Sunday, 23 April 2017

A FORTUNE FOR WAR by Ryker Frost

This is a Black Horse Western from 1988

Providence Ryan is a farrier by trade from the English county of Hereford but has spent several years in Australia as a convict. Having served his time for housebreaking he has worked his passage to America and is in the process of crossing the continent intending to return home.

Arriving amongst the silver mines of New Town looking for work either for food and lodging or the means to pay for them he bumps into the colourful gambler Ezra G Sheldon who, on hearing Ryan's quest, mentions that he knows of a woman who is desperate for a man.

The woman in question is Anne-Marie Bouchette who's freight wagons of pure silver ore are trapped in a warehouse. With the drivers scared off by unknown forces and the local sheriff and his deputies she needs to find someone who will stand up to them. Trouble is that the law are Confederate soldiers waiting for wagons to take the ore east to fund the Southern cause.

Anne-Marie (real name Ann Mary Butcher) is, also, the local brothel owner. She grew up in Whitechapel in London's East End who, in order to survive, became a prostitute. Seeing a future abroad she arrived in New Orleans via New York. Now she owned her own business and sworn off mixing business with pleasure.

From the moment that they meet there is chemistry between Ryan and Anne-Marie and sparks fly.

Despite his misgivings - Ryan agrees to help even though it means that he has to learn how to use a gun on the job.

In the background there are others with their own agendas the threads of which all come together in the finale.

This is a very British western that concentrates on the lead characters without distracting from the plot.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG

"I want to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse."

You could say that Nick Romano's words from 'Knock On Any Door' was the motto of my generation. Today you can pick up T-shirts with variations of that theme emblazoned across them. Nothing changes.

At least they kept that line in the movie.

'Knock On Any Door' was first published in 1947 by Willard Motley (1909 - 1964) a Chicago born writer. The novel concerns an Italian-American altar boy, Nick Romano, who because of poverty turns to crime.

I didn't discover that book until late into the sixties - maybe, shortly after Willard Motley's death when a re-print emerged.

My introduction to Willard Motley was through the sequel 'Let No Man Write My Epitaph' (also made into a move with Ella Fitzgerald singing the title song). It was published in 1958 but the Pan paperback version did not come out until 1960.

Again the main character is Nick Romano - though this time around it is Nick junior. Nick wants to become a painter but has to care for his drug addicted mother. He is fighting a losing battle because his mother's drug dealer boyfriend is feeding her habit. Nor is it long before Nick is dragged into the spider's web and has to find away to claw his way out again.

The biggest criticism of Willard Motley was that he was a middle-class afro-american who chose to write about low class white people. Actually, who cares what he was? The fact remains that the two Romano books are tough and smack of realism. It is about human life after all.

1960 also saw the publication (again by Pan) of Nicholas Monsarrat's novel 'This Is The Schoolroom'.
Monsarrat (1910 -1979) who, in contrast to Willard Motley, was the son of a surgeon. He had been educated at Winchester and studied law at Cambridge. However, his love affair with the law was soon over and he drifted down to London where he worked as a freelance journalist. Between 1934 and 1939 he wrote four novels and a play - all but one drifted into obscurity.

Monsarrat is best known for such novels as 'The Cruel Sea', 'The Tribe That Lost It's Head' and 'Three Corvettes'. The list could go on - but 'This Is The Schoolroom' is regarded as his first major (and, possibly, important) of his works.

This is the story of Marcus Hendrycks is semi-biographical and set against the turbulent decade of the Thirties. After the death of his father Hendrycks quits University to become a freelance writer. Arriving in London he encounters revolution, hunger and death - and it is a wake up call.

He discovers the poverty and filth of the slums and follows on a journey of love and violence to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. This is the real world that his 'privileged position' had protected him from.

'The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view' - a quote from 1959 Pan edition of Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' could apply to 'This Is The Schoolroom'.

'On The Road' kind of smacks you in the face. Sal Paradise is at a loose end. He has split from his wife and recovering from a serious illness. It is not long before he meets up with the crazy 'it's my life and I'll do what I want and to hell with the consequences' character that is Dean Moriarty. They embark on a road trip that criss-crosses America in an orgy of sex, drink, drugs and jazz.

Jack Kerouac gave a vivid picture of a restless generation but has a deep undercurrent that has double act where the dominant partner is the reckless one who fails to accept any responsibility for his actions and in the process erodes Sal's dependence on him.

As an aside there is a weird connection (in the movie) to 'On The Road' and 'This Is The Schoolroom'. At the end of the movie Sal Paradise sits at the typewriter and writes about the night his father died; the first line of 'This Is The Schoolroom' is "I was unusually drunk the night my father died". I laughed at this - I do believe that I read both books in consecutive order for me to make that connection years later.

Three books - all read in 1960 when I was just fifteen. Perhaps, a couple fall into the 'forgotten books' category but should be revived. Certainly doesn't apply to Jack Kerouac. They were all influential at the time - and I still have them.

Yet all three characters - Nick Romano, Marcus Hendryks and Sal Paradise - have one thing in common by facing all that life throws at them and get to come through it all. They may be 'rebels' but as David Bowie once sang 'Rebel Never Get Old' we just get in your face from time to time.

The past is where it is - it shaped us and great to recall but it's not a place to dwell.

I'll leave the last words to Jack Kerouac: 'Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me,as is everso on the road.'






Wednesday, 5 April 2017

REFLECTIONS by Ray Foster



This was the first time that I opened a package and held a book that had my name on it.

