Chicago styles itself the most American of cities. The city that works. They’ve got a big thing about work. “Work hard, play hard, go in next morning,” as someone put it to me. In summer, temperatures can go up to a hundred degrees. In winter, twenty below, when you factor in the wind chill, which is considerable. This vast and sometimes daunting metropolis also has the distinction of being named after a particularly smelly kind of onion.

from Devil in the Wires, due May, 2015




My Main Character

20957420And finally, my part of the blog hop. I’m way overdue on this, so apologies to all concerned, and belated thanks to the excellent Bishop O’Connell for nominating me. His website is and his novel The Stolen is now available from Harper Voyager – and doing rather well, too. Cheers, mate!




God Hunter

I remember there was one of those quizzes on Facebook which, among other things, asked what you considered a hero to be. My wife answered something on the lines of , “a good person,” or “a person who always does the right thing.” I picked “one who rises to the occasion”, and I think that pretty much captures my views on heroism. I’ve known a few people who’ve done truly heroic things in their time, but meet them “off duty”, as it were – ie, when they’re not being heroes – and you’d never know. If they’ll talk about the incident at all, they’ll likely play it down, make a joke of it, or tell you how afraid they were, or how much they complained, or how they think they should have done it differently, done more, done something other than the thing they did. Heroes don’t know they’re heroes, and that’s part of their charm.

My novel, The God Hunter, has a hero, and his name is Chris Copeland. But I doubt he’d call himself a hero; he’s more like someone who gets squeezed into a corner till he has only one way left to go. That it tends to be the right way is a result of a code of ethics he himself would probably not even acknowledge he possesses. He can certainly be ruthless, self-centred and cunning, but – well. There’s an incident early in the book which tells you what he’s like. He’s got a god just starting to incarnate right in front of him. For all manner of reasons, this would be An Amazingly Bad Thing, and Chris’s first thought is that he could just walk away, and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. He could do that, and he could justify it, both to himself and his superiors. Only he doesn’t. He goes in, solves the problem at considerable risk – and inadvertently sets in motion the whole plot of the book.

There’s a touch of Indiana Jones about him, maybe, though with a little less bullwhip and a lot less talk about museums. Chris is not some gentleman adventurer. He’s not Superman and he’s not doing any of this for the good of his health. He’s proud of what he does – it’s a skill, and few people possess it – but Chris, like most of us, is an employee. He works for a large company which he doesn’t always trust (again, like most of us). And he wants to keep his job.

All the major characters in The God Hunter are at some point of crisis in their lives. There’s Anna Ganz, chain-smoking detective, stuck on a case she knows will sink her career. There’s company man Shailer, realizing he’s only in favour as long as he’s useful. And then there’s – well, there’s another character. Not altogether human. And he’s got issues of his own.

That’s the world of The God Hunter. Ordinary people, just like you, like me, thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Ever wonder how you’d make out? You think you’d cut it? You think Chris Copeland can?

Read the book… find out.



And I’m inviting the redoubtable John Ayliff to tell us about Jonas, the tank-born hero of his novel, Belt Three, due out very soon from Harper Voyager. Look for John’s post at And in the meantime, here’s the tease:

Belt Three

Jonas is a tank-born, Administrator caste–but for the last six years he has been masquerading as a true-born, one of the ruling class whose ancestors walked on Earth. While fleeing from his doomed mining outpost he is kidnapped by the space pirate Keldra, who forces him to help her in her obsessive campaign against the Worldbreakers, the alien machines that destroyed the planets and left humanity living in the debris. As he tries to understand his captor and is forced to face the demons of his own past, Jonas finds himself torn between escaping, seeking revenge on Keldra for killing his crew, and joining her in her crusade.

Belt Three features brain implants, mind-controlled spaceships, solar sails, the social consequences of mass reproductive cloning, memory hacking, religion, doomed love affairs, nuclear missiles, a mad computer, robots that shoot laser beams, and the Remembrance of Clouds.


Playing away

I’ve neglected this poor blog of late – too busy writing the sequel to The God Hunter – but I have been busy writing for other people, so it’s time to give them a big shout-out and say thanks for all the invitations. It was a real pleasure.

