Mother Where’s My Pen

As the saying goes, “the truth is often stranger than fiction,” and over the years I have experienced this personally. However, I have refrained from using it as a plot for a horror novel as it is an emotive issue and one which I would prefer not to capitalize upon.

Back in 1996 we took my mother in to live with us. She was suffering from dementia and was no longer able to live alone. It was a difficult time for us seeing a strong, independent and extremely intelligent woman slowly become estranged to us. We did our very best for her up until her death on February 14th 1999.

Our grandson was born on February 19th so he never saw her. When he was about five he came to stay for a few days and slept in the spare bedroom which my mother had occupied. One morning, quite casually, he asked, “Who was that old woman in my bedroom?”

He was quite unperturbed and described whom he had seen and every detail fitted my mother!

Moving on several years, I had been writing the first drafts of my books with a Parker ballpoint which had been my mother’s. I left it on my desk whilst I went downstairs to make a coffee and when I returned it had disappeared. Of course, I assumed that I had put it down somewhere so a thorough search was made but there was no sign of it. Until about a month later it reappeared in clear view on the table in the gunroom! A week later it went missing again from my desk. This time its absence was only a fortnight before it turned up. Guess where?

Soon afterwards a regular scenario started. The walls of our games room are decorated with a display of vintage tobacco tins, all of which are affixed to sizeable cork boards. Then the clattering started at infrequent intervals. Three tins, always three, were found at the end of the passage by the doorway to my mother’s old bedroom. In order to arrive there they had to travel across the floor of the games room, turn a sharp corner and roll 3 metres before hitting the wall. There was no way they could have done this accidentally.

One Sunday morning I was in the kitchen when I heard a loud clattering from up above. I ran upstairs and that was when one of the greatest shocks of my life greeted me. Standing at the end of the corridor, just outside her former bedroom, three tobacco tins at her feet, was my mother. I had an unrestricted view of her for maybe twenty seconds before she moved away. I looked in the room but there was no sign of her. I went back downstairs quite shaken.

We seem to go for long periods without any inexplicable happenings, believing that she has left us. Then, suddenly, something else occurs as it has recently. Only last week when Jean was in the kitchen she heard her name called out from the stairway. She opened the stair door but there was nobody in sight. A couple of afternoons later it happened again. During my mother’s stay here she was forbidden to descend the stairs unaccompanied, in case she fell, but on occasions she disobeyed. Then, half way down, she would lose her nerve, cling to the bannister and call for help…

A couple of nights later I let Ellie, our springer spaniel, out in the yard prior to bedtime. As I stood in the doorway waiting for her, my name was called out from upstairs. We have clearly moved on to a new level now, a vocal one.

Throughout all of this I have been most grateful for the support of Paul Adams, the well-known paranormal author. Paul has published around eight excellent books on the subject. I wrote the foreword to his “Extreme Hauntings,” written in conjunction with Eddie Brazil in 2013. (www.pauladamsauthor.co.uk)

So we go on, awaiting the next happening. An exorcism has been suggested but I refused this as it would be a case of kicking one’s own mother out the house. At least I know what it is all about and neither Jean nor myself are disturbed by it. In some ways I think it is rather nice to have my mother still with us, and do I really want to upset a ghost that is very handy in hurling articles around the house, I think not!

Guy

Fiend: Book of the Month – May 2016

During the 1980s & 1990s I became friendly with the late Craig Thomas, author of ‘Firefox’ (filmed and starring Clint Eastwood) and several other spy thrillers.  Jean and I used to visit Craig and his wife Jill whenever we were in the Lichfield area.

Craig was keen for me to write a thriller and in the late 1980s I conceded to his persuasion and wrote ‘Fiend’. In this instance I had to combine it with a horror theme or else my publishers at that time (Sphere) would not have been interested.

It is set in the Kremlin prior to an important conference in which the Russian leader’s presence is vital.  Unfortunately the latter had died shortly before.  The Soviets were in a state of panic and as a last resort they sought the help of a black magician to raise him from the dead, which he did successfully.

The outcome was an undead leader exerting his evil power over the Soviet delegation but not as they had planned!

