Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas at Penwinnard Boys' Home


The residents of Penwinnard Boys’ Home are boys from eleven to eighteen who do not have a home, some because they have lost their parents, others because their parents are unsuitable, violent or criminal or maybe drug addicts. 

Christmas tends to be a mixture of joy and wistfulness. Boys go missing at Christmas more often than at other times of the year.  In ‘You Gotta Have Manners,’ Barry goes looking for his father but can’t find him.

Here is an excerpt:

Barry Zahedi, Penwinnard boy, slumped in a chair in the lounge-room of a friend’s place. He hadn’t been able to find his father, who’d gone missing rather than face court over several outstanding warrants, and had visited various friends and acquaintances instead. He wasn’t wanted. He knew he wasn’t wanted. The day was overcast, but it wasn’t raining, and maybe he could get a lift. Buses and trains were all booked out, he already knew that. Would there be a present waiting for him under the Christmas tree at home? Sean said there was always a Christmas present for every one of the Penwinnard boys. He picked up his school-bag currently stuffed with wrinkled and not very clean clothes, and quite courteously, took his leave of Jorvan’s mum. Jorvan was out somewhere, he didn’t know where.

Three hours later, he still trudged, weary. It didn’t appear that anyone was thinking of offering him a lift. He thought of calling home and asking for help, but he didn’t. He was tough. It was the cold wind that was making his eyes water. They were not tears.


And Sid, who had once had a family.

 Sid hurried after Bob, sometimes trotting to keep up. Bob tolerated him, but wouldn’t go slow just because his legs were shorter. He said he needed the exercise, and being inside was driving him berserk. They both wore heavy parkas and both wore the hoods up, though the rain was currently not much more than a dampness in the air. They were on the cliff-top path, and beneath them, the sea churned, angry and a bleak grey. It seemed months since they’d seen it blue. The wind was bitter.

Bob remarked, “In the Southern Hemisphere, they have Christmas in the summer. I reckon that’d be much better.”

“Ever had a summer Christmas?”

“A couple of times. It was great.”

“Tell me?”

“I don’t think so.”

After a pause, Sid said, “I sort of remember a wonderful Christmas when I was little. I don’t know where I was, not with my mum, but there was a Christmas tree and there were three kids and there were Santa presents, little things that we found on our beds when we woke up, and lots of lollies. And then the real presents later – I remember an orange tip-truck. I don’t know what happened to it. I think every time I was shifted, things’d be just left behind and lost.”

“Mmmm. That’s the way it is with kids like us.”

“Have you had things that you lost?”


“Tell me?”

Bob turned to face the sea, staring out at the spray where waves burst onto black rocks. Something was floating, just a bit of sea-wrack. It was like all of them, just being tossed where life chose, sometimes floating free, sometimes being hurt. Wonderful times, when he’d seen tropical beaches and great mountains and a game park in Africa where lions and elephants roamed free. And bad times. Two masked men with knives, and spurting blood, and Luc. He wondered where Luc was now. He’d never been arrested, he knew that, though nearly all the others had been. It would be silly to tell Sid anything. Better to keep his past as dark as he knew how. Secrets were not secrets when even a single other person knew.

He said, “There was a book once that I loved. It was called ‘The Magic Faraway Tree.’ It was one of the first books I read all by myself. I forget how I came by it, but it was very tattered. I bought myself a new copy a few days ago.” He laughed, embarrassed, “Silly of me. It wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. I was only about five when I had that book.”

“My mum was good sometimes when I was little. She might have read to me sometimes.”

“You lived with your dad for a while, too, didn’t you?”

“He was all right. He used to drive too fast though, and then he was gone too.”

“Someone told me he’d been in so many places that he couldn’t sort them out. So he started keeping a special box, photos and souvenirs, things like that, just so he remembers.”



The staff do their best.

 In the Penwinnard dining room, Helen MacKender arranged the score of gifts under the Christmas tree. She’d chosen each one as best she could. The boys may have been dirty and rough and noisy, but she did care about them – just that she preferred them not too close. She’d be having dinner there with her husband, though she seldom did normally. It was she who’d decreed that they were never to help in food preparation. She didn’t trust their hygiene.

The tables were laid with clean table-cloths, and they were decorated, as was the whole of the dining room. It was a favourite job, especially among the younger boys. There had only been one mishap, when Wally had been showing off at the top of a ladder. Unhurt, luckily. The boys had been hunted out not long before, though there always seemed to be at least one peering in.


These excerpts are from the book 'You Gotta Have Manners.' Christmas was eventful, as it
often is. A new boy who had just lost his family in a car accident, two teenagers whose whole family had been brawling, their father imprisoned and their mother in hospital, and Sean and Zeke, who took off for the place they wanted to live, to the ones they wanted to be Mum and Dad.

