Living Pictures by Polina Barskova

Polina Barskova was born and brought up in Leningrad over 30 years after the end of the siege of that city by the Germans during WWII. The siege lasted from September 1941 to January 1944. The siege cast a long shadow which still affected the lives of the children in the 1970s and early 1980s. Reminders were all around, a preserved bomb shelter, missing buildings, walls scarred by shell fragments, and in memorials.

Barskova is a scholar of the literature and art of the blockade. She wants to know how people responded to and made sense of the blockade as well as how they lived with one another in these conditions. Family members had to divide insufficient resources amongst themselves when face-to-face with each other’s suffering. These psychological cruelties affected the survivors who also had to try and attempt forgiveness.

Archives of text from the siege times are still being discovered and Polina Barskova finds creative ways to commemorate these ghosts from her home city’s past in this book, a collage of fiction, memoir, and archival material.

Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 1

This is Page 1 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly kitten and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.


Please find my new landing page detailing my mystery books and my humour books here.

Keeping in Touch – Book discount

My book Keeping in Touch is available here at a discount from 24th February to 3rd March.

We are closer to those further away than to those nearer to us.

A story about communication in the 21st Century. Is Social Media making us unsociable. Are all our heads in The Cloud?

The hero of this story is at the centre of everyone else’s communications whether she wants to be or not. At work, on the bus, or at home, the people who are closest to her are in communication with people further away. She cherishes a conversation on the bus and realises how difficult it is to remove technology from our lives.

Although communication has never been easier, it seems we are always trying to communicate with people who are far away to the detriment of those who are near by.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

The first James Bond book that Ian Fleming wrote and I recognised some of the details from the 2006 film of the same name.

Le Chiffre is a nearly bankrupt member of the secretive SMERSH organisation (SMERSH is a conjunction of two Russian words: ‘Smyert Shpionam’ meaning roughly ‘Death to Spies’.

Le Chiffre and Bond play an increasingly high stakes game of baccarat (all the rules are explained so the book is educational too) and put it this way, Le Chiffre doesn’t take losing the game too well. The game is played at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux in France (not in Montenegro). Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre but is rescued by an unlikely source. Bond gets a tattoo from his rescuer. His recuperation from having his manhood repeatedly squashed by a carpet beater takes a few weeks.

Bond is accompanied on his adventures by Vesper Lynd who is working for the French Deuxieme Bureau. After the baccarat game, she is kidnapped and Bond chases after her, but his car is ambushed and the torture begins. After his recuperation, Vesper and Bond go to the French coast for a few days, but Vesper has a secret…

Vesper is the name Bond gives to his drink of choice: A dry martini, three measures of Gordon’s, one measure of vodka (preferably made from grain), and a half measure of Kina Lillet. This should be shaken along with a large thin slice of lemon peel until it’s ice cold. Kina Lillet is a liqueur made with white wine mixed with fruit liqueurs and flavored with quinine. The “Kina” in its name is derived from quinine’s main ingredient: the bark of the kina-kina (or cinchona) tree. Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1986.

We’re briefly introduced to ‘M’, Miss Moneypenny, and Felix Leiter in this book. Indeed, without Leiter Bond’s mission would have failed but I’ll let you find out why that is.

Time Travelling Health and Safety Exec – Diary Discount

My name is Brian Snell and I am a representative of the Health and Safety Time Executive or HASTE for short.

I have a kept a diary of my more interesting experiences as it was important to document my findings for HASTE just in case they were sued for negligence by the people I met.

This diary will be available at a discount price of $1.01 between 14th February and 28th February here

Here is a sample of my work.

5th November – 1605 – London – 1 am

I was called to London to advise on a group of barrels blocking a passageway in the Houses of Parliament. I arrived to find a man with a fine moustache and beard sitting on a pile of barrels in one of the underground cellars of the Houses of Parliament. The conversation proceeded thus:

“Are these your barrels, sir?”

“No, they belong to some friends of mine who are planning to cause an explosion of interest in the next day or two.”

“I should warn you, sir, they are blocking this common passageway and are a hazard to passers-by.”

“They are meant to be a hazard, that’s why they are here.”

“This is a deliberate flaunting of regulation 12-GT-23862e -23221 and so I must issue you with a removal notice forthwith, please have these barrels removed from this location within 24 hours.”

“The plan is for these barrels to be gone this time tomorrow – if you come back in 24 hours the barrels will have gone as will the passageway and the whole building in fact.”