I was rather shocked by the gory cover of the book but it proved its worth, the first printing selling out and going to a reprint.

In a strange way ‘Fiend’ reflects President Brezhnev’s final days.  In March 1982 it was reported by U.S. intelligence that Brezhnev had suffered a stroke while making a four-day trip to Tashkent, but there was a cover-up.  The Kremlin denied that he was gravely ill but just ‘on his regular winter rest!’  Brezhnev managed to hang on to power until his death eight months after he had fallen ill.

Truth is, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction.

Several of my books have been pirated in Russia but I doubt whether these underground ‘publishers’ would risk issuing ‘Fiend’.  They would probably be sentenced to a long stay in Siberia!

An Unholy Way To Die: Book of the Month – April 2016

I have written in numerous genres over the years but until ‘An Unholy Way to Die’ I had not penned an historical mystery.  I probably never would have done had I not attended the opening of a new bookshop in Telford Town Centre in 1998.  Here I met Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) author of the famous Cadfael series.

We had a very informative chat during which she suggested that I write a mystery set in a bygone age.  I thought long and hard about it and then decided to give it a go.

I settled for the Shakespearean era and set the book in Stratford-upon-Avon.  It required an enormous amount of research but a year later saw publication.

I decided to launch my novel in that town so hired the town hall for an evening.  In keeping with the occasion I dressed in an Elizabethan costume!

The launch was highly successful, well attended by friends and fans.  It was certainly a memorable evening.

I wrote this book under the Gavin Newman pseudonym which I used for my crime & mystery fiction.

An Unholy Way To Die Book Launch

An Unholy Way To Die Book Launch

Full photo caption: Shropshire novelist Guy Smith officially launched his latest book ‘An Unholy Way To Die’ in Stratford-on-Avon. Guy, from Black Hill between Knighton and Clun, has written the novel under the pseudonym of Gavin Newman. The book launch was held in the town hall where Guy and his family and friends donned medieval costume for the signing. Guy puts quill to paper for the Mayor of Stratford Councillor Angela Colbeck.

The Knighton Vampires: Book of the Month – March 2016

I had had it in mind for some time to write a vampire novel. I had given much thought to the idea but it needed to be different from all that had gone before; these blood suckers had been done to death in both books and movies, all spawned by the legendary Dracula. I needed a plot and characters that were refreshing, if that was possible.

Also, following the success of “The Black Fedora”, I had toyed with the idea of bringing back that strange character. So, why not write a vampire novel set around himself and with vampires that were a far cry from those that had gone before from the days of the Penny Dreadful up to the Hammer film portrayals?  Forget Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, icons of the genre as they had been.

Then came another idea. Why not set the book locally? I chose Knighton just over the border from my home in the hills.

So, I wrote “The Knighton Vampires” just a year after the publication of “The Black Fedora”. Sphere Books were thrilled with the idea. I had a proof cover within weeks for the paperback version and then everything sank, literally. Robert Maxwell, the publishing legend, was drowned, and Sphere and other publishers owned by him were put in receivership. “The Knighton Vampires” was snapped up by Piatkus who issued it in hardcover in 1993.

Everything was back on course and the Man in the Black Fedora returned, hunting some very unusual vampires in Knighton. The book enjoyed one of the best launches I have ever had at the town’s Community Centre with a hundred or so visitors including the mayor. I sold a lot of books that night and the library had to order extra copies in order to cope with the lending demand.

Knighton Vampires Book Signing

Knighton Vampires Book Signing

Locals were eagerly looking to see if they could recognise themselves amongst the many characters featured. One did, a pure coincidence on my part. One of the town’s police officers engaged in the investigation, I called Phil Morris. As it happened a Phil Morris had joined the local bobbies after my book was written. He thought it was great and even now, several years after his retirement, when we meet in the street we share a laugh about the coincidence!

Piatkus, like most other publishers, followed the trade’s trend to discontinue horror, so “The Knighton Vampires” remains one of my most collectible titles. I still hear from fans who are excited because they have found a copy somewhere, perhaps in a charity shop priced at 50p or on e-bay at £20 plus.