The ebook available on most online booksellers: 
Or for the paperback: The Book Depository has free freight:


This is Rob, skateboard king.

So for all of you who have a family and for all of you who don't, make the best of it. It only comes once a year.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Debbie Bennett, and the story of Michael Redford.

Some books drag in the reader and just do not let them go. These are the 5-star books, books that readers don't just read, they sink into the world that the author has created.

Debbie Bennett released the first of her trilogy just recently. I would have had to have been one of the first to buy the ebook. I'd already read 'Hamelin's Child'  and ' Paying the Piper,'  and now there was 'Calling the Tune.'

It was enthralling, and I wanted to go back and read it straightaway again. But I restrained myself. These are books I will want to read again and again - not as ebooks, which for me, is always a second rate experience, but as real books.  So now I have in my collection the three paperbacks.

The first, 'Hamelin's Child.'

'Michael Redford died on his seventeenth birthday – the night Eddie picked him up off the street, shot him full of heroin and assaulted him.

Now he’s Mikey and he works for Joss. With streaked blond hair and a cute smile, he sleeps by day and services clients at night. Sometimes he remembers his old life, but with what he’s become now, he knows there is no return to his comfortable middle-class background.

Then he makes a friend in Lee. A child of the streets, Lee demands more from friendship than Mikey is prepared to give. But the police are closing in on them now and Mikey’s not sure anymore who he really is – streetwise Mikey or plain Michael Redford.

Hamelin’s Child was long-listed in the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. A thriller set in the seedy world of London's drug rings, this book contains strong scenes and adult material.'

A typical review:

 Hauntingly Brilliant.  This review by  K. Hanney

 I've just finished reading this book, but I know it's a story that is going to stay with me for a long time to come. I've read it in 4 sittings over 4 days, and from the moment I started it, its main character has rarely been out of my thoughts - even when I've been asleep. It really is that good.

Michael is a regular teenager with regular teenager troubles, until he has his drink spiked in a club by Eddie, and he is manipulated into going back to Eddie's London flat. And so for Michael, begins his unwanted and horrific transition into the seedy under-world of heroin addiction, prostitution, violence and exploitation. It's harrowing. It's heart-stopping on more than one occasion, and it's compelling. I feel like I know Michael; he's so real, and I've wanted to cry for him, rescue him, and protect him. I've also wanted to shake him - as he's so real, some of his choices have left me seething with frustration.

This author knows her stuff. It's in the detail, the descriptions, the language. It all just combines to create a world that although alien to me at first, quickly became alive and real, and incredibly disturbing.

I would recommend this book unreservedly. You will learn something, you will be shocked, you might cry - but you won't be able to put it down. A book about something that really happens and really matters, and although it might not be pleasant for its readers in places, we kneed to know - and this author tells it like it is.

This story really will affect you. I was actually a little reluctant to start it. I was screaming to Michael in my mind - 'No, do not go with him!'
And not so much later, it was so desperately sad as Michael returns to the life because he can no longer live without the drugs.

The second, 'Paying the Piper.'

'Michael is piecing his life back together after his time spent as a rent boy. But it's hard and although he's been clean of drugs for months, the nightmares are still too real and he can't come to terms with Lee's death and Eddie's impending trial.

Sometimes other people's troubles can seem easier to deal with. When Michael meets Amanda at the cashpoint, it's a chance to focus on someone other than himself, and finding Amanda's missing husband and baby may just be his salvation.

But the shadows of his past won't let him go. The bank account they've set up for him is full of easy cash and Eddie's old boss Carl can help Amanda. And suddenly Michael is in deeper than he ever imagined possible.'

Review by Jan Ruth
What a cracking follow-up to the first book in this series, Hamlin's Child. Paying the Piper has all the classic ingredients of a good crime thriller, and the clues and evidence were handled superbly, culminating in a breathless chase to the finish.
We pick up the story with Michael in post-traumatic limbo following on from the repercussions of the sex trafficking ring and his imminent trial. By chance he meets Amanda, and their problems become almost one as he endeavors to help her track down her missing child with the help of dirty money. But the shadows of his past close in on him and Michael finds himself trapped, drugged and kidnapped, and sold on!
The story is about Amanda too, who finds herself implicated in the drugs ring. Brilliant characters and the plotting is tense and tight and builds to a dramatic climax.
And I know it's wrong, but I kind of fancied Lenny.

 The third: Calling the Tune.

'It's Eddie's trial and Michael is reliving things he'd rather forget.
Giving evidence means that he can't hide and there are still people looking for him and old debts to be repaid.
A year of counselling isn't enough. Face to face with the man who raped him, Michael can't deal with it.
Trainee reporter Becky follows him out of court, but she gets more than a story when a phone call and security alert mean Michael is on the run for his life.

