Sunday 30 September 2018

A taste of a compelling thriller

Jackson Dunbar is an ambitious, talented and impetuous television correspondent who gets a much-desired posting to the Middle East. But he is not to know that he will run into friends from an almost-forgotten past. Each one presents him with unexpected and powerful challengers, and the cost is high.

Here's the start to the story...
Jackson Dunbar – Jacko to his colleagues and friends – surveys the scene before him with some disappointment. He has been in Armibar, capital of Central Arabia, for a month now and he still hasn’t been able to get a report on the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.

It is a frustrating time for an ambitious TV correspondent. Twice he has been to demonstrations in this shabby street, pock-marked by bullets from a long-past battle, and in a part of the city well away from the eyes of most citizens. On both occasions, a promised dramatic event failed to make the grade, except for a few short clips on the World News channel.

Jackson’s young Australian cameraman, Pete Fox, is busy filming about 100 Arab men chanting and waving placards calling for the destruction of Britain, America and Israel. Jackson stands to one side making a few pencilled notes.

Jackson is 35, of medium height and weight. His hair is dark but showing signs of thinning. His preferred work wear is casual shoes, neat jeans and plain open-necked shirts. In summary, his appearance is very ordinary. He is a person who would rarely attract attention in the street, but he is gifted with an intuitive talent to project an image of knowledge and authority when in front of a TV camera.

The demonstrators are mostly in grubby traditional outfits, the ankle-length thawb or dishdash, and headwear, the keffiyeh. Women wearing black hijabs stand in the doorways ululating and clapping.

It is very routine stuff, unlikely to have any impact, and Jackson wonders why the demonstration is being held in such an out-of-the-way run-down street with its dusty pot-holed roads, broken pavements and heaps of stinking uncollected rubbish. Police and soldiers in their cheap crumpled uniforms are there in substantial numbers as they always are for demonstrations, but even they are looking upon the protest in a way that suggests they wish they were back in their barracks playing cards or kicking a football around the parade square.

Pete, in his late twenties and with an accent and choice of clothes that make clear his Down Under origins, comes over to Jackson: “Do you want to do a piece-to-camera, mate?”

Jackson takes another look around him and shakes his head. “It’s another no-no. Let’s pack it in and get back to the bureau.”

Pete is unsure. “I think I’ll stick around a bit while they’re still here,” nodding towards the CNN and Al-Jazeera crews and newsagency reporters.

“Please yourself, but my expenses need urgent attention,” Jackson says with a grin.

He goes to the BBC’s silver Range Rover 4x4 parked nearby and gets in beside the staff driver, Yassin Azizi, an easy-going young Arab with a bushy dark moustache, wearing smart western clothes and smoking a cigarette. 

Five minutes later the car is moving down an avenue alongside the Armibar Central Plaza, a busy and prosperous air conditioned shopping mall with life going on as though the city is at total peace with itself.  It is a world and a culture away from where they have just been. Many of the women are confidently wearing fashionable Western clothes and proudly flaunting expensive designer handbags. Were it not for the many men bustling about in their neat white thawbs and patterned keffiyehs, it could be any flourishing business centre in the developed world.

Jackson spots a modern glass-fronted bank and tells Yassin to pull over at the ATM. He inserts his card and taps in the PIN. The card is rejected. Jackson angrily bangs the machine with his fist and walks back to the car, watched with resignation by Yassin.

“Bloody banks!” mutters Jackson.

Yassin anticipates what will happen next and already has his wallet out by the time Jackson gets back into the passenger seat. He hands over a $50 note.

“Thanks,” says Jackson, embarrassed that this is not the first time. “I’ll give it back when I get my exes.” Yassin sighs but says nothing.

The car resumes the journey back to the bureau. Jackson’s mobile phone rings. He sees on the screen that Pete is calling. “Hi Pete!” There is no answer and the line goes dead. “Bloody phones,” declares Jackson.

The car continues on its way, both men remaining silent. Then, as they turn into the street lined with modern brick office blocks where the bureau is situated, they spot the thirties-something Anglo-Arab office manager, Samira Lang, at the front door. She simultaneously sees the car and runs out onto the roadway, waving her hands furiously. Jackson winds down his window. “Go back, go back,” Samira shouts. Jackson’s mobile rings. It is Pete again.

“What’s the problem, Pete?” Jackson listens briefly, then, “Okay. We’re on our way back now.” There is a Hollywood-style squealing of tyres as Yassin does a fierce U-turn and speeds away.