All of which has me thinking about resurrecting The Man in the Back Fedora in another novel of strange intrigue with a horror theme.

The Black Fedora: Book of the Month – February 2016

“The Black Fedora” was one of those ideas which came about in the most unusual and unexpected situations, handed to me on a plate as the saying goes.

I had been invited to a wedding in a small Welsh town back in 1990.  The church was crowded but one of the congregation immediately attracted my attention, a chap in his twenties, dressed in black from the tip of a wide brimmed fedora down to his boots.  Unbelievably a cigarette dangled from his mouth!  Before the service started the vicar came down the aisle and asked him to remove his headgear and sternly told him that smoking was forbidden in church.  I discovered later that the “cigarette” was just a slip of rolled up paper!

Later at the reception I made a point of singling out this black clad guy.  The fedora was back on his head and the imitation cigarette in his mouth.  I had already designated him as a character for a book but had no idea in what role nor a plot.  His name was Martin and he was absolutely delighted at my idea.  In fact, he insisted on loaning me his fedora for an unspecified length of time.

So I worked on a plot and “The Black Fedora” was published by Sphere in 1991.  It was highly successful and was reprinted in the same year.

However, there was a real life sequel about a year later.  I was invited to take part in a stage show in Llanidloes, Powys, a mixture of various unrelated portrayals.  They wanted me to act the part of the “Man in the Black Fedora.”  Martin was behind this idea and he wanted his hat back in the most dramatic fashion.  As I stepped on stage he appeared with a pistol in his hand, demanding the return of his headgear.  I handed it over and then, from out of the small audience, another black fedora whizzed and landed at my feet amidst cheers from those watching.  This time the hat was mine for keeps, the drama arranged by Martin unknown to myself.  What a night!

Guy Wearing a Black Fedora

Guy Wearing a Black Fedora

This novel is a mixture of crime, mystery and horror.  One of my favourite characters was born and next month we shall look at its sequel.

The Lurkers: Book of the Month – January 2016

 

On a number of occasions during my writing career I have not had to look far from my home for a plot and a suitable location.  ‘The Lurkers’ (Hamlyn 1982) was one of these.

Highly convenient for my purpose was a stone circle, believed to have been used by druids centuries ago, just a field away from my house.  The huge stones are almost sunken out of sight nowadays, with just surrounding undergrowth and a couple of stunted pine trees.  Although the farmer cultivates this field he is not allowed under by-laws to disturb this ancient site.

Around a quarter of an acre in size, it is as it has always been, on the brow of the land, the stones ideally placed to catch the first rays of the rising sun.

Possibly human sacrifices took place here.  Were those who used it druids or some ancient sect who worshipped Satan?

In ‘The Lurkers’ the undead return to their stone circle.  The farmer finds some of his livestock mutilated there.  After dark white robed figures gather there, watching and waiting.  For what?  Is it some human malice at work or has some past evil returned to claim its ancient domain?

Alone in his remote snowbound cottage, his wife and son having fled to a place of safety, Peter Fogg is beset by the fear of intangible evil.  Will he be the next victim of a blood sacrifice?  All is revealed in the final chapter, the climax to the terror in a place of ancient dread.

Some years ago at one of my Fan Club Conventions I took the fans on a tour of this mysterious stone circle.  All were of the opinion that they would not care to be up there after darkness had fallen.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Seven

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

STRANGE PHENOMENA

Ghost Hunting

I don’t really know how I came to be involved in the supernatural certainly it was not a conscious decision. Except for the purchase of a ‘pendulum’, that tool which is used by many amateurs to tell them whether or not there is ‘something there’.

I did not buy it to embark upon ghost hunting but because I had witnessed an acquaintance using one which told him extremely accurately whether or not there were harmful additives in food. I was astounded at its accuracy. Held still on its cord, you ask it a question. If the pendulum swings to the left the answer is ‘no’, to the right ‘yes’.

I successfully used it to find an underground spring in our garden prior to the visit of a bore-hole excavator who divined exactly the same place as mine by the traditional method using a forked stick. A few weeks later I was contacted by a lady who claimed that there was a ghost in her spare bedroom. ‘Would you give your pendulum a try?’ she asked.

