Handler . . . at last!

It’s certainly been a long time in the coming but it’s out there at last. My novel ‘Handler’ is now written, published and available to purchase. It is the first in a series of five which will take the two main protagonists – English-born German spy, Howard Wesley, and MI5 agent, Albert Stokes – through each year of the war. And, who knows, I may yet take them beyond WW2 and into the Cold War! The permutations are endless and exciting.

The first of the first editions!!

Here’s the blurb for this, the first in the – as yet untitled – series.

England 1941

English actor Howard Wesley has fallen in love with 1930s Berlin and made it his home. He is approached by German intelligence with the offer of his biggest and most dangerous role ever. Who better than a native Englishman to facilitate Hitler’s plans to invade Britain?

But on arrival in Britain, Wesley’s plans start to unravel when he finds himself being pursued by MI5 agent Albert Stokes, himself recently plucked from obscurity as a bank clerk. The agent’s brief is to hunt down enemy spies and Fifth Columnists by posing as Hitler’s man in London.

As the danger of invasion grows by the day, can both men survive the suspicions surrounding them? When both become embroiled in the inexplicable bombing of a lemonade factory and the disappearance of an RAF Hurricane, events only grow more convoluted.

In a race against time, RAF Fighter Command strive to prevent the theft of a second fighter – and the net is closing in on the handler.

You can’t put too much in a blurb. It’s goes on the back of the book as a sales tool – there to capture the essence of the book and to make you buy it. But I can tell you that it’s a page-turner. It’s an exciting mix of fact and fiction. Set in many locations, it has everything the fan of WW2, espionage, RAF etc, could possibly desire.

It only went live at the end of September but sales are already exceeding my expectations. Mind you, they were modest. When you have lived with the words, wrestled with them, loved them, tortured them and very often deleted them . . . your fascination with them can gradually fade. But the feedback I have had so far has changed my mind! It IS ‘unputdownable’!

Those of you have followed my blog since my first post will know that this novel has grown from a radio play – A Handcart To Oblivion – which was submitted in 2015 to BBC Scotland. I had some lovely comments and praise on it but was told that there was too much drama about WW1 and WW2, coinciding with many anniversaries from both conflicts. BBC R4, for example, were running Home Front daily! And there had just been an edict from on high ie London, which dictated ‘NO . . . MORE . . . WAR’.

So, it was not commissioned! (For full story on that, see my blog entry ‘Too many words . . . too little time! – November 1st 2015’)

And that was it! It was either – put it on the virtual shelf for decades, or turn it into a novel. Now you know the answer! I haven’t been working on it full-time since then, obviously. Life and street theatre and trombone lessons got in the way until I gave up all of that – aided and abetted by a certain pandemic who shall remain nameless – and put foot to the floor, nose to the grindstone and fingers to the keys. (No other body parts were involved in the creation of Handler! Even I am not that versatile!)

‘A Licence! A Licence! My Kingdom for a Licence!’

About a year ago, I started having blackouts. Sudden blackouts! Like half a nano-second notice during which the world would spin inside my head and it was complete system shutdown. I would come round wherever I had landed, just seconds later. I would be perfectly lucid, cognitively aware and – after the first time anyway – knew what had happened and where I was. I could even tell you the name of the Prime Minister – sadly!

The worst one happened in Saltburn last November. Previous episodes had involved what I now look back on as soft landings, training exercises almost, but this one was a full-on, straight head-first dive onto a stone step. And I didn’t feel a thing!! That’s the thing about blackouts – you know what has happened, you can see the consequences, even laugh about it, but that momentary state of unconsciousness is a real boon! People wince when I tell them about it but I can respond, with all honesty, that I didn’t feel a thing.

The pain came later in A&E. It necessitated twelve stitches to replace a piece of scalp that had been ‘dislodged’ like some kind of cat flap, X-rays for suspected broken shoulder and treatment for cuts all over my forehead.

During all of this, the NHS staff were absolutely marvellous. Attentive, sympathetic, efficient. We really are blessed in this country with such a service. And it’s free at point of treatment!!

Fast forward three months. My heart had by now been clearly identified as the culprit and I had a ‘loop recorder’ implanted just below the skin on my chest. A tiny device, about an inch long, it monitored all heart activity and uploaded it, via a bedside device, to the cardiac investigation team at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, (hereinafter referred to as Mission Control).

By this time, obviously, I had been advised not to drive! So, I bit the bullet, surrendered my driving licence to DVLA in Swansea and sold the car in February. I now know that I should simply have ‘not driven’ but tests were revealing nothing of any real significance, other than symptoms that were ‘commensurate with age’! I imagined being in limbo for a long time. 20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Fast forward another four months to the end of June. No more blackouts. Getting used to being without transport and, the single bonus to all this, saving a fortune in tax, insurance, fuel, maintenance etc. And I got more for the car than I had imagined.

A phone call from Mission Control one Monday morning at end of June. My loop recorder had picked up an incident at about 5am the previous Friday and they had picked it up from the uploads over the weekend. I couldn’t remember so I referred to the Health app on my iPhone. (Its icon is a heart!) It confirmed that I had been up and about at that time.

Word of explanation here. Our black cat, Bobby, usually sleeps next to me, on the pillow. At any time between 2.30am and 7.30am, he will try to wake me up – to give him food, let him out etc. He can be quite insistent – starting with gently nudging my face and purring loudly, then moving onto the next level of claw in eyelid or bottom lip, biting of hand and scratching of whatever bit of flesh is accessible!

Butter wouldn’t melt!

If this happens before 5am, I get up, do what he wants and retreat, bleary-eyed, to duvet heaven. If it’s post that watershed, I generally get up and start working. On the Friday in question, I remembered sitting on the edge of the bed, wondering whether to duvet or do stuff? Before I came to a decision, I got that awful half-nanosecond warning, so I immediately and voluntarily got to the floor. I did not black out so I did not report it.

Mission Control picked it up though, the consultant had looked at the data and decided that, if I were willing, I should have a pacemaker implanted.

That happened on 7th July. I won’t bore you with the details. It wasn’t painful. It was quite a jolly day – five guys on the ward, all in for the same ‘procedure’ and all desperate to be back home in time for England’s Euros semi-final v Denmark. As were the staff!

Then came the realisation that I could apply to get my licence back. And, I was reliably informed, under Section 88 of the Road Traffic Act, I could be back on the road before it arrived. Simples, right? Simples – not! DVLA is in meltdown – Covid, industrial action etc – and my application, together with the accompanying health form which gave all the relevant details re pacemaker, consultant’s name and contacts – is still in a pile of over 200,000 waiting to be actioned.

I had got quite used to being without transport. I take a cab on occasions when I need to go a short distance – paid for from the savings I am making on not having a car. But now, with Handler out there, I need to be marketing it. That involves visiting Tyneside and Hull where a lot of the action in the book takes place. I want it in bookshops; I want it at book signings; I want it to have a wider readership than it is at present.

(That is mainly because I am headed for a sizeable loss on this first book, which hopefully will be redressed as the series catches hold. A lot of the cost is non-recurring, thankfully. However, there is part of my brain that will simply not accept that as fact, so I am determined to do whatever I can to, at least, break even!)

I have now got my MP on the job. I did not vote for him but, at the moment, his office is doing what they are supposed to ie addressing constituents’ needs, and have been in contact with Swansea. (On a different number that they will not divulge to me!) Fingers crossed. At least I now have confirmation that they received my application. That does not sound much but, believe me, it’s a massive step forward!

It’s a case of ‘watch this space’ . . .

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