2016

My Reflections on 2016
And so, one year ends and another begins. But has it been a good year? One to cherish or one to throw in a box, hide the box in a cupboard, lock the cupboard, send the cupboard into long-term storage for our distant ancestors to discover and marvel at what we all put up with?
That, as always, depends on your personal point of view, what you value and what your values are. Here are some of my thoughts which, as I re-read them, do seem a little on the pessimistic side.

The war.
It didn’t end, in case you hadn’t noticed. Conflict in Iraq, Syria, Yemen. Terrorism in France, Germany, Britain. Bullying by America, China, Russia. But to me it all seems the same thing, a war that has been going on for thousands of years, still justifying itself with the same, tired old excuses and clichés (in no particular order):
I know better than everyone else, so everyone must do as I say.
I’m going to protect what’s mine, no matter what.
I’m going to protect you, whether you like it or not.
You’ve got it but I want it, so I’m going to take it.
You started this, so I’m going to finish it.
You think differently to me, so you deserve to die.
Nothing’s changed since caveman Ugh first decided that caveman Ogg in the cave next door was being a pain in the ass because he’d got hold of fire and hadn’t shared it around.
How desperately, desperately sad.

What else?
Ah yes, celebrities. Scores of them: Alan Rickman, Andrew Sachs, David Bowie, George Michael, Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood, Zsa Zsa Gabor… the list of those who passed away goes on and on and on. Yet it’s been said that we are only imagining that more celebs have died this year than in previous years and indeed, according to no less an authority than the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38329740) there have not, in fact, been more than an ‘average’ number of celeb deaths across the whole of the year. It seems there was a large statistical spike in the first few months of the year that really caught our attention, causing us to continue to notice subsequent deaths for the rest of the year. Still seemed like an awful lot, though…..

What else?
Oh yes, disasters, natural and man-made. Whatever country you live in I guarantee you can find a disaster of some proportion has happened to or near you. Take Indonesia as a random example. According to https://watchers.news/2016/11/17/natural-disasters-indonesia-2016/ Almost 2000 floods, landslides and whirlwinds struck that country in 2016, destroying or at least upending the lives of more than two and a half million people.
Then there were the financial disasters that have rocked the economies of the world. You don’t need me to spell them out because there’s a very good chance you were affected by one or more of them to one degree or another.

What else?
Politics, of course. It’s been more of the same. The same promises, the same platitudes, the same fact that politicians failed to listen or, at best, listened selectively and then interpreted what they heard to suit themselves. In the West, we’ve had referendums and ballots and elections. Did things get better? Will things have gotten better by the time the next elections come around? Did you notice that in many instances, the same people got elected? Different faces, maybe. Different names, even. But still the same people under the skin, still intent on personal agendas, personal gain and attainment, still driven by some of the platitudes I used earlier, particularly:
I know better than everyone else, so everyone must do as I say.
I’m going to protect you, whether you like it or not.

And yet…

Has the year really been all bad?
Well, no. There’s been good stuff too. For instance, there’ve been amazing advances in… stuff. You know? Science stuff. Things like the use of VR in surgery; artificial limb technology; the introduction of driverless cars; improvements in artificial intelligence – okay, maybe some of those won’t pass muster as ‘good’ with everybody, but their potential is stunning. We just have to hope those with the power to utilise these advances is wise enough to know when not to utilise them.
But don’t be disheartened. In our universe of almost infinite possibilities there must surely be a chance that, eventually, someone will come along and invent a disinfectant that kills 99% of all known mistakes, cock-ups and misuses. Maybe next year.

So much for the world. The rest of this article is just about my own life, so you can skip reading if you want (but happy new year to you all the same).