'Reflections' is what it says - reflecting on how life is and how it used to be. Interspersed, with those stories are others that are straight, pure fiction like the one about a killer stalking the streets preying on those who have a weakness or a hitman with an ulterior motive.

The short story - well, that begins in the fifties. Thirty kids sitting in a classroom all doing composition during English lessons; honing a skill with a forty minute deadline. (Homework - what homework? We left education in the school where it belonged and went home to play.) That is how we grew.

Third year - that was when I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes. Once a week the English master would read from Arthur Conan-Doyle's 'The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes'. Influenced? Very. What it did was to make me realise that there was a lot to the short story. It brought home to me that this was what composition/essays were.

Inspiration came in all shapes and forms - in my case, books and movies - and,in one instance, cost me a pass in the 11 plus because my fueled up imagination took me on a journey that was the wrong one. One that I would repeat when asked to write about, on the same subject, just after I joined the Felixstowe Scribblers. That is one story in 'Reflections' so I won't spoil the fun here.

Sadly, none of the short stories that I wrote back then seem to have survived.

Most of those in 'Reflections' date from about 2000 and something on - some written during the period I spent in Felixstowe while others reflect times past in North Finchley and Orpington. I have added a couple of pieces of flash fiction that I did in conjunction with Pattinase's blog.

In some respects I have needed to go back to where I started. I think I realised that when I wrote the Jack Giles short story 'A Time To Live' that appeared in 'Where Legends Ride'. Much easier than writing the full length novel 'Lawmen'.

Music, too, both inspires me and plays like a soundtrack. Listening to Duane Eddy reminded me of a concert that I went to - it was a memorable day in more ways than one. Well, that's another story.

I was once asked why I wrote.

My answer is simple: Because I can.

And because there will always be 'Reflections' to think about.




Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE 294th

The following story was submitted to an anthology that was being put together by Operation Shoebox - a charity for those who fought in Afghanistan. (Copyright Ray Foster - 2013)


The 294th

   He knew.
   I saw it in Jack's eyes as I walked down the steps; as I looked back over my shoulder.
   A chill ran down my spine. Maybe, it was as it should be. No point, now, in saying if only - but there is an if only.
  If the Fire Brigade, who had offered me a job, had stopped messing me about and given me a posting then I would not have re-enlisted with the army.
  Funny when you think back. It was as though Jack and I had spent our whole life growing up together - we were always getting up to mischief. Together we were the masters of mischief, mirth and mayhem. From wearing Halloween masks and scaring the Christians who were having an anti-Halloween party to dropping tomato sauce soaked chips and things on the balloon seller's head - but the strawberry flavoured Slush Puppy was an accident. Still, it was funny to watch the sticky, icy goo slide down the balloons splattering both the balloon seller and passersby. And we laughed as we were chased around the shopping centre with the security guards on our tail - hard as they tried they never caught us.
   The older we got nothing changed. Instead of being chased we did the chasing - after girls. And we got drunk together.
   We even thought about joining the Army together.
   That was where we met - at Army cadets - so it was only natural that we went down to the recruitment centre together. As I recall we were both 16 and fresh out of school. We filled out the forms but it was not until 2001 that I became a raw recruit.
   Jack didn't make it.
   By then, though, he had a steady job working as a fishmonger. He met a girl and got married and had kids. He had a stable family life. Despite that our friendship stayed firm. Over the years I would come home from Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and we'd pick up where we left off. Mind you, no matter where I was in the world endless text messages would pass between us.
   I was prepared to get back to grips with civvy life. I wanted some of what Jack had. Except that wasn't to be. Too much waiting around; sitting around watching DVDs and playing 'Call Of Duty' on the Xbox - not that the game came close to reality. That and getting under people's feet.
 And there was the lure of doing what I knew best.
 Afghanistan changes the way people look at things. Maybe, it's the action and the excitement - though not the usual way those words get used - I guess it is the adrenaline rush. It's like a drug. In Camp Bastion I may have been a joker but out in the field I was every bit the fighting man.
 Jack tried to talk me out of going back.
 I knew where he was coming from but I needed to have a purpose in life.
 The one thing that I can say, in hindsight, is that I am glad that we never joined up together. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he lived and I died. I know that I would have felt the same.
  I guess when someone's time is up and it doesn't matter whether you are a soldier or a civilian  - it's up.
  You never see it coming - and, sometimes, you never hear it.
  Blind and deaf you just hit the ground screaming.
  Sometimes you can't scream - not when your face has been ripped off. Not when your throat has been carved through by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. In war there is no re-spawning to the last checkpoint as in video games - there are no second chances and the only screams you hear are inside your head.
  And I thought - God, I was going to miss Jack's birthday. I had promised him a drink when I got back at the end of June. Only I wasn't going to make it.
 The medic knelt by my shredded, legless body. He did what he could but he knew that I was as good as dead - yet he fought to keep me alive.
  It would be another four hours of endless pain before I died.


 Private Jon Monk rejoined the Army with the 2nd Battalion Princess Of Wales Regiment which was attached to the 1st Battalion Mercian Regiment.
 With Company C he was with the Danish Battle Group based at Patrol Base Rahim in the Adinzai area of the Upper Gershk Valley, Afghanistan.
On the morning of the 9th June, 2010, aged 25, he was killed by a roadside bomb.
He was the 294th soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The story, for the most part, is from conversations that I had with Jon and with Jack's recollections.
Jon's injuries were as described to the best of my information.