Ten minutes later, Jackson is back at the scene of the demonstration. It could not be more shockingly different than when they left it such a short time ago. It is a blood bath. Wounded and dead Arabs, both military and civilian, both male and female, are lying in pools of blood on the road and in doorways. Soldiers are tensely lined up, rifles raised and firing shots into the air, to keep back a gathering crowd. There are sirens as police and military cars and ambulances arrive. Some of the injured demonstrators are already in the back of private utility trucks that charge away with headlights and horns blazing.

Jackson sees Pete filming from a doorway and runs to him. Pete has blood running down his face. “What the fuck happened?”

Pete replies while continuing filming. “The demo was infiltrated by militants just before you left.”

“Did you see them?” Jackson demands.

“I guess I did.”

“Well, why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“How the hell was I to know they were carrying hidden guns and grenades?! They just looked like regular demonstrators who’d turned up late. Anyway, mate, don’t blame me for your own failings. You shouldn’t have pissed off before you knew the story was really over. You should know how sensitive everything is in this city.”

Jackson accepts that Pete is right and that is how the acerbic bureau chief, Mack Galbraith, will also see it. He knows he has to do something fast and drastic to salvage the situation. “C’mon. Let’s not get into an argument, Pete, I need to know what you filmed?”

“Most of it, mate.”

“Thank Christ!” Jackson mutters.

Pete pauses to wipe the blood from his face before adding caustically: “And thanks for asking how I am!”

“Sorry, Pete. What happened?”

“A ricochet off the wall just above me when the troops opened fire on a guy who had appeared at a window with his gun. It’s only a graze. I’ll be okay. But the guy at the window copped it.”

“Glad you weren’t badly hurt.”

Having expressed his concern, even belatedly, Jackson is anxious to get back to the story. He nods towards the CNN and Al Jazeera crews as they speed away. “How much did they get?”

“All of it, mate, and both Jane and Omar were in the middle of doing their pieces-to-camera when it all blew up.”

“Oh shit, shit, shit! Mack is going to tear my balls off over this.”

Desperation is taking hold of Jackson. “Look mate, I’ve really got to do a piece-to-camera.”

“That’s going to look a bit lame at this stage, Jacko.”

“No it won’t. Run into that derelict building over there, filming as you go, then turn the camera on me as I run in after you.”

Pete hesitates. Jackson panics as he sees his promising career coming apart before his eyes. “Do it, will you! Just do as I say!”

The row begins to attract bystanders, now that most of the wounded and bodies have been taken away. Pete is embarrassed and runs without enthusiasm into the derelict building as instructed. 

Jackson pauses then races after Pete as though competing in a 100-metre sprint. Once inside, he crouches down, catches his breath and begins pouring out words to the camera:
“What started out today as a peaceful protest has turned violent. It…”

Jackson suddenly flinches and anxiously looks around before resuming his report.
“Er. It isn’t quite clear why the protest turned into such a savage confrontation, but there are many dead and wounded. This bloody event is sure to place additional pressure on the Central Arabian Government, which has been facing serious allegations of corruption and a weakness towards what is seen as the imperial ambitions of Israel and Western governments.”

Jackson flinches again, looks around anxiously, pauses a few seconds, then casually stands up and dusts himself down. “That should do the trick, Pete. Let’s get this back to the office.”

As they return to the 4x4, Jackson fails to notice a small heap of human excrement just inside the entrance to the building. He steps right into it. He screws up his face and wipes his shoe clean on a tuft of grass. “You could be in the shit in more than one way,” laughs Pete.

There is more to read from this story by going HERE to Look Inside.  And for some of the reviews, go HERE

Saturday 11 August 2018

John S. Richardson and the R34 airship

John Smith Richardson was my paternal grandfather, He was born plain John Richardson in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1880, but his grandmother's maiden name, Smith, was added later, giving him the same full name as his father. He was best known by his nicknames, Jock, Jake or Scotty. He married my grandmother, Elizabeth Mary "Bessie" McDearmid, in Glasgow in 1908, and they had two sons, my father, also named John Smith Richardson, and the younger Edward James "Ted" Richardson.

His proudest period was when he played a key roll in the construction of the famous R34 airship:


More on his interesting life can be found HERE

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Why readers enjoyed this thriller

 Comments & Reviews
The author welcomes comments on The Mortal Maze. They can be emailed to him here.

