"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
The Night Porter - In The Vatican (Photo: Justin Scholes)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rum and (Caustic) Soda: razor-sharp expat Indie writer, Phil Conquest is...Around The Cauldron!

Phil Conquest

This is a long interview.
Pour yourself a cuppa, unwrap a bar of chocolate and take fifteen minutes to read it. It covers a lot of angles you don't often get in Indie author interviews. Many of my regular readers may raise their eyebrows. Many will be glad to have met him. There's not much promo here - except of brilliant writing, something that has probably been neglected by Indie writers who seem obsessed with story, with sales as the only barometer of success or failure.

Phil is an English expat, whose debut novel, Rum Hijack, has been praised by readers, rejected by book bloggers, misunderstood, lauded, cast aside, raved about, shunned by Indies and embraced by an audience starved of original writing.

The dark tale of an angry, tortured, would-be writer with the unlikely name of Inkker Hauser, living in a shambolic, surreal, isolated world, imprisoned by his flat and tortured by writer's block, is eloquently written - majestic in parts - with shades of an Alan Bennett monologue mixed with the madness of Burroughs, the cynicism of Thompson and sprinkled with Kafkaesque nihilism. It's well worth the ridiculously low price he charges on Kindle.

I contacted him on the Wizphone as he shivered in his freezing basement flat somewhere in the snowy North Eastern US. This is the world of the writer, well away from the poodles, chaise longues and dictaphones of the perfumed market chasers, the smug edifices, restored cathedrals and pate de fois gras of the blockbuster merchants. Here's what he had to say.

Buy "Rum Hijack" by Inkker Hauser HERE

Whereabouts in the US do you live? And whereabouts in England did you emigrate from?
I’m currently based in south central Pennsylvania. This year has been a strange deck that’s dealt some weird hands. A jump of state is on the not-too-distant horizon, just working out which, but it will be one extreme or the other: East coast or West coast I don’t mind but preferably with basketball arena within reach. 

I was born in London and grew up just outside of it, in an area with a notorious history of witches and witch hunts.  Up the road from my mum’s house there is still a stake that a ‘witch’ was burnt at. I’ve got a nail I pulled from it, somewhere, one of the ones from the time, those old flat tack-like ones. The local council removed the historical sign from it a decade or so ago. It was so faded you could hardly see it anyway but now the stump just blends in even more. I knew people who grew up and lived in that area for over 30 years and had no clue it was there. I remember reading the small historical plate on it when I was younger and just took it for granted that everyone knew about it. That still amazes me, that something like that is there and people pass it every day and grow up by it none the wiser. A good example of being hidden in plain sight.

What are the big differences between living in the UK and in the US?
The pro’s and cons are equal generally speaking, I think. My main gripe with this country is the healthcare system which is more like organised genocide. Britain’s National Health Service may not be perfect - and I worked for it for 6 years and seen it up close - but people who complain about it don’t realise how lucky they are to have it. 


Alcohol laws are odd but then it varies between states and am used to that now. No prawn cocktail crisps, it seems. Pickled onions are rare.  But I’ll take a bar here, over a pub there, most days. 

Tell us about Inkker Hauser
As a character he’s already almost a decade old. There are several scenes in Rum Hijack which were written 9 years ago. Word for word they are now as they were then: 

the destruction of the computer:
the sawing of the bed: 
the one night stand:
the rant about the local book shop: 
imagining the police searching his flat. 

Originally, while in the grip of what one reviewer referred to as “extreme writers block”, the publishing establishment bore the brunt of his frustrated vitriol. Times have changed. I’ve just altered it so that now it’s aimed at the self-publishing barnyard instead.  

Regarding his actual character, Philip K. Dick used ‘the future’ as the canvas with which he could paint his philosophical and theological theories and ideas. He knew if he set them in a contemporary environment, they would be perhaps too far out for people to accept. 

By designing future-worlds, where things had changed and anything was potentially possible, he built a platform from which he could illustrate his thoughts with better examples and clarity using the environment he created for his thoughts to roam around in.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the obvious example. 

In the world of that book, it was the norm to have synthetic, robot pets. Replicas of animals, due to the scarcity and cost of real animals, which in that world, then spread to experiments in replicating humans, cloning. With that as a device, Dick was then able to roll out his thoughts on what it is to be human, the complexities of human emotions and what is perceived as real and what is not – which were at the core of a lot of his writing. 

