novel, The Stuart Agenda, the whizkid politician who finally drives Scotland to independence is called Angela Brown. The name was selected before the ascendecy of Angela Merkel to the status of Empress of Europe and the demise of our british Mr Brown, who has sunk without trace in the sea of debt he helped to create.
     Angela Brown is a high profile ruthless operator who used the charisma of the Stuart hero Robert, candidate to become King of Scotland, as an electoral asset to get power in Scotland and a mandate for independence.
She also exploited English Tories thirst for coalition free power by offering them a way of becoming the natural party of government in England, free from Westminster voting power of Scottish Labour and Nationalist MPs.
    Angela Merkel is a canny East German PhD chemist who makes a virtue of seeming ordinary. That she has got rid of the feckless governments of Greece and Italy is a testament to the iceberg under that benign exterior. In the meantime she is standing very firmly behind the German electorate's view that profligate Southern Europeans should not be baled out. If the slate is wiped clean, won't they just continue with their bad old ways and rebuild debt piles? This stance will likely be held until the Greeks and Italians deliver governments and signed up programmes that tackle their fundamental economic problems. Only then is she likely to yield and give the European central bank the role of lender of last resort.
     It's a high risk strategy that could easily be destroyed by the markets if they don't see a solution emerging. We live in interesting times.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and Barnes and Noble
  

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Wee Small Hours

I think that its time for another poem. The last one, about polar bears was posted up in August. When we think of polar bears, endless daylight illuminates the scene but the the Wee Small Hours is much more of a winter poem about darkness and the lonliness of the night confronting the insomniac. If counting sheep doesn't work for you try the strategy outlined below.
                               

The Wee Small Hours


A footstep clunks on my restless pillow,
ruffling the feathers of wakefulness.
My eyes open in the theatre of darkness,
was it the end of an erotic dream,
or is someone knocking at my door?
Echoes of night feed my lonely fear.

Tom cats discussing the shape of the moon,
a roof tile lifting in the wind,
my neighbour’s dog smells a passing fox,
a carrion crow’s cry signals a death.
Nearer to heart, a kid turning in bed,
the loving snore from the pillow next door.

Then thought for the day intrudes;
that list of tasks; breakfast, kids to school,
for dinner, fish pie from the lake in the freezer,
hotly pursued by thought for the week;
a birthday to celebrate at the weekend,
the car insurance to renew on the net.

Then the dark thoughts drawer opens,
its contents spill on the bedroom floor,
as guts from a hung and drawn thief.
Demons and fragrant secrets that haunt, 
like the loose floorboard on the back stairs,
hard to nail down and silence for good.

The trick is to slay the dragons one by one;
don’t let then gang up, put them back
one at a time, pulling a poisonous fang,
then close the drawer tight, covering the sin.
They will die a little each time, but take care,
it’s a small drawer, so stop putting new ones in.



This is a Castle Sinclair near Wick, with Noss Head lighthouse in the background. It features in my second novel-more later.




 The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com. and amazon.co.uk.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Garlic for Writers

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Vale Royal Writers Group

It was with some trepidation that I accepted my first invitation to speak to a writing group about my new novel, The Stuart Agenda, and the business of writing. I needn't have been concerned, the Vale Royal Writer's Group, pictured above, were very welcoming and receptive. They meet on the first Monday evening of every month at the Blue Cap pub in Sandiway, near Northwich. I wondered whether it would be a difficult thing to do without a printed book but that turned out not to be a problem. Several among the group had already downloaded the book to their Kindles and the majority had read the free section on Amazon and were there to be persuaded to go all the way.
     I talked for about half an hour on the characters and development of the plot leading to a question and answer session that was very valuable to me in highlighting what readers actually think. I'm expecting more feedback when everyone has caught up on the reading. Conversation turned inevitably to the problems of getting published, balancing the apparently closed doors of the traditional publishers against the new freedoms offered to writers by the digital medium.
     The proceedings ended with readings from the group. A good mixture of poetry, short stories and the beginning of a novel for the 50K words in a month challenge.
     I hope to make a return visit, perhaps with my next novel.