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The author brings his Australian cultural background and his professional life as a journalist into this brilliant read. The characters may be recognisable as a type within the broadcasting world - but these characters are everywhere - you don't need to know the BBC to recognise the workers, the grafters, the smooth talking bastards, the egotists, the ones who think that their job is more important than anyone else's, even if they know less than others! Once I started reading this book on holiday, I just didn't want to stop. I had no idea where the book was going and how it would end. I certainly didn't expect it to end like it did. Mr. Richardson had me hooked. No spoilers - just to say the characters were fleshed out beautifully. The gambling problem and the demanding mother added nice touches to the torment being gone through by the main character. And yes, as someone has already said, it would make a great film. - Amazon review by Brian Empringham.

"A labyrinthine tale with a blinder of an ending. Heart stopping stuff. I am glad you didn't tell me how it ended before I began reviewing it." - Jan Woolf, editor, London.

"A fantastic cracking spy thriller. Very realistic." - Book reviewer Rob Minshull talking to Steve Austin on ABC Radio Brisbane.

"I was deeply sad when I finished it [The Mortal Maze]. It is a fabulous book: a page turner, real people, fantastic background. I really did love it. It cries out for a sequel. And if you do one, don't clean up our hero too much." - email from former Fleet Street investigative journalist Eric Clark.

"Ian Richardson has written a page turning thriller that screams to be turned into a blockbuster film. It has all the ingredients and characters to make a box office success. A flawed foreign correspondent, troubled by a gambling addiction, a penchant for exotic escort girls and drinking whiskey from the bottle; his old, avenging school chum, who becomes the world's most wanted terrorist, and a duplicitous, immoral spymaster who manipulates the reporter with devastating consequences. Their personal epiphanies come far too late. To say any more would spoilt the plot." - Amazon review by Malcolm Brabant.

"Wow! What can I say - absolutely loved it! The story was so interesting and completely different to anything I had read before. The characters just came to life and the ending was completely unexpected and just brilliant! Congratulations." - email from Kevin Tavener, Bendigo, Australia.

"The Mortal Maze was part of my holiday reading - and a very good part it was! I particularly enjoyed the frictions and conflicts between the resident members of the BBC's news bureau team and the special correspondent followed by the relief manager who were flown in to work at the bureau. I also very much enjoyed the way the relationships between the members of the bureau team itself were portrayed. As well as these, I found Ian Richardson's storylines were most compelling... though some were more than a little sad." - Amazon review by Peter Udell, London.

"The Mortal Maze is entertaining, fast paced with well drawn believable characters, and is well worth a few hours of anyone's time. In fact, it's something of a page turner and difficult to put down; I read it in two sittings. Written by an author not unfamiliar with the troubles and tribulations of TV journalism in foreign lands, it has a genuine feel for the sometimes problematic relationships between journalists and diplomats as well as the demands of the editors back home and the realities on the ground. I had to smile at the groans from the journalist 'hero' and his irrepressible cameraman when HQ in London sends in the self important 'heavyweight' as the story develops in significance. I look forward to a follow up." - Ben A. Amazon review.

"I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched & very well constructed fast moving topical thriller. It is full of twists & turns & had me gripped from the start to the climactic finish. I would love to see it made into a film!" - anon, Amazon Customer

"A terrific fast-paced read! I was well and truly hooked from the start. I loved the feisty characters and loved loathing one or two of the BBC high-ups. A great insight into what goes on behind the news in dangerous territory. I recommend." - Carole Bentley, Amazon review.

"A well-plotted novel packed with incident and featuring sharply drawn relationships between some convincing characters, this lively and topical thriller fairly zips along from the start, gathering pace until the dramatic finale.  The author makes the most of his journalistic background without overdoing the use of an insider's knowledge of technical detail and jargon." - T. Luard, Amazon review.

"Excellent thriller: rattling good yarn. Works on several levels; critique of hypocritical foreign policy, skewering of BBC bureaucracy, portrait of Middle Eastern country, deft characterisation." - Amazon review by Stephen Jessel, Paris.

"I really enjoyed The Mortal Maze, a vivid and compelling read. The settings and characters were powerfully evoked, and the narrative gripped me as it moved towards its climax. It was great to follow both the working and the personal lives of the characters. I was particularly entertained by the scenes in the BBC team's office, and by the interplay between the folk in the field and those at headquarters. I look forward to further adventures with Jackson Dunbar!" - Email from Steve Cockayne, UK.