So one evening I accompanied her and her daughter upstairs to the ‘haunted’ bedroom. At first nothing happened then, without warning, my instrument began to swing to the right, gathering speed all the time, virtually going crazy.

The back of my neck prickled and then the light dimmed, almost extinguished. The daughter, an extremely practical young lady who was about to take the finals of her legal examinations, rushed downstairs and out into the street.

Then everything returned to normal. I cannot explain what happened and I will keep an open mind.

Back home, though, in recent times there have been some inexplicable incidents. From 1996-99 my mother lived with us for the final years of her life. Her bedroom was at the far end of the house.

Our grandson was born a few days after her death so he had never seen her. He was about 4 years old when he came to stay with us and slept in that same bedroom.

One morning he enquired ‘who was the old lady who was in my room last night?’ Assuming that he must have had a dream I asked what she had looked like. His description exactly fitted that of my mother!

A decade later, in recent times, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a figure crossing the dining room. I presumed that Jean, who had been watching television in the lounge, was responsible. It transpired that she had not moved off the settee!

Then came the strangest incident of all. Since my mother passed away in 1999 I have used her Parker ballpoint pen for virtually everything I write.

One morning it disappeared. We searched high and low but there was no sign of it. I was convinced that it would turn up eventually. It did, a week to the day, lying on top of a coffee table which had been cleaned and polished in the meantime. Again, I can offer no explanation nor will I attempt to do so.

I contacted my good friend, Paul Adams who has written and co-authored some highly acclaimed books on the paranormal. “It’s a classic case,” he told me. “One of many which I have investigated. Undoubtedly your mother is still with you.”

It’s a comforting thought and one which I will go along with.

UFOs

I have always been fascinated with UFOs and aliens from out space ever since I read Dan Dare in my boyhood. Again, I have an open mind on the subject but I think it would be extremely arrogant of us to assume that we are the only form of life in the entire universe.

I certainly did not apply for the post of UFO Convenor, or whatever, for my area. I blame the local press who misinterpreted whatever I said in an interview or else their readers got it wrong. Whichever, I began receiving letters and phone calls about strange sightings in the night sky.

The majority of UFOs can be explained, possibly test flights about which the Ministry of Defence does not wish to give details or admit to.

I have only ever had one such strange sighting which came about one freezing December evening a couple of decades ago. There was virtually no wind and dusk was blending into darkness. I saw a red light moving slowly in the eastern sky about a quarter of a mile away. At first I presumed it was an aircraft but there was no engine noise. It was travelling absolutely silently.

I did not rush for the telephone. After all it was myself who was supposed to be receiving such calls! However, it was reported by the media the following day that a strange, silent flying object had been observed in the Birmingham area. The one which I had observed had been heading in that direction.

Eventually those all too regular contacts by folks who claimed to have sighted a UFO dwindled and died. I allowed the subject to rest in peace.

Big Cats

I am convinced that there are Big Cats living wild in our countryside. I have seen one with my own eyes and there have been no fewer than five authentic sightings on my own land. Yet I cannot come up with concrete proof which would satisfy the sceptics. Neither I, nor those who viewed these large felines, had a camera to hand.

Unequivocal proof of their existence amongst us will only come when somebody is in the right place at the right time and with a camera ready.

For myself it all began in 1980 when New English Library published my novel ‘Caracal’. The caracal is a feline of the lynx family, widespread in Asia. In the same week that ‘Caracal’ appeared a Big Cat sighting was reported. A magnificent coincidence and I could not have had better publicity. A South Wales newspaper carried the headline, ‘Guy laughs all the way to the Bank.’ Caracal sold 100,000 copies. After that sightings came thick and fast.

During the 1990’s I used to allow a couple of friends to come air gunning on my land. They helped to keep rabbits, grey squirrels and other small vermin numbers under control.

They used to arrive just before dawn and take up position in the gorse waiting for a rabbit or two to emerge. On the Sunday morning in question, just as day was breaking, a shrill screaming was heard beyond the fence which is my boundary. On the other side is a conifer forest.

The screaming came from a muntjac deer in full flight. Seconds later another creature appeared, clearly following the scent of the small deer.