And this is a picture of a Meerkat taken at Knowsley Safari Park on Sunday. I wasn't reading her an extract from the Stuart Agenda!


The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Friday, 4 November 2011

Prince Charles loses his Caithness Dram

 
Barrogill Blended Highland Malt WhiskyPrince Charles has been a staunch supporter of Caithness since taking a greater role in looking after the Castle of Mey following the death of the Queen Mother. In particular he encouraged the development of a premium foods business, Mey Selections, the brand name associated with the North Highland Initiative, which he set up to foster economic development in the far north. The idea is to market the finest of products that the north has to offer, particularly meat. Of course, no range of foods would be complete without a dram, so the Prince lent his name to the development and production of Barrogill blended malt. The initial response from whisky fans was mixed, with some doubts being expressed about the flavour profile. I bought a bottle and thought it was a reasonable middle of the road malt, but not quite in the same class as award winning Old Pulteney, distilled in Wick (see previous blog). After only four years, the blend has been pulled by distillers,Inver House, presumably because of low sales, but the rumour is that the Prince is working on a replacement.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder an e-book at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Paperback format coming at the end of November from these sites.
 

Monday, 31 October 2011

ICI Bread and Butter Pudding


It might seem a contradiction in terms to associate a recipe with the name of erstwhile chemicals giant Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). I spent my whole professional career there and attended the occasional executive dinner at Warren House, ICI's training and conference centre at Kingston upon Thames,  beside Richmond Park. Colleagues from that era still can't quite believe that the company no longer exists, but most of the businesses continue succesfully under new owners who are more clearly focussed and I won't attempt in this small space to explain the demise of the giant chemicals conglomerate. Suffice it to say that one of the culinary memories is of the Warren House Bread and Butter Pudding, illustrated above. I got the recipe from them and we've followed it ever since and passed it on quite a few times.
Ingredients
250mls milk
250mls double cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod
3 eggs
125g sugar
8 slices of soft white bread( crust removed)
25g butter
2tb spoons sultanas(soaked)

Method
Bring the milk, cream,salt and vanilla pod to the boil then remove from the heat. Beat eggs and sugar together in a bowl and stir in the hot milk and cream mixture. Butter the bread slices and arrange in an ovenproof dish, buttered side up. Sprinkle the sultanas between the layers reserving a few for the top then strain the liquid mixture through a sieve onto the bread, making sure it is thoroughly absorbed. Place the dish in a roasting pan with enough boiling water to come half-way up the side and cook in a preheated moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas4) for 30-40 minutes.It should be puffed on top and completely set. 
You can experiment with different breads but this is one dish where much maligned ordinary soft white bread (Warburtons) seems to work best. You can spread warm apricot jam on top and sprinkle with icing sugar if you want to sweeten it further but I prefer the elegant simplicity of the unadorned dish. Serve with pouring cream and a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. This serves four people generously


The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Old Pulteney Whisky beats the World

A  whisky from my home town distillery has just been named best in the world by renowned expert, Jim Murray. The 21 year old single malt scored a record-equalling 97.5 points out of 100. The whisky is matured in American oak casks and bottled at the Pulteney town distillery in Wick.
' The 21-year-old Old Pulteney malt absolutely exploded from the glass with vitality, charisma and class,' said Mr Murray. Whisky making has had a chequered career in Caithness. Of the three large commercial distilleries, only Pulteney survives. The Gerston and Ben Morven distilleries at Halkirk both closed a long time ago. Even in Wick, the distillery closed between 1930 and 1951 during a 25 year spell of prohibition introduced by the town in 1922 to combat what was seen as excessive drinking in the fishing community.
     The picture above shows some of my personal stock- bottles in progress if you like. There is a 12 year old, a 17-year-old and a cask strength Isabella Fortuna litre bottle, celebrating the eponymous sailing fishing drifter which has become the Old Pulteney mascot. The 21-year-old isn't illustrated, an open bottle disappears very quickly; too quickly at over £80 a bottle retail!
     But Dear Jim, and I don't want to say this too loudly, the local officionados prefer the much cheaper 17-year-old, but maybe that's just the canny Caithness folk.
     Bourbons from the US took the runner-up places. George T Stagg was named second best while ten year old Parker's Heritage Collection Wheated Mash Bill picked up third place.