“I will comeback at that time and issue another notice if what you say is untrue. My next question is what do the barrels contain?”


“Do you have an explosives license for the gunpowder?”


“In that case I must issue you with a Failure to Possess Explosives License notice GR8273-yy3372y. How many barrels do you have here?”

“I am not 100% sure – there’s about 36 I think.”

“That exceeds the maximum amount of explosive one person may possess, so I must issue you with a KHJH(72228)-uu666dvkkk notice requiring you to sell 25 of the barrels in the next 7 days or face a penalty for every day thereafter when you still have too much explosive in your possession.”

“Oh damn, but if I cause an explosion with those 25 barrels will that absolve me from that particular law.”

“It would because the gunpowder would no longer be in your possession, but I must warn you that gunpowder can cause powerful explosions and must be used carefully – we wouldn’t want anyone to be injured would we?”

“That would depend on your point of view.”

“If you are intending to cause some injury to a person or persons unknown, I must remind you that this is against statute ESG5422-73vw.”

“Is it really – well I will be careful where I use the gunpowder.”

“And what material are the barrels made of?”

“Wood – I think it’s oak?”

“Under statute 19282-yyedd it is illegal to use oak as a storage vehicle due to the shortage of trees because of the latest blight – here is a notice for you to sign indicating your intention to transfer the contents to leather barrels within 4 days.”

“Do you have a pen?”

“Here you are.”

“Thank you, and there’s the signature.”

“Oh Guy Fawkes, well that’s a nice name – one other thing Mr Fawkes, I see some of the gunpowder has spilled on to the ground from each of the barrels and appears to have left a trail to the doorway. I must warn you that contravenes directive GAVKI-736362 regarding the handling of explosives in a confined space. I must ask you to clean that up in the next hour or I will have to report you to the clerk of the building. This is a hazard – just think one spark could set the whole lot off, especially with the extra tinder that’s lying around. Imagine if that caught fire – there’d be an almighty bang wouldn’t there?”

“There certainly will be – I mean would be yes indeed there would.”

“Now do you have the correct gloves and face mask to handle explosives? Ideally you should wear a nose protector too – can you show me your protective clothing?”

“I don’t really have any other clothes other than the ones I am wearing – is that a problem?”

“Yes, of course, inhaling the powder could damage your lungs and could affect your health.”

“I think that might be the least of my problems – if things don’t go our way we will be hung, drawn, and quartered.”

“Well, if that does happen make sure the hangman is licensed to operate as a hangman in that borough – you could prosecute him if he’s not and he ends up botching the hanging leaving you injured.”

“I think the drawing and quartering will probably close that avenue of prosecution for me.”

“Wait, there should be a window open in here to provide adequate ventilation otherwise there could be a build-up of noxious fumes that could cause a flash fire if someone brings a lit torch in here. Is there a window or another door even that could be opened?”

“There’s not really, I think the barrels are blocking the window to be honest with you.”

“Are they now – well that’s in contravention of the law of ancient lights for internal lighting which states that people shouldn’t block out natural light by placing large objects, in this case 36 barrels of gunpowder, in the way of the light coming in.”

“It’s night time.”

“But these barrels have been here for a few hours, so they were here in the daylight.”

“The state opening is today, so in a few, short hours there will be sunlight flooding through this whole area.”

“Well, I do hope so we wouldn’t want to cause an explosion would we?”

“Not at the wrong time, no, that would be unfortunate.”

“You would be prosecuted under statute TRKHY-382892 failure to control the environment of your explosives.”

“I am not sure who would prosecute me as I would be blown to smithereens.”

“You would be prosecuted in absentia and the fines would increase for every day you failed to come to court.”   

“Is that an hereditary fine, passed down to my next of kin?”

“It is Mr Fawkes – please provide the next of kin just for this eventuality.”

“It would be my mother’s sister – my Aunt Gertrude.”

“Thank you Mr Fawkes, I think that’s everything for now, but I will check back in a week’s time to make sure the changes have been made.”

“I probably won’t be here then.”

The Naming of the Yeti and other stories

How did the Yeti receive its name?

Find out in this book – available at a discount between 17th February and 24th February.

You can also read:

  1. an obituary of a WWII flying ace who fell off a mountain along with his guide dog
  2. a rejection letter sent to William Shakespeare about Hamlet
  3. an updated rendering of the Three Musketeers
  4. the true meaning of words such as aroma, portfolio, and drastic

Strange Loyalties by William McIlvanney

This is the third novel in the original Laidlaw trilogy.