The last year has seen many changes and happenings, good and not so good.
2016 saw my father pass away, aged 90. What a man he was. Right up to the very last he was blessed with a mind that was like the proverbial razor. His acumen was unaffected by the aging process, unlike his body. He would regularly beat his children and grandchildren at UpWords™ (a sort of 3-D Scrabble™ which I highly recommend!)
I remember fondly our many conversations where we set to right the world of politics of all flavours. I can’t describe how much I will miss those chats on the phone every Sunday afternoon and the warmth of his welcome when we managed to find time for a brief visit to his South Wales bungalow. But at least his pain – and there was a lot of it, though stoically he rarely let it show – is now gone and, at last, he is once again with mum, the woman he loved and missed more than anything.

As for me, well… I haven’t written anything for months. I really do love writing my little stories but, somehow, this hasn’t been the year for them. I even stopped attending the NSFWG workshops. I miss the camaraderie and critique of like-minded people but it would have been unfair of me to continue reserving a seat in the pub; I think I did the right thing in freeing it up for another soul to occupy more regularly than I could.
Work has taken up more and more of my life, with several visits to China and Europe, and more to come. What’s really tiring, though, is getting up between 5 and half past, so I can beat the traffic on the M1 for my 80 mile round trip and get to the office early enough for my meetings. Many of my team are in Beijing, and many of my bosses are across the Channel, so very early mornings come as a necessity. The effect, of course, is that come evening time, especially towards the end of the week, I’m knackered.
I’m waiting to get the first of my hips replaced. I see the surgeon in January. Simple things like walking for any length of time, climbing stairs, sometimes even lying down in bed have become extremely tiresome. With luck that will begin to be resolved in 2017, government funding of the NHS permitting. Hip problems are not life-threatening and so often are sent to the back of the queue when money is tight. And no, I can’t afford private treatment.

Reading back what I’ve written I have to admit it all looks a bit depressing. But honestly, I don’t actually feel down at all. Work is good, even great. I have an excellent employer. My trips to China have been brilliant, finding some super new colleagues and friends whose work ethic is exemplary and who have hosted me wonderfully well. I’m looking forward to going back there again in April.
My good lady wife now works at a school where her genuinely excellent teaching skills are finally being appreciated. Fingers crossed that the temporary role matures into a permanent one at the end of the summer term. It’s a bummer that my Christmas present to her didn’t turn up in time for the day itself, but the latest email says it’s now arrived in the UK so hopefully it will be delivered early in the new year.
Our kids all seem to be okay (who can tell with kids?) settling into new homes (including in the Shetlands Isles) or doing well in school (both teaching and learning) or settling to new jobs for others. And so I come to the end of my discourse. It therefore remains only for me to wish each and every one of you my best.

Have a Great and Happy and Prosperous 2017! And I really mean that.
Nigel.

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Beijing, Being Here

I Like China.  I like Beijing.  I like the people I meet here.  I love the food.

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I’m not too found of the bureaucracy.  However, whatever country you visit, there’s always some red tape that’s a pain in the backside.  You just have to live with it.

So, the journey here.  It was a pain.  It started off with the M1 closed down to 1 lane for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Then my flight from Heathrow to Zürich was delayed by an hour, due to some ‘technical’ issue in Zürich – no idea what.  However, the Swiss Air A320 was comfy enough for the 1 hour 30 minutes flight time, even in economy. The on-board snack was fine (croissant).

There was supposed to be a 2 – 3 hour  stopover before the transfer at Zürich, but this disappeared so the transfer happened quite quickly.  Never travelled Swiss Air before but it was okay; although in Zürich after queuing to board, everyone in the queue (except those already in the know) was sent to a different queue to get our boarding cards stamped, then had to queue up again to complete the boarding.

Previously, my visits to Beijing were via large, 747-type long-haul aircraft.  In the newer planes there is a little more room in economy seating.  However, this time I was on an Airbus 330-300, and the economy seating was well below expectations, and only 3 toilets available.  For a journey of 9.5 hours covering around 8000 km, this was not a great place to be.  On the other hand, one of the stewardesses was very pretty.  🙂

I got very little sleep, it was so cramped – not to mention smelly with everyone around me farting every 10 mins!  Main meal was okay – honey chicken with garlic, rice and brocoli, but the caesar salad was not good.  The sweet was apparently carrot cake, though I couldn’t taste any carrot; and it came with a sprinkling of almonds, which everyone knows I can’t stand, that had to be scraped off.