While we're on the subject of booze, I've just bottled this year's bilberry liqueur. The berries were steeped for three months in a mixture of gin and vodka (50/50) with lots of sugar, then filtered  to give a port coloured slighlty viscous product. It already tastes wonderful with lots of port type notes and sweet fruit. Its still a little tannic though and I'll keep it for a year before drinking.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com and amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Restoration of the Stuarts

Once again, my novel The Stuart Agenda finds itself riding on the cusp of current events thrust from the pages of history. The Prime Minister wants to change the rules on royal succession so that females can take their birth place in the line rather than have to give way to younger brothers. In practise that means tearing up the 1701 act of settlement. Since females have legal equality in almost every other sphere this is hard to argue against and all our female monarchs seem to have done a pretty good job. The secondary aspect of the proposal is the more interesting for me in that it opens the door to the monarch marrying a catholic and perhaps even being one. The publicity surrounding this has shone a light onto the old Jacobite succession so that we can see what might have happened in the absence of that act. The King would be the current Francis of Bavaria a descendent of Henrietta Anne Stuart, youngest daughter of Charles I. Francis has no descendents so the line would pass through his brother to Sophie, Princess of Liechtenstein and her oldest son, Joseph. The Liechtensteiners had a canny eye on history when they chose London as Joseph's birthplace and have parked a few tanks on English playing fields in sending the boy to Malvern College.  
Are todays Jacobites stirring in the glens and thinking of raising the standard once again? True, there is now a government petition calling for the restoration of the Stuarts. That would need 100,000 signatures to get a debate in Parliament. Otherwise, Jacobite websites seem to be rather preoccupied by the details of past Stuart glories and the fate of de jure( pretender speak for 'if only') folk across Europe. Hot topics included the birthday of Mary of Modena. My novel was dismissed out of hand on one of the sites, on the grounds that my fictional Stuart family was, well , fictional! This missed the point that the novel lays out a strategic process for having a go at the throne of Scotland. To update what the book says, the current disarray among the Scottish Tories highlights the need and opportunity for a right of centre nationalist party that can compete with the SNP and campaign for an open process for choosing the head of state as opposed to the automatic Hanoverian succession being offered by Salmond. A sane energy policy might also be attractive but I must resist the temptation to write the whole manifesto.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Stuart Agenda- Excerpt, Chapter 1



Today I'm posting Chapter 1 of the Stuart Agenda. The story starts with Stuart hero Robert, at Gordonstoun, the famous Scottish public school.

                                               
Chapter 1                             

Scotland, May 2035 - Gordonstoun School

‘What a match! What a tackle! Pity the lanky guy had weak knees. I’m very proud of you,’ read the message on Robert’s z-phone. It was from his stepfather in Paris. He’d been receiving live feed from the evening inter-house rugby game via Robert’s ear stud camera, giving him his stepson’s view of the game. The praise made Robert feel better, helping to neutralise the guilt he felt about inflicting a serious leg injury on the lumbering Prince Henry with his try-stopping flying tackle. But didn’t the haughty heir to the throne need to be taken down a peg or two? Robert drifted off to sleep wondering whether a week or two on crutches would plant a few seeds of humility in the royal persona.