The death of his brother Scott in an apparent accident – Scott was drunk and hit by a car driven by a newsagent – has upset and angered Jack Laidlaw. His intuition says it was no accident and so he determines to find out who knew what and when. His colleagues are investigating the murder of a drug dealer and slowly but surely the two narrative strands are brought together.

Laidlaw immerses himself in the Glaswegian underworld once again to find out the truth and also has field trips to the Ayrshire coast, the Scottish Borders, and even to Edinburgh.

The reckoning is quite shocking and none of Scott’s friends come out of it with much credit. The murderers of the drug dealer are caught as is their underworld controller so at least that investigation had a successful conclusion. Jack Laidlaw didn’t receive the same satisfaction.

William McIlvanney was an amazing writer and there’s a revealing question and answer section at the end of this book where he says people told him in the 1970s and 1980s he could make a lot of money if he wrote a Laidlaw book every year. However, he wasn’t interested in doing that as there were other ideas he wanted to try. You have to admire a writer for being honest with themselves.

Trophy Hunting

She’d loved animals her whole life.

When her friends expressed their sadness that no one was hunting the hunters of animals, she decided to rectify the situation. She was the ideal candidate. In her normal job, as a soldier behind enemy lines, she’d killed animal abusers when given the chance and the animals were given some respite from their ordeals.

Now she was not undercover. She was on holiday, travelling on the trains in Spain and Portugal.

There were no colleagues to back her up. She would have to take risks.

She doesn’t keep a diary of the deaths, but does like to write about the history of the places she has visited. This makes her seem like a normal human being – even when she isn’t.

This book is available at a discount here between 30th January and 1st February.

Goat Parva Murders

This excerpt is from the book entitled The Goat Parva Murders an English Murder Mystery book set in the countryside, starring two policemen who have been working together for a few years and get along really well. There’s lots of dialogue and banter with some humour thrown in amongst the murders and suspects.


Adelaide Hills was walking along the path between Doggett’s Field and the river when her retriever, Bingo, started barking madly. He was always energetic on his morning walk but today he did seem particularly fascinated with some footprints in the mud. She pulled Bingo away and they carried on towards the Baker-Clements’ mansion with Bingo looking back at all times.

“Come on, Bingo,” she shouted, “any more of this prancing in the mud and I’ll have to hose you down when we get home.”

Bingo ran off into the bushes near the Baker-Clements’ garden; a pheasant flew away towards the river. Mrs Hills then saw Carly Waferr heading towards her carrying the mushroom basket that accompanied her on morning walks during the week.

“Good morning, Carly, found a good crop this morning, have you?”

“I has,” said Carly, putting an arm across the top of the basket, “and you can’t have any. Unless you come for lunch of course,” she added smilingly.

“Oh thank you, Carly, I’d love to, as long as they’re not poisonous of course.”

“Be no poisonous mushrooms in them woods,” said Carly, “well not poisonous to me at least, but I’m probably immune now. I ate a couple this morn.” She moved her head around in an anti-clockwise direction for five seconds before shaking her head vigourously.

“Are you sure – you seem dizzy?”

“That’s just the hangover from the rhubarb and dandelion wine last night; Emma left for Edinburgh late so we shared a nightcap afore she went.”

“What’s she studying again?”

“Medicine – oh – look what your dog’s found – a shoe.”

“Bingo, you naughty dog, put that down immediately.”

“How come dogs never find pairs of shoes; just one at a time? My shoes need throwing away, so I s’pose I should head to the animal shelter and borrow a couple of their retrievers and let ‘em loose; hopefully they’d bring back a matching pair.”

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This was the first time I’d read a book by Neil Gaiman.

This is more of a fairy tale than say Terry Pratchett’s books.

In Stardust we have the story of Tristan Thorn who lives in the earthly village of Wall, which is well named as it’s right by an ancient barrier that separates it from the magical lands of Faerie. Every nine years people from Wall are allowed to pass through a hole in the barrier to attend a market on the other side.

During the market Tristan and the girl he loves called Victoria Forester witness a star fall to earth on the far side of the barrier. In order to win her heart, Tristan resolves to bring the fallen star back for Victoria.

This book is mainly about Tristan’s adventures in the land of Faerie. He meets the star, witches, a unicorn, potential heir(s) to the Lordship of Stormhold, and the crew of a sky ship. Just so you’re aware not all the characters survive, in fact there are some real pyschopaths on the loose in Faerie, but there’s a happy ending of a kind when two Mondays come together in the same week.