"A fast paced novel, full of authentic journalistic references and fascinating detail about the Middle Eastern setting. Richardson weaves a complex plot with dexterity, interweaving carefully crafted characters' subplots and storylines to a thrilling climax." - Full review here. Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, England.

"I really enjoyed it [The Mortal Maze]. Having no knowledge of news agencies working in foreign countries, it was quite eye opening for me. Not having a HERO as such, rushing in to save the day was a nice change. The ending threw me, not used to that sort of thing happening in novels these days." - email from Max O'Callaghan, Alice Springs, Australia.

"A pacy and plausible thriller. It took me a while to get used to the present tense approach but I soon became absorbed in the plot. It would work well as a movie. - David McNeil, Amazon review.

"Good entertaining read and an excellent insight into aspects of the media that may not be apparent to the casual observer." - anon. Amazon Customer.

"I liked the storyline and the setting and fact that it was based on a fairly small tightly-knit group of people. I could imagine the office and the scenes where the mosque is blown up and the final bomb in the park were very vivid. I didn't find [Jackson] to be a sympathetic character. I liked other male characters who had life, especially Pete, Mack and Binnie (oddly enough)." - email from Ruth, London.

"The story was exciting and enjoyable and there were times when I didn't want to put the book down. It was a jolly good read." - Barbara Nash, London W5

"Fabulous!. I found it impossible to put down. I continued reading well into the night, always thinking to ' bookmark at the next page', but no, I read it to the end! A fascinating novel with an unusual and interesting series of plots that could only be authored by someone with a deep journalistic experience of the subject matter." - email from John Mole, Ringwood, Melbourne.

"The author's knowledge of broadcasting and of the Middle East sets the novel against a colourful and authentic background, making the startling twists and turns of the plot all the more believable." - Colin Emmins, University of the Third Age (U3A). Read full review.

"It was a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. Jacko is a plausible and endearing character and despite his human weaknesses you want to know that he'll be safe from the dangers he seems to be hell-bent on putting himself into. It was hard to put the book down and turn off the light!" - email from Gail Jones, Crickhowell, Wales.

"Fast moving and thoroughly enjoyable. An excellent insight into the way news works, some of the unpleasant people who work in it and the strong professional rivalries. Plausible plot - who are the Government spooks in the broadcast organisations? I was so hooked that I got through the last 20 minutes according to Kindle in 12 minutes because I wanted to find out what happened." - Amazon review by JRExelby.

"Fantastic. I absolutely loved it [The Mortal Maze] and found it hard to put down. I read it in three days and had to ration myself to how much I read at a time. Will there be a sequel?" - David McClure, Brill, England.

"Fast-paced and absorbing, this novel written in the present tense by a former BBC journalist who really knows his stuff, draws the reader in to the terrifying world of terrorism in today's world from the perspective of a BBC news team on the spot in an Arab capital under attack. The sometimes horrific twists and turns kept me involved right to the end. Hard to put down! It would make a great film." - Amazon review by musiga24, UK.

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Friday 22 June 2018

The life of a clever urban fox

Fox News (not about the Murdoch TV channel but about foxes that live in London):

A local fox obviously got tired of jumping a fence in the London suburb where we live, so dug a tunnel under it. The neighbour on the other side of the fence responded by hammering some chopped-up tree branches into the ground to block its path. But a day later all the branches had been removed, dragged back through the tunnel and put in a neat pile. Obviously a very determined, very smart and very tidy fox!

Visitors to London -- particularly those living in rural areas -- are frequently surprised to see so many foxes nonchalantly moving about the suburbs, mostly after dark. A significant body of Londoners regard the foxes as most unwelcome vermin, but many others aren't that bothered. They certainly don't bother me, chiefly because they rarely cause trouble and almost certainly keep the rat population under control.

That said, where I grew up in a rural area of the Australian State of Victoria the foxes often caused havoc on the farms, killing lambs and "chooks" (the Australian name for domestic chickens). As a youth I used to earn 10 shillings (in old Aussie money) for every fox I shot, and I see that a bounty is $10 is still being paid for every fox killed in Victoria. 

The number of foxes sometimes roaming free on Australian farmlands is demonstrated by this photograph of dead foxes hanging on a farm fence. This may upset some people, but the brutal truth was that there were occasions when foxes -- introduced, along with rabbits, to Australia by the early white settlers -- reached plaque proportions.

Monday 5 February 2018

Sample my TV News thriller set in the BBC and the Middle East

Thrilled to be getting good reviews for my thriller The Mortal Maze. Here's one that I have just spotted:

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
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