   

     Deep in the night, Robert slipped out of a fitful sleep disturbed by a sound that didn’t fit the normal pattern in his room at Gordonstoun’s Round Square House. It wasn’t the moan of the wind round the high gables outside or the distant voices of other boys in the building, it was in the room. He was instantly awake, on his guard, feeling vulnerable as a foreigner. His adrenalin rushed to meet the unwelcome intrusion. As he opened his eyes and looked around he was aware of a threatening silhouette coming towards him out of the paleness of the window blind. He slid quickly from under the duvet and launched his six foot length at the intruder with a flying rugby tackle, similar to the one that had felled Prince Henry earlier in the day. The force of the tackle sent the intruder backwards with Robert still locked round his thighs. They careered into Robert’s desk, sending his touch screen flying and scattering books in all directions before slithering to the floor. Robert was now on top of his struggling would-be assailant and delivered a short right hook into his face to ensure that the attack was over. Robert then leapt up and touched the wall, activating the wallpaper LEDs .

     ‘It’s you, Simkins,’ said Robert, looking down at the contorted face of Prince Henry’s friend and lead sycophant who was clutching his bloody nose.  Robert’s tone hardened when he saw the baseball bat lying on the floor.

     ‘I don’t believe this; did that creep Henry send you? Is he pissed off with me for that tackle?’

     ‘No, he didn’t send me. He’s been to hospital because of you and your mad tackling; he’s going to be on crutches for a month. We’re not putting up with it, especially from a Frog.’

     ‘Think of it as international experience then,’ replied Robert with mock gravity, swallowing the insult and resisting the temptation to ram Simkins’ words back in his mouth.

     ‘You should go back to France; this school isn’t big enough for both of you now,’ said Simkins, getting up from the floor as the door to the room opened and Andrew MacDonald, Robert’s neighbour, appeared.

     ‘What’s going on? I heard an almighty clatter.’

     ‘Simkins came to duff me up for hurting his master,’ said Robert, picking up the baseball bat.

     ‘That’s a bit strong, Simkins, you could kill with that thing.’

     ‘Henry’s a clumsy carthorse. He shouldn’t be allowed on the rugby pitch.’

     ‘It’s Prince Henry to you, even if you are a Republican Frenchman. He’ll soon be the Prince of Wales, don’t forget. You just can’t treat him like that.’

     ‘Get your arse out of here, Simkins, I’ve had enough of this.’

     ‘This isn’t over; we’ll get you,’ said Simpkins as he scurried from the room.

     ‘That tackle sure is causing trouble. You’ve pissed off Henry’s camp big-time. You should have let him score.’

    ‘What? You must be joking.’ replied Robert, who was struggling to put his feelings about the Prince into words.

     ‘Perhaps you just don’t like deferring to a Prince.’

     ‘Andrew, you’re a MacDonald of the Isles aren’t you?’ said Robert, closing the door, the back of which was adorned by a picture of the Scottish rugby team.

     ‘Sort of, my father’s cousin is the MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.’

     ‘Sit down for a minute, Andrew; listen to this. You know me as Robert Lafarge; my stepfather André Lafarge is a successful French businessman. But my real Dad died. His name was Stuart. We’re the true line descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ said Robert, with a sense of relief that he had shared his burdensome secret with someone who would be likely to understand what it meant.

     ‘So that explains the thing between you and Henry. It’s the battle of the rival houses, Stuart against Windsor.’

     ‘Anyway our families were locked together in the Jacobite struggles, Culloden and all that, and the rest is sad history.’

    ‘Robert, if you ever need my help in that cause, you know you can rely on me.’





     Robert couldn’t get back to sleep. The incident with Simkins had  stirred up a ferment of history and personalities that was beginning to bubble. First of all he questioned what he was doing at Gordonstoun. Without much warning he’d been removed from the familiarity of the French education system and parachuted into the famous Scottish school, mainly at the behest of his Uncle Leo and Aunt Françoise. After the death of his own father when he was five years old his uncle and aunt had played a big part in his upbringing, although he was aware that he had not paid sufficient attention to many of Uncle Leo’s attempts to educate him on Stuart history. His mother seemed to go along with the move to Gordonstoun on the grounds that it would be a better base for an international career. His stepfather limited himself to a chauvinist grumble about leaving France.