However, arriving while it was still dark provided the reward of beautiful Beijing-by-night views from the plane:

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Eventually we arrived at the airport around 5:30 AM to be greeted by Chinese immigration control:

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It took the best part of 90 minutes to clear through here, though I must say the young lady wielding the stamp was actually very efficient and officiously pleasant.

Next, of course, my luggage didn’t arrive on the carousel.  I spent an age trying to find it.  There was no official to even speak with until well past 8 AM.  Eventually I went to the Star Alliance baggage reclaim, joining a queue of irate Chinese-speaking complainers.  (If every you come to Beijing, the one thing you will notice is that western-style politeness isn’t a strong factor when there’s queuing to be done.)  By 9 AM I’d recovered my bag and been out-queued for several taxis before finally landing one.

You will love Beijing taxis.  You never see any accidents, I have to say, but the way they drive here is maniacal!  Any road-space is taken by whoever gets there first: car, bus, truck, bicycle, pedestrian, whatever.  Best thing is to focus on anything else but the traffic.  But Beijing at night is as exciting as any othr world city, with the added bonus that you don’t feel threatened, as can happen in some places.

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Arrived at my hotel, the Park Plaza, one of the best in town, only to find they had no reservation for me.

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I don’t know how that happened but, fortunately, I knew the name of a Chinese colleague who is (a) well-known to a lot of people in Beijing and (b) well-respected/liked by same.  As soon as I said his name a room was made available at company-negotiated rates and, finally, at 10AM I was flat-out on the bed, snoring my head off until mid-afternoon.  I was, to use the vernacular, knackered.

Saturday night was a very enjoyable alcoholic iced beveage in the hotel lobby lounge (above photo) and then more sleep.

Sunday (overslept so missed breakfast) I was still feeling quite exhausted, despite a decent bit of kip.  I’d had plans for a little more sight-seeing but I just didn’t have that much energy left, and my hips were killing me, so I resigned myself to a day of recuperation so I’d be ready for the week’s work ahead.

To round-up, let me say if you get the opportunity to come to Beijing, take it.  China is a super place to visit.  I’ve done several of the Beijing ‘sites’ and they are well-worth visiting (Olympic Park, Forbidden Palace, etc.).  The country’s history is great and the people (apart from men clearing their noses and throats whenever they feel like it, and everyone barging and shoving all the time) are generally warm and friendly.  Watch some of the TV.  It gives you a very good insight into the psychology of the people.  Take the time to learn a few words (ni how = hello; shi-shi = thanks) and people are usually happy to give you a little of their time.  But be warned – when I was here in February this year I was virtually asked to marry a young lady (I was saved by my colleague at the time) so you never know how things will pan out!

Best wishes to all.

Nigel.  🙂

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The Shell Cracked – Sneak Preview

My current project is called The Shell Cracked (at least, that’s my working title) which sounds a bit Agatha Christie-ish but is far removed from cosy sleuthing in middle England!

This is (will be) the sequel to Shun House, and is (will be) just as dark and wicked.  Those of you who have read Shun House will know exactly what I mean by that.  For you loyal readers, and those who are not (yet) here is the opening chapter of The Shell Cracked, to give you a sample of what lied in wait:

 

1.      PATIENCE

Patience is stale, and I am weary of it.

King Richard II, King Richard II: V, v

 

Five thousand years.

To a mountain bearing the weight of the heavens, such a number is inconsequential. Say instead fifty thousand, or five hundred thousand and the mountain may notice the passage of time. But five thousand? That is next to nothing.

To a mouse scuttling and sniffing the air, hugging the skirting board in its quest for food, twitching ears for signals of death from cat or rat, five thousand is a number outside of reckoning, a count of fifteen hundred or more generations. Five minutes or five thousand years, neither is a measure to be comprehended.