Phillip K Dick
The character of Inkker Hauser is like that, in that he gradually creates an environment  for himself – and an image of himself - within his flat, which he thinks will enable him to channel his writing and aid his spiritual evolution while he speculates on the reason for his existence.

For US readers, "flat" = apartment (Ed)

I decided to serialise it into four parts as that makes it more interesting from my own point of view regarding future promoting. It gets old banging the same drum. Four parts with four different titles opens things right up and allows for more mischief making, like the Hijack Girls, with Part One.

There is change also, a shift in mood, with each quarter, so that makes things more fun to play with as well, gives me plenty of angles.

Can you share an extract with us?

It was a humid summer when I moved in. When my moods were low, I would buy ready mixed Margarita and listen to instrumental ambient and angst laden electronic music from the 1980s, while sitting on the ledge of the bay window.  I would sit with my legs straight out, feeling the warm night breeze blowing on me, until I was sleepy enough to slump to the bed - though just as frequently I would pass out in the window, waking up several hours later, cold, legs numb and stiffened, sometimes with my trousers undone. 

I’d lived here less than two months when one morning I received a letter from the Residents Association - or Residents Militia as I’ve called them ever since. It informed me that though I may not be a tenant paying rent and therefore had no landlord to answer to (I sensed bitterness at this), the building did, in fact, have other people living in it.  

The writer of the letter (Head of the Militia) had received from other residents complaints about anti-social behaviours in (and around) flat number one.  Such behaviours included the playing of loud music, the slamming of doors late at night, hammering at three in the morning and yelling and shouting at all hours. He added that he himself had heard and been disturbed by music and shouting on several occasions, and ended by saying again that I should show them some respect, and that if the behaviour persisted there would be no alternative but to call the police.

No alternative, eh?

I’m not afraid of trouble per se; what I don’t want is interference. So I keep an eye on myself. What irritates me is that this has made them think they’ve won, put me in my place.  Thus:  “I don’t hear a sound from him anymore! Quiet as a mouse!  He’s thinking of us now he’s read that well-constructed letter, eh?”

The other residents are mostly aged around fifty and upwards.  I’m the youngest resident, no question, and I’m sure that’s another reason for them being wary of me. Most of the flats are rented, the rest mortgaged.  I’m alone in being having the roof over my head paid off in full, fuelling the animosity toward me. The flat came with a garage; mine is the first in the row, and kept within it is my faded 1974 VW Beetle. The Beetle is the only car I’ve owned and I’m so attached to it I can’t bring myself to get rid of it although the car of my dreams is a 1983 Audi Quattro.  

 Sentimentality aside, in private, though I could never admit it to Mother, I wondered whether or not the Audi would offer more power than I could handle. The aesthetics of the Quattro appeal to me considerably but whenever I think about it and imagine myself behind the wheel of such a beast, I conclude it’s probably best that I continue to trundle the streets in the Beetle

Is Inkker a figment of your imagination or a projection of your personality?

“Well, she’s very much like me but perhaps a bit more sassy! I’d bite my lip before saying some of the things she does! He-he! She’s strong and independent, something I got from my mother, we’re all strong women in my family (snort-snort!), and she’s a very positive person like me but she carries a lot of pain internally which she tries to hide from the world and  - yes - I can identify with that. Some things in life have hurt me and I need to try and be mysterious about it so that you might fall for the lie that my character has depth and that I am a tortured soul and people will find me quite fascinating and remarkable and  - ” so on. =D

Ha ha. You rascal...

Well, first off, I really don’t like rum. That’s my “I’m Walt Disney and I hate kids” ‘fun fact’. Elements of both really, I guess but I suppose Inkker is more projection than anything. I mean, it’s made up with some remote factual bases, like a sex-detail of the one night stand in Rum Hijack for example and the psalm book and lime with the barmaid, but there are some things he may rant about, which annoy me for real but he carries them up to the next rung. 

You know how people make a joke about something to dilute it, a situation, to make it not seem so bad or to put into perspective? If I’m the bad situation then I guess he’s the light. Inkker is a tool for blowing things up. 


"If writing is the fuse, then I’m the fertiliser and he’s the bomb." 

Does your writing have a genre and if it doesn’t, does it matter?
I don’t aim at any genre and don’t understand why so many people are so eager to be pigeon-holed. Why confine yourself and imprison everything you write from the first word? 