Later the shooters described it to me as being ‘bigger than an Alsatian dog with brown fur and dragging a long tail behind it.’ Their description fitted a puma and they were both very frightened. It had passed within ten yards of where they crouched.

That was the last time that they visited me!

Caracal

In 2000 came that dreadful foot-and-mouth outbreak which put farmland out of bounds to visitors to the countryside. In April my daughter, Tara, and her husband Lars, visited and asked if there was anywhere they could go for a walk. I told them that my acreage would be okay as we had no livestock.

Later that afternoon when they returned Tara described a ‘cat about the size of a fox’ which was darting in and out of the gorse bushes. They had watched it for about twenty minutes before it disappeared.

I went upstairs and fetched a copy of ‘Caracal’, the cover illustration of which depicted an excellent head of the animal.

“Was that what you saw?” I asked. “That’s exactly it!” she replied.

That was when we first knew that there was a caracal in the area. Over the next few years there were a further four sightings, all by reliable witnesses.

Shortly after Christmas 2009, when the countryside lay beneath a blanket of snow, I received a phone call from a local farmer. When feeding his sheep that morning he had found tracks which ‘resembled a one-legged animal,’ that had crossed one field and then the adjoining one. Would I mind coming and having a look?

As it happened with ghosts and UFOs I was now becoming the area’s Big Cat information point!

From a distance that long line of footprints resembled those of a fox. But not quite. On closer examination I saw claw marks between the prints, those of a creature which had walked with extended claws.
I had come armed with a 12-inch ruler and some potting compost in order to outline and measure those prints so that I could take a concise photograph.

The farmer accompanied me as I followed that single line of prints, right across one field, through the hedge and into the next. Three sizeable fields later those footprints entered a dense conifer forest.
By that time dusk was creeping across the countryside and I explained to my companion that it was futile entering the woods where it would be too dark to see the tracks let alone the animal that had made them.

“I’ll come back in the morning and we’ll give it another go,” I suggested.

Overnight the temperature rose and by morning it was raining. Just our luck, those tracks were all washed away.

At least, though, I had some photographs, copies of which I sent to a Big Cat authority in Holland. A week later I received confirmation of my suspicions. Those footprints had, without a shadow of doubt, been made by a caracal!

Caracal srints in snow

Caracal srints in snow

A few weeks later a local man, driving past our house, had to brake hard to avoid hitting ‘a cat like creature about the size of a fox,’ which he had glimpsed in the twin beams of his car’s headlights just in time. It had then disappeared through the hedge into our paddock.

“If you’d had time to observe it in more detail,” I told him, “you might have seen tufts of hair on the tops of its ears.”

“Oh, I noticed them.” He answered.

The caracal again, without any doubt.

Leopard

“With all and sundry seeing Big Cats on your land, have you ever seen one yourself?” I am frequently asked.

Yes, just once. It was on a cold February afternoon when, glancing out of an upstairs window, a movement on the fields beyond the narrow road which borders our house attracted my attention.

At first I thought that it was the farmer’s mostly black, collie dog. But he lived three miles away and had no sheep or lambs on the fields so early in the year. So why should his dog be there on its own?

Then, suddenly, I glimpsed the long tail which the creature was dragging as it moved to and fro sniffing the grass, doubtless seeking a rabbit scent. I reached down my binoculars with hands that trembled. As I focused the lenses and obtained a truly detailed, close up view, I could not doubt the identity of the creature. It was a leopard, or at least of leopard origins. It was about twice the size of a collie dog and with a tail that was at least 4 feet long.

I watched it cross that field and then it was lost from view on the other side of a hedge. I never saw it again.

‘Are Big Cats dangerous to humans?’ That is another question frequently put to me. ‘No, unless they are either cornered or wounded.’ A scenario that I used in my novel ‘Maneater’, where a leopard is shot at and wounded. Unable to hunt its natural prey, it then turns to the next easy option, humans. The same could occur if one of these large felines was struck by a vehicle and injured.

Mostly, though, these cats keep out of sight. ‘How have they appeared in our countryside over the past twenty-five years or so?’