But running away never solved a problem. Michael realises he has to face his demons head-on if he's ever going to be able to move on with his life - and now he's on a collision course with his worst nightmare.

Following on from Hamelin's Child and Paying the Piper, this novel contains adult material.'



Review by John M R Males

Format:Kindle Edition

`Calling the Tune' is the very satisfactory conclusion of DJ Bennett's trilogy which follows the degradations of middle-class teenager Michael Redford as he battles the consequences of a drugged kidnapping and initiation into London's sex-trade. The electric tension of the previous books, `Hamelin's Child' and `Paying the Piper', is masterfully maintained. The shocking denouement rockets a changed Michael back into an unchanged world, and the reader, deeply caring for him, is left hoping that he will cope.
The villains are human and credible as is the whole cast, and the scenarios are expertly set up to hold the reader on the edge of his seat.
Although adult and graphic the content is never gratuitous; you will be shocked but not offended. Neither are you whipped into outrage; instead you become involved in Michael's tribulations, willing him to emerge unscathed from the twilight world - a measure of the quality of the writing.
Tip: read the trilogy from the beginning.


For more reviews, see
 Notice that a lot of the reviews say that it was hard to forget Michael.  It is that way for me, that the story keeps running through my head. 

It raises some questions, as well. It's made me think.

There are times when Michael acts stupidly. He is far from the swashbuckling hero of the traditional thriller. Even when he tries to 'call the tune,'  it's so, so far from the best way to do it.  Only at the very last does he make the decisive action that enables him to finally win through.

There is also the issue of the confusion between the goodies and baddies. DJ Bennett has a far more sophisticated way of looking at it than most of us, maybe because of her background in the police force. That the baddies are people as well, never all bad (except for the really bad guy, he is evil.)  But in all the series, there are characters that are on the 'bad' side, and yet act in a good way, Lennie, for instance, who works very hard to free Michael, even at the risk of his own life.

I drew the line at Nick being a good guy underneath it all, though. Nick is in the third book, and he helps Michael and he helps Lennie and Becky. He says that Michael was different, not some nameless street kid.  But he was working for Reilly, who made snuff movies!  Street kid, crackhead, whatever, it is evil to derive enjoyment from their murder. I would put Nick firmly behind bars as well as anyone else who worked for that villain.

 To buy the ebooks, you can go to any of a dozen sites, including the biggest -

 To buy the paperbacks, and especially if you live in a country where you usually pay an additional $10 for a book to be sent, use the Book Depository,
 $16.44, free postage anywhere in the world.




Thursday, 12 December 2013

The fourth and final of the Shuki books.

The fourth and final of the Shuki series is in progress.

Tentatively called 'The Unauthorised Biography,' tentative finish date April, 2014, tentative publication date, August 2014.  


Followers of Shuki will remember at the end of Shuki 3 (To Love and To Protect)  Shuki moved himself and his family to a different place, a safe place - country Australia. He is now with Zahu, Hasquitri's second son, and he has his four wives and two of his stepchildren living with him.
Shuki treasures his family, and is very proud of the home he has created for his family. He is a Lecturer at Leverson University (based on Armidale University in NSW) and they live on a property not far from a small town called Bellerusse (based on Uralla, NSW.)  He calls himself Sam Ray, as the name of Shuki Bolkiah has become too well known for his comfort.
 It is a lovely area of the country, but it can be very frosty on winter mornings.


And they have space, space to ride horses, space for Zahu to hunt the wild pigs, space for the wives to expand their interests. They call their property Marrin.

Complications arise, Prince Nasir, first son of King Feroz,  comes to live with them for a year.  It is to be a part of his education. He is supposed to be anonymous, not treated with any special distinction.

And in Elbarada, Shuki finds his brother, Mwai, and his sister, Pazhiria.

And then there is Meriam, beautiful and intelligent, just sixteen. She is Pazhiria's youngest daughter, but she is disgraced, unmarried, pregnant, and in danger of being put to death for dishonouring her family. So Shuki brings her to Marrin.

But Meriam looks so much like Shuki and that brings its own complications.

Here is an excerpt.  Remember that this is a work in progress, and things may change. Nasir might even find himself written out, but Meriam will not. 

Excerpt from Shuki 4.

Fifteen minutes later, Rania escorted Meriam to the room where the men were gathered. Again, she was wearing a niquab over a thicker version of the makrebi, stark black like a chador. But Hasquitri swore, said that he couldn't stand women got up as parcels, and pulled down the face-mask. 
Meriam's hands went to her face, but he quite gently pulled them down and ordered, "Look at me, girl."

Meriam timidly raised her eyes, and he touched her face and said wonderingly, "She's just like Shuki."