Obviously I understand someone wanting to write a story and being aware of where it may land on the shelf but that is different to my mind than putting a target on the book case and aiming for it. 

Warm Bodies. Visionary YA tale or cynical exercise in moneymaking using
genre analysis
 #zombies #zombieapocalypse #romance #YA
#happytears #truelove
If I was a genre hound and wanted to jump a wheel-less bandwagon at the side of the yellow brick road, I’d definitely write about a load of vampires running around with hard-ons. Then hashtag words like #vampire and #romance every other tweet, and excitedly hurl myself indistinguishably into the same #supernatural rabbit warren.

I don’t think it matters to not float toward the shore of a particular genre. Ultimately, someone else will decide what you are anyway even if you aren’t playing up desperately to a particular crowd.  “This belongs there.” and then they feel better because so many people like rules and things to stay inside them. 

If people think I’m wrong saying that, fine, go and ask the exciting #writetip mongers... 

I know you love the #writetip mongers :D

Absolutely love them. Anyway, I could probably tout myself as #mystery writer and no one would even question it anyway. Things just get seen and accepted through ignorance online. Remember those HIV/AIDS pamphlets in the 1980’s, “Don’t Die of Ignorance”?  

E-writing is a similar virus that should have come with a similar warning when it first started making headlines. 

Don’t die of #writetips either.

Are you a writer or an author?
Everyone has their opinion on this, don’t they, regarding themselves? I write in long hand. I write and have written letters to friends, with biros, permanent markers, eye-liner pencils, anything at hand. When have you ever had a short email from me? 

Er, never.

All this doesn’t make me an author. To some, that doesn’t make me a writer, either. I’d consider myself less of an author and more of a writer though, not because I think one tag out-ranks the other but purely on the basis of how I operate. And, going back to the previous question, the people who tout themselves as ‘authors’, it seems, tend to be the genre chasers. I’d rather chase the front end of an on-coming bus. 

Some people about now are probably hoping I do just that and that’s great. Get on that bus as quick as you got on your chosen bandwagon and I’ll run harder into it smiling with my finger up. 

Libertine, Arthur Rimbaud

You and I share a passion for the real writers, the outsiders, the ones who broke the rules and pushed writing to places it has never gone before? Where did this passion come from? 
Yes we do. I wish the answer was quick. I always liked books, from an early age, and English was the one thing at school I was always good at. I sucked at everything else. I’m not trying to say that as some sort of brag or muscle flex, it’s just a fact. I was horrible with a lot of subjects but never English and using language. When I was 7, I had a paperback confiscated from me by my teacher. It was a book for teenagers and I’d had the book for some time at home. To have it taken off me the first time I took it into school really shocked me. She gave it back to me at the end of the day but when she handed it over, she crouched down and got right in my face, eye to eye and with a fascistic snarl, said: “I don’t ever want to see that book in this school again.”  

It was “Grange Hill Goes Wild”. 

Hardly “120 Days in Sodom” is it? That old dog would have given Mr Bronson a run for his wig and money. That incident really got the coal in my mind burning: someone reacted like that over a book? And then there were other things over time too, at school. I had some book that said ‘fuck’ in it a lot. Showed some kid in my class and come break time, he had mouthed off about it and now everyone wanted to see this book I had because of the profanity in it. So, in my young mind, adults/authority disapproved and confiscated, my peers gathered round. This is still Junior school and though I couldn’t articulate the observation regarding the book reactions, I was acutely aware of the contrast and the effect words/book content could have on people. 

Then first year at Senior school, my English teacher see’s I’ve got Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ on me and she says, “Isn’t that a bit too grown up for someone your age?” (11). 

She looked disgusted and shook her head.  It was just a lot of little things really, how people reacted to books I read, coupled with being competent academically in English well beyond my actual years which was the one positive noted by a lot of my teachers. I was awful at everything else but good with words, as I said, and as one particular teacher found out. I used to get in trouble toward the end of my school years because my English teacher began marking me down as she didn’t believe I was doing my own work, thought I had adult help and so on, so I stopped going to classes altogether. What was the point going if I was being marked down for apparently being too good at the only thing I liked and only thing I happened to be any good at? So I would have detentions at the end of the day for being late or skipping a class. 