Prior to 1976 it was fashionable to keep a leopard, or similar, in an enclosure or large cage on private premises. Then the Dangerous Wild Animals Act became law. If you wished to keep any such creatures then your means of enclosing it had to be secure and to meet with strict standards. In addition you needed a licence and this wasn’t cheap. Thus many owners of Big Cats simply could not afford to keep their pets and secretly released them into the wild. Here they adapted to their new environment and bred. Those seen today are undoubtedly the offspring of the original creatures set free for the latter would not still be alive after nearly thirty years.

‘Why are Big Cats not flushed from woods by packs of hounds during a hunt?’ The answer is simple and overlooked by many. Whether a leopard is in Africa or Britain it will spend most of the daylight hours up in trees, only descending after dark to hunt. In a thick fir wood , for example, it would be virtually impossible to spot one of these felines in the upper branches.

‘Have Big Cats ever been shot or trapped?’ Several in the past, but they were deemed to be escapees from private menageries. Back in the 1980’s anybody who shot one would have been hailed a hero. Today there would be public outrage. That is how attitudes have changed.

I know that there are Big Cats out there and I am certain that one day somebody will get hurt. It is a mauling waiting to happen.

The Wood: Book of the Month – December 2015

Ancient woodlands have always fascinated me.  This began with Hopwas Wood, directly behind my family home, from a very early age when my grandfather used to take me for walks there.  This was the location of that World War II bomb crater which filled up with water and its surface was thick with algae.  Years later it became ‘The Sucking Pit’ in my second novel.

Such woodlands are beautiful, twisted oaks several hundred years old, lichen, wildflowers etc.  But they are also eerie.  What took place here in the distant past?  The mind boggles – devil worship, human sacrifice, obscene orgies?  Who knows?

One wood which plays havoc with my imagination is Wistman’s Wood’ on Dartmoor.  Google it and see for yourself.  Conan Doyle stayed in the area to research material for his famous ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ and I have no doubt that Wistman’s Wood was a major source of inspiration.  It is said to be haunted and locals avoid it after night.  Most certainly I would not care to venture there after dark.

So, in 1985 I wrote ‘The Wood’ (New English Library).  “With the mist came figures from the past, lurching, reaching out to clutch and choke and smother…”

The book was highly successful.  The first edition is recognizable by its title in green, reprints were mauve.  Front cover blurb:  ‘The Living died but the Dead lived on.’  The skeletal figure portrayed on the cover sends shivers down your spine.

“The Wood” was also published in the USA and Poland.  It is one of my own favourites.  Writing it was a scary experience!

Collectible Guy N Smith Articles

Guy is now back writing for the Shooting Times, a weekly publication, after a gap of 20 years.  Over the past 16 years he has been the Gun Editor of The countryman’s Weekly.  During this time he has penned over 3,000 articles under pseudonyms which would have been of little interest to his fans.

The Shooting Times articles all carry the Guy N. Smith name and a number of completist fans are collecting these, which Guy has already signed for them. For any fans who wish to collect these articles Guy will be happy to sign them at the Fan Club Convention next year.  Alternatively post them to Guy, please include a S.A.E.

A number of these articles feature Guy’s exploits in the past, accompanied by photographs of Guy in various roles.  One is about his own small shoot where he lives, others are set on the Solway Firth and the Wash.

The Shooting Times is available at most newsagents on Wednesdays.  The next article on the Solway Firth and Wash will appear in the November 25th issue.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Six

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

PRIVATE DETECTION

I have always been an aficionado of mystery and detective fiction. Sherlock Holmes is my favourite sleuth, followed by Dixon Hawke (naturally so, as I wrote a number of stories about him), Sexton Blake and a few others. I often wondered, though, what private detection was like in reality. In the late 1960’s I found out.

It came about as the result of a chance meeting in a Tamworth pub with Sam Bradley, a retired police sergeant turned sleuth. Sam had been an old fashioned copper and in his own words, “when I came off duty I changed into civvies and went back out there to find out what the local crooks were up to.”

We chatted and eventually he enquired how much free time I had, evenings and weekends. As it was I had recently closed my small cartridge loading business and I was looking for a new challenge.

