20 April 2011

My Guest Peter St John

Peter’s "real life"  career began shortly after the Second World War, as a military pilot. He then became a Chartered Engineer working in aerospace research. This took him to Woomera in the Australian desert, to four years' residence in Paris and to the European Space Centre in French Guiana. He also worked in a project management team for the Royal Australian Navy.
As a writer, he has prepared numerous technical papers and reports including a two-volume reference compendium on the parliaments of the world.

He now lives in France where, from retirement he is president of a cultural association - and  has written eight novels.

Hello Peter - welcome to my guest blog
Peter - thank you for inviting me!

HH How did you start writing?
PsJ-  9.11. The awful day of the Twin Towers. I was at my computer to start writing a commentary on a subject that had intrigued me all my life. I didn't get beyond the first line; the telephone rang. My caller insisted that I turn on the television.
The next day, I began again on what was intended to be the introduction to my commentary. My fingers flew over the keyboard. I tapped non-stop for seven hours. Then abruptly the tapping stopped. I stretched my aching fingers and went to the bathroom. But what had I really written on this soul-searching twelfth day of September 2001? Strangely I didn't know. To find out, I had to read my text. It turned out to be a whimsically humorous conversation between an ordinary man and God. I entitled it “Hey God!”, and then wondered what to do with it. I showed it to several publishers but none of them was interested. Some may even have considered it blasphemous. That perhaps mattered for them.

If you’d like to know more, you could perhaps take a look at http://www.peterstjohn.net/ and maybe the blog of my principal heroine at http://jennospot.blogspot.com/

Just in case you're interested, the commentary did eventually get written. It is highly unconventional. The principal subject is the Gospel according to John. No publisher seemed to want it, so I turned it into a novel called "Triple Agent". The original manuscript still lies in the drawer alongside "Hey God!" and the incomplete ninth novel.

HH  what made you write about children during the war - were you an evacuee?
PsJ-  Yes, I was an evacuee; and to some extent, the adventures in the “Gang” books are drawn from personal experience. This said, I did not really set out to write about children during the war. My intention was to explore relationships in a small community during the difficult and hazardous conditions of war. Certainly the narrator is a child, and the events are seen from his youthful standpoint. But many adults are also involved and the narrative takes account of their attitudes and prejudices; some of then no less na├»ve than those of the children. From this derives much of the humour and dramatic tension.

HH what age group do you think the “Gang” books are best suited for?
PsJ-  My short answer is nine to ninety-nine. I believe the “Gang” books can be read and enjoyed at several levels. I accordingly had no particular age group in mind when writing them, and have too much respect for the intelligence of children to “write down” to them by using over-simplified language.

HH what is your next book going to be about?
PsJ- What a terrifying question! I’m still proof-reading “Gang Spies” and trying to put more polish on it. So this is the first time I’ve given any thought to the matter. There are now six “Gang” books. Seven would make a respectable number for a series, but what could be the theme of the seventh? Perhaps how the village gangs cope with the havoc created when the US Air Force sets up a base nearby. On the other hand, it could be interesting to attempt something completely different. For example, explore the meaning of that abused four-letter word “love”: Old Testament love, linked to vengeful divine justice; New Testament love, so nearly synonymous with hierarchical obedience; Koranic love, too often interpreted as political imperative and outsider intolerance; Buddhic love, seen as compassionate passive acceptance; and finally carnal love, presented as self-seeking sexual gratification. The story could contrast all the foregoing with an unconditional, transcendental love. Well, we shall see… Insha’Allah.

HH Finally Peter, you can invite 10 dinner guests - who would you choose?
PsJ- My dinner guests I've balanced evenly between five women and five men. I've chosen them with the idea that each would find at least one other compatible table companion (although I believe all of them are reasonably understanding people, and fairly easy to get on with, though language might create a problem). They are: Queen Elizabeth I; Emmeline Pankhurst; Shirley MacLaine; Jane Parker-Smith (concert organist); Kate O'Hearn (children's author); Joseph of Arimathaea: Roi Henri IV of France; Johann Sebastian Bach; Hendrik Willem Van Loon; and Konrad Lorenz.