 It just built something up in me and once out of school at 16 I was soon done with King and that type of reading and discovered Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, South of No North by Charles Bukowski and Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky all around the same time. The internet wasn’t around then obviously, so it was a case of trawling stores and trying to find something that appealed – and it was those guys and guys like them, the outsiders and boundary pushers, like you said that kept my interest. The more real the subject matter, the more real the writing and the better it was for it. Real life, recorded as it was or fictionalised, written well…that stuff has life, real, vibrant energy and a rawness to it and sincerity that is missing from the more orthodox lines of fiction writing. 

Why hasn’t writing like this gained any foothold in Indie?
 There’s a huge lack of knowledge regarding literature amidst a massive number of ‘writers’ yapping on about books and writing, online. They know a few books that were #1 or so in WH Smiths in the 90’s or advertised in the Daily Mail but will post a Hemingway photo and a quote about writing – to add an illustration to the delusion  –  without having a clue what book the quote came from (or if it even is a quote of his at all) or know anything of his life or his catalogue of work. 


Hemingway is an example but you know there are others.  But it’s usually Hemingway, isn’t it? Or Mark Twain. It’s always the big hitters that even deaf and blind people have heard of and seen. You never see them quoting the equally revered Russians or Mishima. 


Even Orwell seems a rarity - and he wrote some brilliantly scathing comments in essays about writing and books. It’s ironic really that Hemingway is the go-to writing-quote guy for so many when his writing is so simplistic and easily readable. Difference is of course that he knew the simple words to use and what not to say.

In theory, this whole scene is, using older books written by heavyweights as example, where something like Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris or John Fante’s The Road to Los Angeles or Bukowski’s Post Office, should emerge.

Bukowski or Miller?
They’re both raconteurs in their own way. The heart of a lot of Miller’s writing is his vanity. The way he writes about his sexual prowess is quite laughable. The heart of Bukowski’s writing is pain. The way he writes about his non-existent, or alternatively, deranged sex life is hilarious. Bukowski had a great sense of humour that is missing from Miller. He was also punchy, to the point. 


Miller is as great but a different animal. More extravagant in his descriptions and laborious with them. As good as he is, you read him knowing he was most likely thinking about how he reads. Bukowski always comes across as if once the sentence was written there was no going back to it and he couldn’t care less (even if he did).  Also, Bukowski had to write, it was all he had for a lot of his life. Not so, with Miller. And that shows in the honesty of Bukowski’s work. So he wins out for me.


What are your three favourite books, two favourite CDs and favourite DVD?
‘Notes From Underground’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. FD is the man, the psychological penetrator. With ‘Notes…’ especially. You read it but it feels more like it is reading you.  

‘The Road to Los Angeles’ by John Fante. 


A book of his he couldn’t get published in his lifetime despite being a published writer putting books out, and it would have difficulty even now: contains two of the funniest black-humoured set-pieces I’ve ever read anywhere. 

(As an aside, ‘1933 Was a Bad Year’ by him is really short but really good – what he gets across in the first 17 or so pages of that some people couldn’t get across in 500 – or their lifetime). 

‘A Season in Hell’ by Arthur Rimbaud. This answer is a slight cheat I know. I have it as a singular edition but also in three ‘Complete Works’ as generally, all his stuff comes in one edition, doesn’t it? If I had said “Complete Works” it’s a bit like saying a Greatest Hits compilation is your favourite album. 

How cool is THIS, Phil? (Ed)

CDs: This isn’t easy at all… I’m having a Tom Waits vs Prince argument in my head…but okay…1. ’Purple Rain’ by Prince wins. 

DVD: Apocalypse Now is close but it would have to be Blade Runner. 

That’s my favourite film at the end of the day and has been since I was 15, even when it was the slightly nonsensical one due to the interference forced upon Ridley Scott by the suits. It’s gradually come out over the years to the eventual point of being restored to what Scott wanted in the first place.  The look, sound and mood of that whole film is just perfect. I’d live in that world in the blink of an eye if it were possible. And as a film, it is better, for once, than the source material, the aforementioned Philp K. Dick book. 

Are you ever coming home?
Permanently, I’m not planning on it but I hope to come back and visit at some point, see family and so on and maybe burn a witch. I prefer living over here. 