“I’ve got a lot of enquiries on,” he went on, “too much work in fact. I could use an assistant. If you fancy earning a bit of extra cash I’ll show you the ropes and we’ll see where we go from there.”

So I began accompanying Sam two or three evenings a week. Work varied from debt collecting and serving writs to observation in order to gather evidence for divorce proceedings. Sometimes we had a long, cold wait in a street waiting for a particular car to arrive and park outside a house which we were watching. Sam made a note of the vehicle’s registration, noted its time of arrival and sometimes its departure.

Debt collecting was often an unpleasant business. Excuses led to a confrontation bordering on physical violence. Sam was a big, florid-faced man, not to be trifled with. I knew that I had a difficult and risky act to follow.

A month or so later my colleague informed me that I was now capable of working solo. Each week he provided me with a handwritten sheet of pending jobs and a few guidance notes where necessary.

Private detection was nowhere near as glamorous as I had believed in my naivety. It was simply hard graft combined with common sense and an ability to observe.

There was one investigation which I shall always remember, light relief from checking out extra-marital affairs. A lady living in a village asked me to call as a matter of urgency. Over a cup of tea she explained the nature of her problem.

She had an on-going feud with her neighbour, a bad-tempered old widower who never ceased to complain about anything and everything. Now, suddenly, a few of her prized rose bushes were dying and she was certain that he was creeping in through the sparse adjoining hedge and poisoning them. Would I be good enough to undertake a nocturnal vigil?

We agreed a fee and the following evening just before dusk I seated myself on a bucket just inside her rickety garden shed and propped the door ajar.

It was damned cold and a severe frost was setting in. Next door’s lights were still on and I was willing the old chap to decide on an early night. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to retire, though.

The nearby church clock struck ten. Then, after what seemed an eternity, eleven. By midnight my feet were numb. In all probability nothing would happen and the lady had imagined it all.

Suddenly I heard the neighbour’s back door open and a gruff voice said, “go on, make it quick, it’s bleedin’ freezin’ out here.”

Something was snuffling about on the other side of the hedge, then I heard the brushing of branches like somebody or something was pushing their way through. Undoubtedly a dog had been let out to do its final business of the day.

A sound like a tap being turned on reached my ears. I leaned forward, switched my torch on and its beam revealed a large boxer dog cocking its leg against one of those rose bushes. Mystery solved! I could not resist a smile as I went back indoors, explained to a surprised and embarrassed client why her rose bushes were dying, pocketed my fee and went home.

Then, a few weeks later, Sam died from a sudden heart attack. I had lost a good friend and maybe I would have packed up the detective business there and then except for the fact that I had one of his files in which there were several outstanding jobs. Well, I owed it to him to finish those which I had agreed to undertake.

For some reason, being in sole charge of a number of investigations motivated me. He had told me about the Victor Meek College of Private Detection, based in Exeter, suggesting I might enrol on one of their courses. So, I did just that.

It was a 4 month course and I can honestly say that it was a lot more interesting than the work I had been engaged upon previously. It covered both practice and theory, and the former was more like that which I had envisaged private detection to be.

One learned how to follow a suspect without being seen. You went to a busy town area such as a bus or railway station and singled out your ‘victim’ from the disembarking passengers. Then you trailed him, or her, keeping your distance.

Another lesson was learning to eavesdrop in a crowded pub or cafe. Again, choosing your ‘suspects’, you bought a drink and sat at a table a little distance from them. The knack was in learning to shut out the buzz of conversation all around and concentrate on theirs without looking at them and thus drawing attention to yourself. It isn’t easy but it can be done, a mental exercise in concentration. Eventually I mastered the art.
Examination time arrived and I passed, ‘First Class with Honours’ and received my certificate, together with an identification card. Then it was back to the old familiar ‘grindstone’, debt collecting, status enquiries and observing adulterers.

A few months later I decided that I had had enough. I had cleared up Sam’s backlog so I decided to call it a day.

It had not been a waste of time though, for I had learned a lot about the seedy side of life with a few minor crooks thrown in for good measure. All of which was good experience for the future when I became a full-time writer.