Zahu was staring. He'd never seen Shuki when he was young, but he'd seen photos. She was just like Shuki, like Shuki as he'd been in his teens. Such long eyelashes. He wanted to caress. He'd forgotten that this was a girl and a stranger. It was like a younger incarnation of his love.

But then he shook himself. A physical likeness was no good reason to betray the one he cared about. And even if Shuki said that he could go his own way if he wished, marry and have his own children, he knew that it would distress him very much if he did. It was not like it had been to begin with. Then he had needed Shuki, but Shuki had not needed him. But now, they were together, and Shuki did need him. But this girl...

It was lucky that Hasquitri was too much absorbed in his own fascination with the girl's appearance to notice how his son had been affected. He was very protective of Shuki. He would have been furious if he'd thought that Zahu might hurt him. He asked, "Have they told you what is planned, Meriam?"

Meriam nodded and said, "Yes, Sir."

"I am Hasquitri Daoud. You address me as Master Hasquitri or just Master."

Meriam said in a voice even more faint, "Yes, Master Hasquitri."

"You are to go to a different country. Your uncle's wives will look after you."

Meriam felt a stir of curiosity. No-one had told her that he had wives. She hadn't thought that far ahead, only that she'd been so very bad that she just had to do whatever she was told. She didn't ask. She had her head down again, and didn't see Hasquitri's searching look, or Zahu, who still stared, fascinated and wishing he had known Shuki when he'd looked like this. Matuel as well. They all stared.

Hasquitri asked, "Have you seen your father, Meriam?" and Meriam shook her head. The last time she'd seen her father was through a haze of fists and noise. She never wanted him to be so angry with her again. She never wanted to be so bad again. He'd never hit her before.

Hasquitri said, "I might have to go and see him, I think. He needs to agree to your leaving."

Meriam said anxiously, "He's a good man, Master Hasquitri. He does what he thinks is right."

"He beat you half to death, girl. Is that right?"

Meriam didn't answer except to herself. It was right. She'd deserved it. She didn't know how she could face him ever again.

Rania asked, "Take her back to her room, Master?"

Hasquitri nodded, "Back to her room."

He watched after her thoughtfully. If he was allowed a fifth wife - to have someone like Shuki, so much like Shuki. And yet female and young. Even if she was a disgraced women. But he'd lose face if he took her. He'd lose face even if he allowed her to return home with him as a kitchen maid or something. He wondered how far along she was. Was it too late for an abortion? He guessed it was too late, no matter how far along she was. It was too late because people knew. The father had to be made to agree. Leaving this country with its strict code of morality - it was the only way. 

He dreamed about the girl that night, all mixed up with Shuki as he'd been. Shuki when they'd just been boys together, before he knew. He'd not always been nice to Shuki then. It had been because he was jealous that he was better at things than he was. But then he'd found out and things were different. He dreamed about making love with him except that then it was the girl, and he made a ceremony of burning her concealing clothing before turning to her. She was waiting for him, smiling... 

Zahu also dreamed about her. It was Shuki, and they were in the gorge, in the thick grass. He loved it there. They were together and he was making love with him. Underneath them was the thick robe because the grass was uncomfortable to lie upon. Was it Meriam then? He/she was face-down and he didn't quite know, but it felt so wonderful...

And then the other one was moaning with pleasure, as Shuki never did. He stroked over her back and there were no ridges of old scars. Her hair, long and glossy black. There were no strands of grey. It was Meriam.
Zahu woke. He was filled with guilt and he was filled with his want. Shuki slept peacefully, while Zahu started rubbing himself.  He would not be able to sleep otherwise. But even after he'd eased his body, he didn't sleep for a long time. It was hard to stifle his desire for the young girl with the face of his love.


When there is a heavy frost, always, the day after is clear and bright.  I am a believer in happy endings - just that I don't quite know yet what this ending will be.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Two day bloody courses!

Country men are tough, self confident types as a rule.  They don't like being told what to do, and they especially don't like to be told what to do by some clerk still wet behind the years.  A farmer who's been using a chainsaw for the last thirty years does not think he needs a two-day course if he wants to continue using it.

A farmer nearby was furious when they fined him for using the saw bench that had been on his property for many years, and he'd been using perfectly safely for decades. But new regulations came in and suddenly he was supposed to pay money to learn how to use it, and even probably, a license to have it.

This poem was given to me on our recent trip Outback,
 though it applies just as much to any farmer.


Bureaucracy is a curse sometimes, and I'm going to add a few photos - not of the Outback, but of other kids growing up on a farm. A bonfire - how many are allowed to light bonfires these days?  Plucking chooks at the saw bench, though naturally, young kids were kept away when timber was being sawn up for the fire. 
These pictures were taken in the 1950s when interfering bureaucrats were not nearly as bad as they are now.


You can buy my books from most online booksellers.  If you want the paperbacks, first try The Book Depository.  They offer free delivery.