Aesthetically it appeals to me more than the UK but it feels as much like home to me as England though saying that I have that feeling of being lost wherever I am, but that’s probably why the transition was easy.  I’ve moved around a lot. Where ever I lay my hat and all that but it’s most likely going to remain on US soil. I do love London though.

And finally, what next for Phil Conquest and Inkker Hauser?

“Part 2: Literastein” was due to be out by now but death and other incidents side-tracked my life.  However, “Literastein” is impatiently tugging at the restraints and wanting to be a friend of the community… so, not long and I’ll cut the ties and let him out to have his way with the world.

He’s going to look in the mirror one night after a bottle of rum and see that his reflection has gone, then soon after, discover he has fangs and wants blood. 

And so begins a power struggle between clans. The establishment, the self-publishing scene and himself in the middle. A real #dark #urban #fantasy. Of course there will be a love interest and everyone is after her and her own literary power, wanting to combine forces and bone her. And then appears the evil establishment leader who is as old as time itself and with his own secret agenda involving the girl. 

But he hadn’t bargained on Inkker Hauser entering the fray.

For me…well, have had to re-adjust my IH plan somewhat, my living arrangements entirely and am about to take an extended stay in a motel which I’m quite looking forward to, for writing reasons and conjugal visits. 

As far as writing goes, I’ve still been planning “Christ Spokane” and am considering something about a small-time writer travelling around from one place to the next with the ashes of a dead and much missed pet in his holdall. 

Phil, it's been a pleasure to meet you around the Cauldron and I wish you every success in the future.

Thanks, Mark. You too.

Phil Conquest in NJ

"Buy Rum Hijack" by Inkker Hauser

Follow Phil on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Literastein

Superb blog - real writing in the style of the writers above. 


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sheer Fear: Crime fiction's Geoffrey West is Back - Around the Cauldron!

Everyone connected with The Wizard's Cauldron is a big fan of Geoffrey West. A classy, polite and charming English gentleman living near the dreaming spires of Canterbury (site of the magnificent cathedral where Thomas a' Becket was disembowelled in 1187), he writes unusual and in inventive crime fiction featuring Jack Lockwood, an only too human psychologist. I've read all three of his books - which are ludicrously cheap bearing in mind how good they are - and he's one of the few authors whose releases I actually anticipate.  My review of his latest work can be found at the end of this interview. We met for the first time early this year and I cannot wait to chat again next year, after Book 4. I picked up the Wizphone and caught up with him at his writing desk in this most incredible of late British Indian Summers. Here's what he had to say.

Geoffrey's original interview with the Wizard

Hi Geoff, for new readers, particularly in the US, tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a freelance journalist/author and editor, who has been writing novels for several years, latterly publishing the Jack Lockwood Mystery series with Kindle Direct Publishing.  I used to write for home repair/DIY type magazines and have written five non-fiction books ranging from leatherwork to architectural salvage and major home repairs and how to make dolls houses.  I also do proofreading and editing work for publishers, and now also work for writers of independently published works. 

This is the inside of a magnificent doll's house - some quite incredible craftsmanship

Tell us about Jack Lockwood, the hero of your three books so far.

Jack Lockwood is a psychologist, a Behavioural Investigative Advisor, who occasionally works with the police, advising on criminal profiling in specific cases.  He has a tendency to go his own way, and frequently is at loggerheads with his police bosses, consequently much of the time he’s working on freelance non-fiction books, which often necessitates delving into unsavoury businesses and investigating situations and people.  

He has the misfortune to land himself in a lot of trouble, and fortunately has more lives than a cat, often losing one or more within an adventure.  

He has been compared to a ‘Jonathan Creek’ kind of hero (an English TV detective who is brilliant at lateral thinking, and solving problems), but, although he is highly academically qualified, he is not phenomenally clever, by no means stupid, but not a genius.  He solves problems with brainpower certainly, but also with tenacity and brute strength when necessary—I envisaged him originally as more of a Philip Marlowe-type character (from the Raymond Chandler novels). 

Elliot Gould plays Phillip Marlowe in "The Long Goodbye"

In fact he is essentially practical, having worked as a builder/ builders labourer for several years, and has learnt the art of bare knuckle fighting. 

Is there an inspiration for Jack Lockwood? Or is he purely a creature of your own fevered subconscious?