::: Stop Pres News! :::

“Gang Warfare” was launched today on Amazon Kindle, to join 
“Gang Territory” and “Gang Petition.” 
Next title is to be “Gang Rivalry”.
Good Luck with those Peter.....

..... patter of tapping keyboard keys as Helen dashes off to upload 
them onto her Kindle.....

Peter will be touring England from 6th-16th May
and on 
Wednesday 11 May he will be in Lincoln (UK) to make a presentation during the Lincoln Book Festival, on do-it-yourself paperbacking.
Peter wonders who'll be sufficiently interested to attend?

Oh lots of people Peter - lots of people!

next time: US author William Hammond

6 April 2011

Margaret Gill - The Narwhal


... an eerie and mysterious tale of Gray Edmond on the claustrophobic island of St Hellicks, the pseudonym for St. Agnes, one of the more remote of the Scilly isles. 

When Gray retrieves an engraved narwhal’s tusk from the sea, disturbing changes begin to happen to both marine and bird life.  The islanders suspect Gray’s unusual powers of being able to communicate with seals and other creatures as the cause of the unrest.  They find the tusk he has hidden away and fear that an ancient prophecy threatening the island will come to pass since they have always considered the narwhal as an omen of disaster.  Gray finds himself the victim of a confused and complex web of superstition as the islanders decide a ritual sacrifice must be made.  How can he prove his innocence and escape their final condemnation of him?

Narwhal was winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing and was shortlisted for the Cinnamon Press Awards.      
Living with his father on an island where, despite their way of life being so misunderstood, Gray Edmond remains content with his lot.  But when an ancient narwhal tusk is washed up at his feet, a sequence of seemingly inevitable events begins to unfold and Gray sees his life as he knows it crashing out of control.  Will Gray realise the danger that he is in?  Will the narrow minded and insular locals lash out in fear of the power of the narwhal legend?  As the book pushes towards its frenetic conclusion, nothing is certain.

 Narwhal is a compelling tale of the effect of a legend and a prophecy on a community and on the life of one boy in particular.  Gray, a wholly likeable and clearly gifted young man with a special relationship with aquatic life, is a beacon of hope throughout the book.  As Gill knits together this tale of fear, greed, friendship, misunderstanding and love, a wonderful story begins to unfold.   


I was born in a small mining village in South Yorkshire.  I was able, however, even as a small child, to escape to the countryside to be alone with my love of nature.  I wrote poetry from an early age and my first novel at fourteen.  But later the pressures of teaching full time and raising a family meant that writing was put on the back burner.  When I started teaching part time I began to write seriously and have since written eight novels for children 11 to 13.
My books seem to be peopled with strong gutsy heroines who are prepared to go through hell, fire and damnation to reach their goals. Although Narwhal, which takes place on the Isles of Scilly, has a hero for a change, as he matures, and under the tutelage of a Carlos Castenada type shaman, he becomes the protagonist for my latest novel The Quetzal Skull, as he ventures into the rain forests of Costa Rica.

Many of my books centre around places that have intrigued me, like Costa Rica (which is also the setting for Return of the Quetzal), Syria, which is the arena for the dark mystery Secret of the Scrolls, and Tibet, which features strongly in Eye of the Mandala.
HH What provided your inspiration for the story?

MG: The inspiration comes from knowledge of the number of shipwrecks off the shores of the Isles of Scilly, particularly St. Agnes (St. Hellicks). The stories of the islanders which abound, tell of many strange objects being washed ashore. On St. Agnes one of the bays is named Beady Pool because even today, coloured beads, part of a cargo of a wrecked vessel, are still, after 200 years being washed up with the tide.
The idea of the narwhal’s tusk came from my fascination with the idea that the narwhal was once called the ‘unicorn of the sea’ and that in the past the tusk was held to have special magical qualities. So I imagine it could have been carried aboard one of the many wrecked sailing ships in the past carrying valuable cargo. There are at least three famous ship wrecks off the coast of Agnes which were transporting loot from the Med. And recently a haul of gold coins valued at millions was discovered off the Scillonian shores. The Colossus, to name just one, was wrecked between St Agnes and Bryer in 1784 while carrying the entire wealth of Sir William Hamilton and only a fraction of that cargo has ever been retrieved.

