The Splinter Town series draws on a life that has seen some historic changes.
My childhood was a time without cellphones. The few computers that existed resembled a collection of over-sized Swedish furniture and were housed in large laboratories. The TV took a couple of minutes to warm up, and faded to a bright white dot in the centre of the screen when it was turned off.
Just thirty years earlier, my father lived in an apartment without electricity, read comics by the light of a gas lamp and shared a sink and toilet on the apartment block landing with four other families. After the second bomb hit the building, his family had to find another place to live.
This is a different world, yet it is within living memory.
I spent some years travelling around Europe in a 16 tonne Mercedes removals truck, packing up and moving the belongings of hundreds of families. The travel alone was fascinating, but even more so the variety of people I met from all walks of life - including regular folk, actors, dangerous people from London's notorious East End gangs, ambassadors and members of Britain's aristocracy.
Later I taught engineers how to use ARM processors in half a dozen countries, and helped develop early GPS devices, GameBoy Advance, Hard Disk Drives and many other products.
Splinter Town is set in a distorted reality, but it is grounded in our world, and the strangely alien times only a hundred years in our past.
UPDATE: The opening of this book has been overhauled with new scenes that bring you right into the action, giving you a better feel for the series as a whole.
These books have action with accountability and repercussions. There are tales of folly and bad decisions. In some cases, a path to redemption.
Above all, they explore the role of community and kindness in the darkest times when the world is trying to tear down the last refuges.
Deputy Prime Minister James Pentecost paced the upper gallery in the Houses of Parliament. He was anxious and fretful as he took out his pocket watch once more. Barely a minute had passed since he last looked. “Bother the girl! Where is she?”
From the floor of the Parliament chamber Prime Minister Aiden Fawkes looked up to the gallery, opened his arms and mouthed “Well?” to Pentecost.
Pentecost shrugged, helpless. The official State Opening of Parliament was shaping up to be a disaster of historic proportions.
Fawkes turned and muttered to the Member of Parliament for Bath and Wells, Field Marshal Oswald Hansen. Hansen’s usually intense and animated face was serene. He placated the Prime Minister and encouraged him to sit. Fawkes sat on the edge of the front bench on the government side, fidgeting and glancing occasionally to the regalia box and the opposition’s benches on the far side of the chamber.
In four minutes the King would enter the chamber. According to the carefully choreographed ceremony, the King would then take his seat, and the Master of the Watch was to take the ceremonial orb and sceptre from the battered burgundy red box on the debating table and present these symbols of monarchy and power to the King.
Only they were not in the box. They hadn’t been for almost a year, since just after the last opening of Parliament. Pentecost knew it, Fawkes knew it, Hell’s donkeys - even the tea lady probably knew. And yet events were unrolling with a nightmarish inevitability.
Outside, Martlet was running through Bristol’s central park towards Parliament, a bundle wrapped in sacking in her arms. A hundred yards behind her six policemen ran hard, sounding their whistles whenever breath allowed.
A soldier in ceremonial uniform turned to see the commotion. He assessed the situation and turned to his walking companion. “Never fear, Deirdre, I’ll have this sorted momentarily.”
He slunk down into a wrestler’s stance, ready to grab Martlet as she came close. “Hold it lass! Let’s be having you!”
Martlet was furious. She panted out “Haven’t. Got. TIME for this!” as she approached.
The soldier grinned and grabbed hold of Martlet. Only… she wasn’t there. With inhuman speed she had switched direction and now launched herself from the soldier’s outstretched leg on the other side. The soldier screamed at the crunch of his knee, but Martlet was propelled forward and over a hedge into the grounds of the Houses of Parliament.
The policemen yelled at the soldier to get out of the way, then looked around for Martlet. Deirdre pointed along the path, and the policemen continued on their way. Deirdre glanced towards the hedge and smiled as she saw Martlet pull a small service doorway closed behind her.
Inside the chamber invited dignitaries were starting to fill the benches that had been installed for the Opening ceremony. The Master of the Watch had moved to the table in preparation for his small role in the proceedings. He had one hand on the box.
“Hello Deputy Prime Minister, looks like a good turnout for the event?”
Pentecost was startled by Martlet’s sudden appearance at his side. “What? Where are the regalia?”
Martlet shrugged. “I don’t have them. Oh look, they’re getting ready to start!”
A liveried bailiff shouted in a stentorian voice “Prithee be seated!”
The aisles cleared as the last of the attendees found their positions and sat in preparation for the arrival of the King. It was important to the bastions of ceremony that all should stand as one for the King’s entrance into the room.
Suddenly there was a loud cracking of wood as the rearmost bench collapsed, sending assorted gentlefolk of good breeding spilling across the floor.
Pentecost glared at Martlet as she stifled a giggle. Realisation dawned and he looked down at the Master of the Watch. The Master didn’t appear to be unduly concerned by the commotion behind him. He was facing the head of the chamber and both hands were resting on the burgundy box.
“Me? I’ve just arrived. Came right up to watch the ceremony with you Mr Pentecost.”
Pentecost gave her a stern eyebrow-raised look. She relented. “Well yes. And I had a little help, I couldn’t risk crossing the House floor myself.”
“You have always had a way with recruiting assistance for your schemes, Martlet. The Master of the Watch, of course.”