     At Gordonstoun he often suffered from homesickness and hated the Scottish cold and especially the food. Even drowned in milk and honey he detested porridge. On the positive side he was enjoying school rugby which in his mind had developed an importance beyond his formal studies, something of which his stepfather would probably approve.

     But, most of all, the day’s incident made him more keenly aware of his heredity, his descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose Royal line had been replaced by the Hanoverians. Uncle Leo would not tolerate them being referred to as the de-Germanised Windsors.

     As he tried to get to sleep he made a commitment to read more about his illustrious ancestor but sleep refused to take him so he got up and began searching the Cybernet for references to Bonnie Prince Charlie. This quickly threw up a virtual tour of the ill fated Jacobite campaign of 1745/6. The site enabled him to walk in the footsteps of and see through the eyes of his ancestor. He put the headset on, chose his viewpoint and started the walk.

     He was immediately transported to the deck of the French ship Du Teillay  passing the vast cliffs of Barra Head on Berneray, the rugged southern sentinel of the Outer Hebrides. It was the 22nd of July 1745. The ship sailed on into the Sound of Barra, the French tricolour billowing provocatively behind, anchoring off the Island of Eriskay. He got into a rowing boat with his seven companions in arms and made for the beach.

The warning cries of the gulls and the skirl of the pipes welcomed him as they scrambled ashore onto the white sand to be met by members of the MacDonald Clan.

     Their faces soon turned from joy at the return of their spiritual leader to sadness that he didn’t have a large French army behind him. The MacDonalds shook their heads and the party went back to the Du Teillay to head for the mainland at Borrodale. Messengers were sent out to call the clans to raise the Prince’s standard at Glenfinnan on August 19th 1745. After a long, exhausting walk the party rowed up Loch Sheil between the haunting dark mountains on either side to Glenfinnan village.

     The clans began to arrive in the late afternoon and into the next day. The spectacle of the raising of the standard and the blood curdling cries of the Highlanders saluting their leader made the hair stand up on the back of Robert’s neck and tears well up in his eyes. Through the long night Robert walked and rode with his ancestor south to his triumphant entrance to Edinburgh, on to his numerous victories all the way to Derby. There the Prince railed in disbelief as his generals insisted on retreat back to Scotland when they were only a hundred miles from a panicking London. The trail back then led inevitably to Culloden. At this point Robert switched off the display, emotionally and physically exhausted. He wanted to walk the ground at Culloden for himself.



      After an hour of sleep he trudged in late for breakfast, still reeling from the emotional impact of his nocturnal journey. He picked up two boiled eggs and a heap of toast from the self service counter before sitting down beside Andrew MacDonald.

     ‘No further disturbances in the night?’

     ‘Only self-inflicted, I spent most of the night on the Cybernet.’

     ‘No wonder you look tired.’

     ‘Well look what’s just crawled in,’ said Robert as Simkins appeared at the door, sporting a ripe black eye, followed slowly by Prince Henry on crutches. Robert felt the tension in the dining room rise as every head turned to see the Prince, many of them then turning on Robert, conversations falling to whispers, all waiting to see what would happen.

     ‘I suppose I should go over and ask how he is.’

     ‘You could offer to carry his tray for him.’

     ‘No, that’s Simkins job. I’ll let the sods sit down.’ Robert was not surprised that nobody approached the Prince to ask for his health or commiserate. Before long the tension passed and people began to drift out for the morning classes. Robert got up and strode over to the Prince’s table.

     ‘I’m sorry about the injury. I’m glad it’s not worse; I’ve seen legs broken that way.’

     ‘So, I’m lucky that you were going easy on me, am I?’

     ‘No, I didn’t mean that.’

     ‘I’m going to lodge a complaint; that was dangerous play.’