To that which dwells beneath the Sierra Gilillo, five thousand years is time enough.

Time to remember.

To fester.

To grow.

 

From the glens and ravines of the Sierra de Cazorla, a sprig of streams emerge, fed by seasonal rains and secret, subterranean pools. They roam the surface world, seeking each other out, converging as a single waterway that strikes out northward through the Guadalquivir valley. The Rio Kertis holds this course for nine leagues before changing direction, diverting west and then southwest, gradually swelling with rills and runnels orphaned from the surrounding countryside. Spreading wide in a majestic meander, she brings fertility to fields and pastures until, at last, she reaches the sea. There she divests herself of her charge, completing the cycle, returning her waters to the Madre del Agua at the Golfo de Cádiz: el mar Mediterráneo.

Rivers, though, are not the only passages to lead away from the mountains. Beneath the sierras, diverse tunnels weave a Spartan mesh through the Iberian subterrain. Most lead nowhere, crushed by the weight of their world, their paths blocked by rock falls, or petering out to the point where only the smallest of organisms can delve. Others tumble blindly into deep pits, stygian sinkholes overflowing with poison. Some are unnavigable conduits for turbulent streams, or channels for the molten vomit spewed up by Mother Earth. Many never admit the kiss of fresh air, or allow the light of day to infiltrate their darkness.

But there are some that do have purpose, some that do follow a definite course, a handful that do broach the surface to secretly link distant parts by invisible threads.

And there are a very few that lead directly to a place known to the people of the region as el Estómago de la Mundo, lying deep within Gilillo, the highest peak of the Cazorlas, a cavern from which a delving of shafts and drifts extrude intestine-like, a piceous interweaving of catacombs.

No one has ever claimed to have seen this place. Not one of the few that sought to find it ever returned from their quest, but all know where it lies, and what dwells within. Such names they have for her: el Bebedor de las Almas, el Terror de la Noche, el Murmullo de la Muerte.

There she rests, brooding in her nest of husks, shrouded by the darkness, barely moving, ever watchful, nursing a hunger that never ends. Her countless children are all gone, sacrificed to that hunger or fled away from her terror. No other prey comes near and now she feeds off all she has left: her memories, black and hard and cold.

How did she come there? What drove her to such isolation, such loneliness?

Fear. And five thousand years of that fear has fixed her within her atramentous tomb, nevermore to see the light of day. Until now.

Half a millennia has passed and in all that time she has cursed and plotted and dreamed and planned. She is perhaps the last, the final incarnation of her race, the uttermost terror of her kind, the one who will mete out retribution to those who vanquished her kin from the world.

But now a time is come when she will return to the world that rejected her. Her web has reached out in all directions, filaments entangling bruit and report. Now she knows where they are. Whispers and rumours have reached her from the far north, soft-spoken tales of dragons, the Nemesis and bane of her race. So north she will go. Instinct will guide her, hate will feed her, venom will drive her.

It is time to prepare.

One last time her bloated abdomen heaves. One last time she evicts the eggs from deep within, her final brood. A hundred soft sacs spill out onto the silken bed she has created for them. She spins a blanket to keep them secure and now there is nothing more she can do. The next generation will survive or they will perish but she has no more thought for their welfare. One thought only remains.

Vengeance!

 

I’m aiming to see this published in 2017 so please be patient.  But do give me feedback on this opening, if you would like to.

 

Best Wishes and Happy Reading,

Nigel.

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Left or Full Justification?

I can’t make my mind up.  Do I prefer that fictional books I read are printed (ink or pixels) with paragraphs left justified or fully justified?  Since school days I’d always considered that full justification should be the preserve of factual books, newspapers and magazine.  Somehow it looked purpose-designed for learned treatises and similar worthy works, but now I’m not sure.  What do you think?

In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified. In case you are unsure, this paragraph is left justified.

Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified. Whereas this one is fully justified.