“And someone to cause a distraction - I had no idea what it would be. Come on, you have to admit seeing England’s finest go sprawling was a little funny, right?”
Pentecost grunted, but a smile hovered around the corners of his mouth.
The broken bench was removed and the dignitaries were told to stand in place as the King swept into the chamber in a riot of ermine, velvet, and crown.
“Prithee stand for the King!”
It was a ragged performance, but Pentecost breathed a sigh of relief as the sceptre and orb were taken from the box and accepted by the King.
The Prime Minister looked up at Pentecost, a big dopey grin on his face as he chanced a discrete thumbs up at waist level. Oswald Hansen’s urbane manner had slipped; there was a distinct look of shock on his face.
“Thank you Martlet, glad you managed to recover the regalia. Only just in the nick of time mind you, but all’s well now.”
“Oh those aren’t the real ones.”
“As far as I can make out, someone had them melted down last year. Look at Oswald Hansen. Wouldn’t you say it looks like he wanted them to be missing? I can’t think why - perhaps he has someone in mind to blame for their loss? I’d watch my back around him if I were you.”
Pentecost looked down at Oswald Hansen who was politely applauding the end of the King’s speech. Oswald’s smile was painted on with a manic intensity, but the overwhelming emotion he projected was a burning, malignant fury.
Tudor Jones squinted in the sun. He was sweating after his long climb up from the beach, and then a further hundred steps within the towering lighthouse.
He paused to catch his breath before turning to the black-clad man waiting for him at the railings. Behind them the lighthouse’s lamp sat dormant within the heavy rings of a Fresnel lens.
“Morning Barbican! Aren’t you sweltering in that long coat?”
Clive Barbican turned to him, his face stone-like and impassive. “Unlike you, Jones, I know how to pace myself. I saw you, scrambling up the steep path like a goat. A wiser man would have allowed more time and taken the longer route.” He pointed to a winding path that gave a gradual ascent from the small huddle of fishing shacks at the island’s Northern end.
Tudor grinned. Barbican had the appearance, and probably the metabolism of a turtle.
Tudor surveyed the windswept island, the lustrous grey-green sea, and the waves crashing white-foamed onto rocks two hundred feet below. “So, this has to be by far the most unlikely meeting place for two senior Buckthornes board members. What do you have in mind?”
Barbican pointed to the high-power binocular telescope mounted on a post at the edge of the platform. “Take a look through that, tell me what you see will you? I have it all set up, no need to move… For pity’s sake man. Back to the right a little - see it?”
Tudor smiled inwardly at having irritated Barbican with an unnecessary adjustment to the binoculars. “Some kind of island? I see lots of buildings in the middle, there must be a very steep hill, because the buildings must be hundreds of feet above sea level. I can see a decent sized boat right by the cliff. It has those dark red sails, like a Thames sailing barge.”
“Not an island, not as such. The town of Splinterton. Those buildings are built on a platform held aloft above the sea by enormous stilts. You’re looking at the remnants of an ancient volcano, Jones. The cliffs are a protective wall, all that’s left of the volcano above the water. The town itself sits on the submerged basalt plug. God help me, many’s the time I’ve wished the volcano would erupt and wipe out that abomination.”
Tudor stood and raised an eyebrow. “Why? What did they ever do to you?”
"Should never have existed. That’s the last openly pantheistic settlement in Europe. They were on the point of being wiped out five hundred years ago, yet they were allowed to build their little wooden town on sticks. And you know what? They prospered. It became a convenient neutral location for trade between France, Wales, and England, so we let them remain independent.
Now they are protected under international law. Never mind what ungodly perversions they preach.
They have this cosy little “we’re all in it together” mentality and almost everyone potters around with some little cottage industry or other. Not a solitary honest to goodness Corporation between them. Where’s the profit in that?"
Tudor shrugged. “Where’s the profit in us worrying about their little top-of-a-volcano idyll?”
Barbican looked him squarely in the eye. “They have things we need, Jones. Things that could bring us great profit. What’s more, Splinterton should be under English governance. And what England governs, Buckthornes profits from. It’s the established order of things.”
Tudor bent to the telescope again. “Doesn’t look like they’ve got much. If they have, why don’t we just take it?”
Barbican leant against the railing "Looks can be deceiving. They have mineral wealth, and the technical know-how to extract it from the heart of that old volcano. If we knew how they did that, we could exploit the technology in volcanic regions throughout the English empire.
But we have to be stealthy. England must appear always to operate from a position of high moral authority in light of the Three Nations international treaty. Also… it is rumoured that Splinterton is protected. I consider that to be absolute tosh. If they were, why do the French and Welsh navies have to patrol these waters?"
Tudor stood back. He took a cigarette from a silver case and offered one to Barbican, who accepted. “Very well, I’m all for a bit of fun if it can turn a profit. What do you have in mind?”
“For now we wait. I have a couple of people on my payroll on the island right now, but they are idiots. Low level government with little knowledge and less imagination. Soon I will have more effective agents in place, and we’ll see what they uncover that could be of use to us.”
“I wondered why you dragged me out here for this, Barbican, but I get it now. Nothing like seeing your objective in the flesh to focus one’s efforts. Shame really, it looks quite pleasant in a sad run-down way. We’re going to give them hell.”