He is invented, but his name is actually the same as that of a favourite now-deceased great uncle of mine.  He was a very interesting and clever man, also extremely literary (he was a chief librarian who once employed John Braine, the novelist, before Braine became famous for "Room At The Top")

John Braine
 I think my Great-Uncle did various acts of derring-do in World War Two, but he never spoke of these things.  I very much hope he would approve of the use of his name—it is meant with great respect, and I feel that in some strange way it makes him live on. 

What is the latest instalment of his adventures?

Sheer Fear, published last week. 

By Sheer Fear HERE bookgoodies.com/a/B00OY578V6

Jack’s half-brother dies just before being arrested for the rape/murders of three women. Afterwards Jack discovers that his brother was framed for these murders as part of a top-level conspiracy to silence these women, who all happened to accuse a famous public figure of molesting them when they were children.  Although they reported these incidents at the time, (30 or so years ago) nothing was done then, but in the aftermath of the Savile enquiry, fictitious ‘Operation Hedgerow’ was launched, stimulating these adult women to make fresh claims of historic child abuse.  Jack strives to expose this man, and clear his dead brother's name. 

Can you share an extract?

I managed to find a cheap hotel to stay for the rest of the night and called back at the hospital around mid-morning. On the way I found a WH Smith bookshop and bought a copy of Lord Aylesbury’s autobiography, which had apparently been published to great acclaim earlier in the year.
It was a fat paperback, entitled MY WAY, with the face of the affable lord on the front cover. Neatly styled flowing silver hair met his collar, and the half smile captured his famous charm, but to me his likeable exterior appeared to be as vacuous as the book’s title. I remembered what I’d heard about his former career as an actor, picked to play the part of the young John F Kennedy in a biopic about the American president’s early life, entitled The Young Kennedy. Now he looked much like Kennedy probably would have looked, had he lived until his seventies. Unfortunately, the great man, the centre of America’s elite power brokers, had been assassinated in his forty-third year. John F Kennedy had gone down in history as perhaps one of the most charismatic presidents there have ever been. Indeed John Kennedy and his brother Robert created an inner circle of aides and allies, that his government christened ‘Camelot’ because its glamorous style, and its chivalric values were considered reminiscent of the ancient English court of King Arthur.
I pondered on the fact that there must be countless autobiographies and innumerable songs played at funerals, inspired by Frank Sinatra’s admittedly memorable and excellent song, ‘My Way’. The links were ironic: Sinatra had been a close personal friend of President Kennedy’s until the relationship had been abruptly terminated when Sinatra’s links to the Mafia were realised. Kennedy had dropped him then and there with a brief phone call, cancelling the party Sinatra had been holding in his honour that weekend. Sinatra personally smashed up the concrete helicopter landing pad he’d installed on his estate, bitterly hurt at the rebuff.
My Way. It seemed that so many people, whether in the public eye or not, have the narcissistic conviction that they and their lives are brilliant and special, that their choices and manner of living are unique. Sinatra couldn’t have realised how huge a vein of conceit and self-delusion he was tapping into when he performed his iconic song for the first time.
As I always do when I first get an autobiography, I flicked through to the photographs, which I often find are more informative than the words. There was budding actor Kit Aylesbury as a child, then as a young thespian, then in the uniform of a young WWII American sailor, on board a troop carrier, playing his part in The Young Kennedy, the film that had made his career. I looked closer at the twenty-year-old Aylesbury, and wondered how many American actors must have cursed the unknown British actor for beating them to the iconic role of a lifetime, simply because he’d been born with a face that was so similar to the great man.
St Helier’s hospital was a rabbit-warren of a place, with miles and miles of corridors. The ward where I found Lauren was fairly quiet, the bed beside hers empty. She was a pleasant looking woman with shortish blonde hair, a round open face and a friendly smile.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” were her first words.
“It was simply luck, that’s all.”
Around us were other patients in nearby beds, and nurses coming and going.
“Look, Mr Lockwood,” she spoke earnestly as I sat in the plastic chair beside her. “The nurse told me that I can leave whenever I like. If you have the time, can you wait for me to get dressed and discharged, then I can take you for breakfast or coffee or something?”
“I’d like that very much.”
An hour later we were sitting in the restaurant of the Holiday Inn Hotel in Sutton town centre. It was a comfortable welcoming place, with thick carpets and cosy decor. After we’d ordered breakfast, she told me that she’d phoned her mother, who lived in Cornwall and had offered her a home for as long as it took for the house to become habitable again. She went on about how the fire inspectors hadn’t yet reached any conclusion as to the cause of the fire, that the police had asked her if she had any enemies.
“Not that I have,” she said in exasperation. “They obviously think the fire might have been started deliberately, but I can’t think of anyone who could wish me harm. I’ve thought and thought, but I really can’t think of anyone.”
“Have they got any idea how the fire started?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Too early to say. That’s another thing. If it turns out that my wiring was faulty or something, then what if the insurance won’t pay for the repairs?”
“Is the wiring very old?”
She frowned, trying to remember. “I had some electrical trouble a few years ago. An electrician gave me an estimate for repairs but I couldn’t afford it, so I put it off. Oh God, I shouldn’t really be admitting anything like this to anyone, should I? If the fire was caused by an electrical fault then the insurance is invalidated.”
“I’m not about to tell anyone. Besides, the fire brigade are good at tracing the causes of a fire. They’re likely to find some other explanation altogether.”
“But what explanation?”
“Are you sure you don’t have any enemies?”
“Gracious, no. At least I don’t think so. Until the police asked, I never thought of anything like that.”
“Before you went to bed, could you have accidentally left a gas fire on, or something alight on the kitchen stove?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’ve thought about it over and over, and I’m certain I did nothing like that. Besides, I’ve just remembered. I have smoke alarms, and they didn’t go off. I suppose both batteries might have been flat, but it’s unlikely. But if the fire was started deliberately I can’t imagine why. I’m a teacher. I live a quiet life. I can’t think of anyone…”
The pause was so pregnant I didn’t want to interrupt the birth. But eventually I had to: “Look, Lauren, there’s something I have to tell you. I didn’t just happen to be passing your house when I saw the fire. I was coming to see you.”
“Why? Who on earth are you?”
I explained all that my ex-police contact had said to me, stressing that I had no way of knowing whether there was any truth in what he said or not. Her eyes never left my face. When I’d finished, she ordered more coffee, and she stayed silent for a long time.
“My God, what a thing to hit me with,” she said at last.
“I’m sorry. I’m hoping there’s some other explanation for all this.”
“There must be.” She looked up and stared into my eyes. “Because I never made a complaint against this man, Lord Aylesbury, or Kit Aylesbury, as you say he was called then. I never even met him as a child. To my knowledge I’ve never met him in my life.”
“Then I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.” She stirred her coffee, frowning and staring at the table.
The magnificent Gloria Grahame - classic
fifties femme fatale.
Often imitated, never
You are known for creating absorbing women, both heroine and villain, in your books. Do fans of Geoff West have a femme fatale/bunny boiler/Nora nutbag to look forward to in Sheer Fear?