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Shun House – Free for Five Days!

Beginning 3rd July, Shun House is available for FREE on Amazon Kindle!

Shun House on Kindle

E-book and Paperback available from the usual channels.

Shun House is a romance, but it’s far from conventional.

Marquis Raphael, the last survivor of the family Vaskapu – descendants of legendary and unholy unions between human captives and dragons.

Raphael spends his days dreaming of the future. He yearns to find a bride, someone who can perpetuate his name, preserve his bloodline through generations to come. But human women are poor hosts, only rarely able to conceive, and he despairs of ever succeeding in his goal.

Then, when all hope seems lost, Raphael learns of another, a young Contessa from Iberia, a descendant like himself from the most ancient of days. He sends for her and they duly wed.

Accompanying Contessa Adelina is Constanza Cantabria, her chaperone and surrogate mother. She falls in love with Joseph Harrow, the Marquis’s most senior and trusted servant. But if the Vaskapu are monsters, so is Harrow with his own cruel lusts. He is a slave to them, and suffers extreme anguish born of his guilt and fear of what might wait for him in the afterlife; yet he is not strong enough to resist the lure of his perversion.

To his own astonishment, Harrow finds himself falling in love as well, discovering a semblance of peace and forgiveness in Constanza’s affections. Could she offer him an escape from his dread nightmares?

Try Shun House for free, and leave your feedback on Amazon.

Happy Reading,

Nigel Edwards.

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BREXIT – HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

I am a pretty apolitical person, but today I make an exception.  Here’s my open letter to the leaders of the UK, the EU, and the rest of the world…

BREXIT

To the vast majority of politicians all around the world, but at this time most especially to the leaders of the UK and Europe, I say this:

YOU DIDN’T LISTEN

Here is what you did.  Left, right, centre, whatever.

You ignored us.

For years you have chosen to ignore the voices of dissatisfaction that have been clamouring for your attention for so long.  For years you assumed that you could disregard the people for whom you had a duty of care and pursued agendas more favourable to your personal dreams and aspirations.  Why?  I’ll tell you:

  • Because you are adept at shouting down every argument, i.e.: you could ignore us.
  • Because you are adept at skilfully answering questions of your own choosing rather than those asked, i.e.: you could ignore us.
  • Because you are adept at cleverly turning conversations to topics you feel more comfortable discussing, i.e.: you could ignore us.
  • But mostly because you believe you knew more and better than anyone else; and so you could ignore us.

Don’t get me wrong: I am sure that a large majority of you entered politics with every intention of changing the world for the better.  But to iterate: I am absolutely convinced that a large majority of you believe that you know best.

Why do I say that?  I’ll tell you:

  • Because you believe your ability to understand complexity exceeds that of the rest of us.
  • Because you bicker between yourselves and apparently don’t care how it sounds to others.
  • Because you are addicted to half-truths.
  • Because you prefer to call each other names, rather than talk sensibly.
  • Because you are convinced that you, disregarding all others, are right.
  • Because you make promises, fail to meet them, and then don’t respect us enough to say sorry.
  • Because, when confronted, you revert to bad-mouthing your opponent’s policy rather than answering the question about your own policy.
  • Because you hardly ever say, truthfully, “I don’t know”.
  • Because you so rarely admit to your mistakes, and even more rarely apologise for the hurt you cause.
  • But mostly, because you have no respect for us.

Do you actually know the reason why the vote favoured Brexit?  Do you care to know?  I’ll tell you anyway.

It was never really about straight bananas, excess bureaucracy, immigration or austerity.  Those were factors, certainly, but they weren’t the real reason.  The real reason is because: you never asked us.

It’s because way, way back in 1975 the people of the United Kingdom voted to join a Common Market.  That’s all.  A COMMON MARKET.  Not a United States of Europe.