     ‘I told you we weren’t going to put up with it,’ added Simkins.

     ‘When did you tell me that Simkins? Does Henry know that you came to play baseball with me in the middle of the night? Should I lodge a complaint about that, with the police perhaps?’

     ‘That had nothing to do with me, I was at the hospital,’ protested Henry loudly.

     ‘Let’s forget the whole thing, shake hands on it,’ said Robert, offering his hand to Henry and trying to look him in the eye. Henry’s long thin face stiffened, his eyes unable to meet Robert’s, refusing to make peace, camped firmly on his injured pride. He slapped Robert’s hand contemptuously aside as Simkins cackled a gloating laugh.

     ‘Have it your own way but don’t try to go past me on a rugby pitch again. Stick to chess, I hear you’re good at that. And join the A level charm class as well.’

     Henry’s face flushed at being spoken to so directly and he struggled to his feet and

scuttled crablike out of the dining room on his crutches, followed by the faithful Simkins who glowered back threateningly at Robert from his safe retreating distance.

     Robert sat down in Henry’s seat and put his head in his hands. Images from the night filled his vision, he felt Bonnie Prince Charlie’s footsteps stamping on his back; history was taunting him, driving him. He wrestled with his feelings of anger. Did he want to complain himself, leading possibly to Prince Henry’s further humiliation? Or did he want to nurse his anger into his growing consciousness of being a Stuart? Perhaps he would find what he was looking for at Culloden. He would go there with his Uncle Leo.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Stuart Agenda-Review and Interview



Getting good independent reviews for a novel is important in establishing the credibility of a writer and his work. The Red Roses for Authors site has reviewed The Stuart Agenda and given it 4.5 out of 5, a pleasing bouquet.

'The intrigue in this story makes it a page turner as the reader is never completely sure which side each character is on and what will happen next, right up to the end.'

You can read the full review at
I'm also guest blogger on the British Romance Fiction loop. Visit me at the address above to see my interview on writing in general and the genesis of The Stuart Agenda in particular.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Caithness Castles- Caithness Courier


Last week I photographed this view of Ackergill Tower in the foreground with Sinclair Girnigoe Castle and Noss Head lighthouse behind. The picture was taken across a barley field from the road down to Reiss golf course and was published in the Caithness Courier today, in the 'Your Caithness' series.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Corr-Croft rescue required.



The Corr presents a unique memory of the crofting way of life. It is a fine example of an extended longhouse that mirrors the development of small-scale, self- sufficiency farming. It is of sufficient importance historically to merit A-listing. Vacated a few years ago by elderly owners, the main crofthouse is now in urgent need of rescue. The croft enjoys an elevated position with good views across open Caithness land to the sea and Lybster village. The property is on the market with its 158 acres at £182,000 through Georgeson's of Wick.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Alexander Brothers


Last Friday night  I went to a performance given by the Alexander Brothers. I was sure that it must be a tribute band; they couldn't possibly still be alive, never mind singing. I was wrong, there they were, Tom still a virtuoso accordianist and Jack the warbling singer of old, both now in their mid-seventies or more and still looking good. I was there in the Wick hall really to support the organisers, part of the extended family. Like many Scots, led by the radical Billy Conolly, I'm not too keen on the shortbread tin image that the Alexander Brothers portray. However I did get swept along on the tartan tide and ended up with a lion roaring in my heart. The repertoire was a mix of their own classics and tributes to their long departed former contemporaries like Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy and Will Star.
     Lang may their lums reek!