You can read my confessions about plotting at

An excerpt from The God Hunter at

The state of my office at

And here I finally admit to my superpower:

Meanwhile, the excellent A.F.E. Smith, author of Darkhaven, banishes me to a desert island. She’s not the first to want to do so. That’s on her own blog at

Who He Is

PeteTownshend_WhoIAmWhat kind of cachet does Pete Townshend have among today’s young people (definitely not his generation)?

Back in my own miserable youth, the guy was legendary: a stunning performer, a songwriter gifted in expressing angst, anger, unhappiness. He was articulate and intelligent. He annoyed a lot of people. He was also, unlike the obvious rock-god Daltrey, a bit odd-looking. He wasn’t cool, just as we, as kids, weren’t cool. He was one of us. Quadrophenia seemed to sum up everything it meant to be young in England, even if the events it referenced took place many years and many miles from where we lived. Here was the whole teenage soap opera blown up to apocalyptic levels – perhaps something of what The Hunger Games has become for today’s youth, but grittier and more clued-in.

That, however, was a peak, and there was only one way left to go. A couple of rather lacklustre Who albums followed. Punk arrived. The music changed, and we moved on. So did Townshend. He worked for Faber & Faber, and produced a book of short stories, Horse’s Neck, very promising and with a few real gems. It looked as if a literary career might follow, but this – like so many other projects we would hear of through the years – failed to materialise.

Now, though, we have Who I Am, the autobiography, and it seems Townshend’s life has been even more confused, complex and extreme than we might guess. It begins with the portrait of an era, as Britain struggles to recover from the War, and ends as an account of a single, extraordinary life. As is customary in such books, there are scores to be settled – lots of them – and they’re all with Pete Townshend. He is here in all his ignominy: bad husband, absent father, romantic fantasist, alcoholic, drug addict… It’s as if he’s envisioned some future Albert Goldman hatchet job and decided to pre-empt it. In contrast, he seldom has a harsh word for anybody else. There are pop music figures it’s become fashionable to tell bad tales about, but if Townshend has any (and he almost certainly has) he keeps them to himself, preferring to redress the balance. He remarks on Paul McCartney’s political awareness; recounts an act of kindness from Jim Morrison towards a female fan. This sense of generosity is one of the things which make this sometimes harrowing book such a pleasure to read. Even in relating the events of his early life, he seeks to understand, rather than blame.

And it’s in childhood we find the essence of Pete Townshend, what comic books would call his “secret origin”. Born of a tempestuous, off-on marriage between a leading dance-band saxophonist and a singer, there was little stability in Townshend’s early life. At six he was sent away to live with his grandmother, a woman with clear mental health problems. There was a constant air of eroticism, as she chased after servicemen, bus drivers and, it seems, almost anybody else. At this time, Townshend believes that he was sexually abused, though the details continue to evade him. This, he suggests, may be a blessing: some memories are better lost.

His parents didn’t encourage his musicality. Nonetheless, swing was dying, replaced by “beat groups” and Townshend found his niche. Music gave him power and identity; he never lost an argument on stage, though admits that he was something of a wimp off. Yet the stage persona came at a cost, and there were times the mere idea of touring with the Who filled him with panic. He did tour, but he also did a great many other things. In fact, he was insanely busy, recording, writing, producing, running various businesses and doing charity work. He discovers, rather to his own surprise, that his royalties have made him a millionaire. Following this, the narrative becomes surreal. He is still unhappy. Ironically, he worries about money: can he really afford all those charter flights to visit his new-born son? Estranged from his wife, he sleeps in the rock star equivalent of the garden shed (in fact, his home recording studio). Then one day, seeking to donate to Russian orphanages, he happens upon a child porn website. He becomes involved in treatment of abuse victims. He investigates the role legitimate banks play in handling money from child porn sites. Then the police come knocking at his door…

Journalist Duncan Campbell has criticised Operation Ore, which netted Townshend and other innocents along with genuine paedophiles. In print, though, Townshend is kind to the officers who arrested him, remarking on their honesty – he feared he was about to be set up – and recounting how one of them went out and bought him a burger during the interview.

Since then, he has continued to work too hard. CSI keeps some of his best tunes before the public. And now we have this book, the true story of Tommy, the damaged boy who, through an apparently trivial skill – pinball, pop music – achieves a remarkable life. He doesn’t seem to have enjoyed a lot of it, but that’s alright: we can.