But since that date there has been an ever-increasing, ever more urgent drive towards greater and greater unity in Europe.  Across the board.  Financial.  Political.  Social.  Legal.  Powerful men (and a few women) sat in their lofty castles and drew up plans to build a brave new world.  They set up mechanisms and rules and laws.  They set up a civil service to enable those mechanisms and rules and laws.  And British governments – all of them – went along for the ride.

But nobody asked us if that was what we wanted.  Until now, not one politician, once in power, ever asked us if that was what we wanted.  You all just assumed that you knew best.

Credit to Prime Minister Cameron for at least giving the people of Britain this opportunity.  But I’m pretty sure he did his sums before he decided to give us this chance, and it’s a personal shame for him that when he added up the numbers he came up with the wrong answer.

There’s an assumption and a question still on my lips, though – how will the rest of Europe will fall?

There’s one last thing to say, and this is also intended for all the leaders of the world, whether in democracies, dictatorships or whatever:

At least we in Britain have had our revolution relatively quietly and peacefully.

And I expect that the decision of (little more than half) the people will be observed without undue prevarication or fuss.

THAT’S BECAUSE WE’RE BRITISH.

 

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Shun House, Kindle Offer

 

It’s taken quite a while, as I’m sure you know, but I’ve now finished and published the full-length sequel to Waif, Shun House.  The original cast of Butler, Young Master and Cook are reprised but they are now more than just shallow titles.  Butler is now Joseph Harrow, most senior servant at Benediction House (Great House).  Cook is Mistress Hartley while Young Master has matured into the Marquis Raphael Álmos Vaskapu, still the last of his line, still seeking to preserve his lineage.

And in this tale, he may have found a salvation.  Condesa Adelina Lupita Serpa Cantabria has crossed the sea to meet with him.  What will she find when she arrives?  Can she play the part that Raphael would have the Fates carve out for her?  Or will she be one more patch of barren ground, one more unfulfilled promise to future’s hope?

Shun House on Kindle

Shun House on Kindle.

In many ways Shun House is very different to Waif, which was an experimental work. Shun House is far more conventional in structure and delivery.  The characters are more developed and the language used to describe them, their surroundings and the events that unfold speaks to us from a time when language was at least as important as the story itself.

The tale takes place some ten years on from Waif but is much colder and darker, and leads us down paths we may find uncomfortable and unpleasant.  I won’t pretend that all my beta readers liked it; some found it difficult to read while others found it disturbing.  Nevertheless, I present it here for you to consider.

Shun House will be available as a free Kindle download from March 30th through April 3rd (2016).  I hope you will be able to take advantage of this, and I hope further that you will offer your comments in a Kindle review, good or ill.

Best Wishes to you All,

Nigel Edwards.

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SHUN HOUSE Available!

FINALLY!

E-book and Paperback available from the usual channels.

E-book and Paperback available from the usual channels.

It seemed to take forever to get here but at last Shun House is published.  Available through CreateSpace immediately, Amazon within the next few days, and other sales channels within the next week or two (probably).

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Great Offer from NewCon Press

Thought I’d spread the word on behalf of my chum Ian Whates:

IanWhates

Just to alert everyone that during this month I’m crashing the price on a whole load of NewCon Press titles, as part of the 10th Anniversary celebrations (including ‘Shoes Ships and Cadavers’ featuring our own group’s work) and Andy’s novel ‘The Outcast and the Little One. Books are discounted by as much as 80%, meaning that some titles are as low as £2.00, and they include many signed limited editions. Prices return to normal at the end of the month.

The offer includes titles by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Stan Nicholls, Steve Rasnic Tem, Gary McMahon, Liz Williams, Chris Beckett, David Mercurio Rivera, Kim Lakin-Smith, Eric Brown, Dave Hutchinson, Nina Allan, Keith Brooke, our own Ian Watson, Andrew Hook, Andy West, me, and anthologies featuring all sorts of people…
http://www.newconpress.co.uk/info/books.asp?offers=yes

I recommend everyone to go take a look!   🙂

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MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

...And a Happy New Year to One and All!!!

…And a Happy New Year to One and All!!!

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