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk for reviews and Kindle sales.
http:alancalderwriting.blogspot.com
@calderalan

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Stuart heir goes to Malvern College


An interesting coincidence has occurred linking my fictional Stuart hero in The Stuart Agenda and  Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechtenstein, who is in the direct line for the official Stuart succession. In my novel, released in July, the fictional Stuart scion, Robert, starts school at Gordonstoun the famous Scottish public school. In real life, Prince Joseph has just started school at Malvern College, the equally famous English public school. This adds to his interesting background- he was born in London, while his siblings were all born in Switzerland.
     So what is going on? Parking your English born son on its playing fields is hardly tanks on the lawn of Buckingham Palace, but are they making a subtle point? Or is the truth to be found in the banking crisis in Liechtenstein? The LGT bank owned by the Liechtenstein royal family got itself into very deep water after being accused of being ' a willing partner and an aider  and abettor of clients trying to evade taxes, dodge creditors or defy court orders,' in a US Senate report. Might we therefore see Prince Joseph go from Malvern to Oxbridge, then to the City of London before going home networked and credibly equipped to run a major banking operation in harmony with the rest of the banking system.
      For students of history, after the deaths of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother, the catholic Cardinal Henry, the official Stuart succession went all the way back to Henrietta-Anne, youngest daughter of Charles I, who married into the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Stuart baton then passed through the House of Este (Modena), before ending up in the Bavarian Kingdom. The current Duke, Franz, is childless and the title will likely pass to his brother Max. Max's daughter Sophie, Princess of Liechtenstein, cannot under Salic Law inherit the Bavarian title but she will be the Stuart heir, followed by her oldest son Joseph.


The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com and amazon.co.uk

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Holyrood Palace by Fiona Bruce


Continuing her series on Royal Palaces, Fiona Bruce arrived at Holyrood on BBC1 last night. There were lots of dreamy shots of the palace, including the side on view from high up on the crags that forms the cover of my novel The Stuart Agenda. Holyrood Palace is a Stuart construct and Fiona concentrated on the two most heroic and tragic figures in the dynasty, Mary Queen of Scots and her desendent, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Bonnie Prince Charlie of later Scottish folklore.
     Mary's details were well presented. After the death of her father she went to France with her mother, Mary of Guise, to escape the clutches of Henry VIII of England, who wanted her to marry his son. In France, she married the Dauphin when she was fifteen but within three years he was dead and she returned to Scotland to take up her crown there, still just eighteen years old. She fared little better in Scotland with a disastrous marriage to the unsuitable Lord Darnley who orchestrated the murder of her Italian servant David Rizzio, before being murdered himself. Mary then married the chief suspect, The Earl of Bothwell, finally ruining her flagging reputation to the point where she had to flee Scotland and throw herself on the mercy of her cousin, Elisabeth of England, setting in motion the intrigues that led to her death on the scaffold in 1587, aged 44.
     Bonnie Prince Charlie also got a good airing. Raising the clans at Glenfinnan in 1745 he quickly took Edinburgh and proclaimed his father King, but must have felt like one himself, sleeping in the Angel Bed in Holyrood Palace. After a series of victories he was forced by his own side to turn back at Derby, leading inexorably to the debacle at Culloden against the Duke of Cumberland's army. The Highlands then suffered  horribly at the hands of the Hanoverians who were determined to finish off the Jacobite culture.
     Reconcilliation finally came in the shape of George IV in 1822. He visited the palace, impecably dressed in a special outfit of Royal Stuart tartan, signifying his Kingship of Scotland.
     Fiona didn't ask whether we might ever see a Stuart in Holyrood Palace again. For the answer to that you need to read The Stuart Agenda.


The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble and amazon.com

Monday, 26 September 2011

Yellow Door- My Birthplace


While home births these days are the preserve of a certain sort of independent mother they used to be the norm  before the NHS. Which brings me to....

Yellow Door

I’m roaming my northern native place,
like a Hindu going back to his village.
I always walk along that street
bathing in the early memories,

when all the doors were dark stained,
gateways to the secrets of the old town.



This time, the door to number twelve
is yellow, a shocking mustard among the
still dull portals. For brightness, they blindly
chose that fevered, jaundiced hue; but my
epitaph is elsewhere, so should I really care
about the colour of my birthplace door?


The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble and amazon.co.uk