Absolutely.  There might even be more than one, and it’s not necessarily clear at first who’s a heroine and who’s a villain. 

Why is Jack so rubbish with women? Is this deliberate or a series of accidents and coincidences?

He never understands how women think, and is cursed with bad luck, plus his timing is always wrong.  He is also convinced that he is too untidy, disorganised and set in his ways to fit in with a permanent relationship, but he hopes things might one day change. 

Can you assure your long-term readers that Jack will eventually meet the woman of his dreams?

I don’t know what’s going to happen.  But Jack’s a great optimist, he’s sure he’ll meet her one day. And as long as she doesn’t get herself murdered he’ll be happy. 

Are you a supporter of the Police? It is not clear from the books.

Yes, very much so.  It annoys me when police are portrayed as bumbling fools in fiction since I’ve always considered them very practical, clever people who have limitless knowledge of people and human nature and, are generally well intentioned, and on the side of the angels.  

I would need to be a fan of the police, since my great grandfather, Andrew Veitch, was a first-class Superintendent of police in Lincolnshire, England in the 1870s and 80s. Here is a pic of him in uniform. 

What have you been a) reading b) listening to and c) watching lately?

 I’ve been researching addiction for my next book and just read Patty Boyd’s (left) biography—interestingly, Clapton was both addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I learnt a bit about the chaotic music scene of those days, when the Beatles, The Who, Clapton, Ronnie Wood, The Rolling Stones et al, whom I thought were musical competitors, were in fact all friendly with each other and often collaborated professionally.  

I very much like the writer Mark Barry, and especially loved his book Carla.  (Thank you, Geoff - Ed)

Listening to:  Not much of a modern music fan, I mostly like rock and very much like Country Music. 