HH Are you a lover of myths and legends?
MG: Unequivocally yes. I devoured all the Greek myths as a child and am fascinated by the myths of the Mayas and Incas. My third novel for young adults tells the story of a charismatic character who believes himself to be the reincarnated Quetzalcoatl, who also appears in my current novel, The Quetzal Skull.

HH Do you have any experience of a community similar to the one portrayed in the book?
MG: I have been visiting the beautiful windswept island of St. Agnes ( St. Hellicks) for well over 16 years and consequently have a detailed knowledge of its flora, fauna and terrain. On Agnes there are less than 60 inhabitants and it is of necessity a close community. Resources tend to be pooled and shared and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to picture how an outsider might rock the boat. Indeed anyone from the mainland is still regarded as a foreigner and even those from the other ‘off islands’ are regarded as being ‘different’ Clearly I have exaggerated the tightness of the community and the insularity of the islanders to fit the story.

HH How important was Julie to your story?
MG: Julie was vital to the story since she provided the only friend and helper after the demise of Tom and Charlotte. She was also the spur to Gray’s pursuit of the meaning and purpose of the tusk. Her link to the SIPP through the grandfather was also an important connection.

HH ‘Narwhal’ is pervaded by references to nature. Have you always taken such a keen interest in the natural world around us?
MG: Being close to nature is an integral part of the way of life of the island and I suspect only people who love isolation and the real beauty of such unspoilt places would ever bother to visit there. Having said that I live in a very quiet country village next to a farm and with miles of lovely surrounding country. I have always been a ‘country girl’ and walked and cycled miles as a child collecting wild flowers which I carefully pressed and researched. So yes, I have always been a nature lover.

HH Does the reaction to the tusk represent, in your opinion, a malaise in society towards those who are different and go against the grain?
MG: Yes you are right. The basic premise in the book is the need to respect the differences between peoples and while communities need to work together it does not support the rejection of individuals who think and behave in idiosyncratic ways. I think the way you express it as a wider malaise is something that occurs as a major theme in all my books particularly in the trilogy which begins with The Brain Changers

HH Did you have to carry out any research to write the book?
MG I researched Runic inscriptions, the value of Narwhal tusks, Earth Mysteries on the Scillies, the Roman Tin islands, The Drowned landscape of the Scillies, Scillonian myths and legends, shipwrecks , specifically HMS Colossus, the work of Tesla, the effects of ultra sounds on humans and other natural species, Taos Hum, Tones of Planet Earth, the effects of 6-10HzELF on brain waves, Backwoods home magazine, living the ‘natural life’ Government use of ‘Mind control methods’ Cold war methods of Mind control. Bronze age monoliths, barrows, ancient inscriptions, the list is endless and much that was researched did not of course end up in the story to which I might add the many books of fiction and non fiction about piracy on the Scillies, Hell Bay, Zanzibar to name a few.

I would love to be in the company of people who have influenced my life and my writing and there seems to be a common thread which runs through my choice. Carlos Castaneda whose writing I have devoured since reading his  book “The Teachings of Don Juan” and whose philosophy about being a spiritual warrior, assuming responsibility for being here, shutting off incessant internal dialogue, being able to ‘see’  the flow of energy in the universe would match with Paul Solomon’s, who was  my first spiritual teacher and who lectured on Atlantis, the Great Crystal and the mystical Hall of Records. To augment their contributions I would choose Jiddu Krishmanurti whose philosophy was “Truth is a pathless way”  and who declared allegiance to no nationality, caste, or religion, Madame Blavatsky the Russian mystic and Annie Besant who was a Theosophist and tried unsuccessfully to get Krishnamurti involved. That would cause sparks to fly.  So that I might not be accused of being too narrow in my choice I would include Phillip Pullman whose “Dark Materials” inspired me with his debunking of religious ideologies and my life long love, DH Lawrence with his passionate intensity for nature, his philosophy of universal energy and his visionary imagination . I would have to have another writer to confer with Lawrence and since he always said he was  Hardy’s inheritor and I’ve loved him too since a youngster the choice is clear. I would invite Mikao Usui so that I could literally experience his ability to transfer energy  and finally I would have to have a composer, Claude Debussy, for me, the most lyrical and romantic of musicians.

Margaret's Website

next time:
author Peter St John and his "Gang Books" that are set during a WWII childhood