Watching:  The DVD set of Borgen, the excellent series about Danish politics.  

Think I am going to join you in watching this - Ed.

I also loved Spiral and Braquo, two French detective series’ set in Paris. Watching films with subtitles is very enjoyable and absorbing, I find.  

And finally, what do Geoffrey West’s loyal fans have to look forward to in the coming year?

Almost certainly the best proofreader
in the UK - Julia Gibbs.
The Jack Lockwood Diaries, a collection of short stories in Jack’s life, that I am publishing as soon as I can.  

In fact the brilliant Julia Gibbs - left #Follow @ProofreadJulia - has agreed to help root out my mistakes (you can never see your own) and in a day or two I’m sending them to her.  

She’s always busy, but I know from experience that her expertise is well worth waiting for. 

These stories were first put up on my blog, the Jack Lockwood Diaries, but I shall delete these once the book comes out, and add more as and when I can, so whilst writing Jack Lockwood novel number four, and a book on Home Security I’ve been planning, I will be putting out regular stories taken from Jack life - blog here.


Jack Lockwood’s fourth major mystery, is where Jack deliberately becomes an alcoholic, in order to see addiction clinics from the inside, and write a book about their treatment regime and so on.  

The book begins with Jack waking up from an alcoholic stupor in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, with a dead man beside him. He has no memory of the past drunken few hours, and accordingly is afraid that he may be the man’s killer. 

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Geoffrey, this has been a pleasure as usual and I hope you achieve the success you deserve with this exciting series of books in 2015. The best of luck.

Thanks you,Wiz - and the same to you.

Read Georgia Rose's interview with Geoffrey tomorrow.


Read also Geoffrey's Interview on A Woman's Wisdom




ROCK’N’ROLL SUICIDE  viewBook.at/B009XA5SQ4 

Marky The Wizard's Review of Sheer Fear.

5.0 out of 5 stars Another terrific Jack Lockwood Yarn - his best yet! 1 Nov 2014
By Marky The Wizard - Published on Amazon.com
Where to start.

Lets start at the beginning. I loved the book. I read it one sitting and having read all three of Geoffrey West's Jack Lockwood's books, this is the best of them. I heartily recommend it.

The book is much faster paced than the others - it rattles along like a freight train never stopping to take on water and coal. So much happens, you'll be breathless before halfway.

The plot. David, Jack's oldest friend, is accused of a horrific triple rape and murder in the leafy environs of ancient Canterbury. Jack knows full well that David would never have done this, but the evidence seems insurmountable. Still, Jack - being Jack - sets out to prove his friend's innocence. Then, out of the blue, Jack finds a tarantula in his glove compartment and all hell lets loose.

Before long, Jack finds himself at the centre of a conspiracy within a conspiracy, a labyrinthine narrative involving the top echelons of the British establishment. As if that is not enough, he becomes a victim of a vendetta from a surprising femme fatale, and a target of some serious old school villains from the Brinks-Mat days, who don't mess about when it comes to inflicting pain to get what they want.

Geoff weaves the plot expertly, adding his usual fascination with modern history and culture to the mix, and long term fans will recognise Jack's hapless, unfortunate, attempts at finding love amongst the many beautiful, intelligent, flawed, damaged and determined women he encounters.

There are superb set pieces - including the opening scene and a gripping attempted burglary - plus thrills galore and a sense of page turning tension, particularly in the middle section of the book where you have no idea what is going to happen next.

Geoff is an old fashioned story teller and to him, the story is key. His fiction still reminds me of the old ITC detective shows of the sixties, where very episode ends on a cliffhanger, as each chapter does here. Sheer Fear is unapologetic about its old school roots and it benefits from it. There is one scene in the middle that had me both howling and marvelling at Geoff's audacity and for writers, there is a a series of sly digs at the publishing industry and, in particular, literary fiction writers, which had me grinning like the cheshire cat.

I'm a big fan. Sheer Fear can be read before Doppelganger and Rock n Roll Suicide and if you like a rattling good crime fiction read with an absorbing, flawed, charismatic lead character who you will root for all the way down the line, and villains you will definitely want to see get their just desserts, you will love it. At the price, it is a steal. Heartily recommend.
 Go to Amazon.com to see the review 5.0 out of 5 stars