Books by John F. McDonald
Sien offers an insight into the life of one of the most enigmatic characters in history. It’s her story, told by her, in her own voice. It’s a love story in the true sense of the word, between a woman and a man who just wanted to be together, but who weren’t allowed that simple desire.
Clasina Maria Hoornik was born in The Hague on 22nd February 1850, the eldest of eleven children. She was forced to turn to prostitution to help support the family. Van Gogh’s relationship with Sien made a huge impact on his way of drawing, and it served to build his character and influence his later, now famous, oil paintings. He helped her when he himself was in need of help and lacking the luxury of money. Van Gogh despaired of her rejection by “respectable society” and the loss of his little family.
Lauren Frances is an avantgarde artist whose work has been the subject of book covers, exhibitions and was even used on Paris streets during the “yellow vest” protests in 2018. She has applied her extensive knowledge and admiration of the work of Vincent van Gogh in Sien, her debut novel, planned as the first in a trilogy.
Cover image by Lauren Frances in the style of Van Gogh’s early drawings
Available as hardback, paperback and ebook/Kindle
Hardback ISBN 978-0-9957515-8-3
Paperback ISBN 978-1-9168998-1-0
eBook ISBN 978-1-9168998-0-3
The Girl Who Made Me Dance
Gabby Pereira, a well-established London professional, discovers she only has two years left to live, and decides to go on a voyage of self-discovery. This takes her on an exhilarating journey through Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Each location answers questions about her past, family secrets and her own undefined identity.
Mia, a free spirit and a psychologist, offers Gabby a new lease of life and teaches her to dance. The women plunge into a tempestuous and dangerous affair and Gabby becomes obsessed by Mia.
Explosive scenes of passion, desire, deception, hedonism, suffering, fear, pilgrimage and atonement create a riveting and provocative tale that touches upon some of the wounds that permeate our society: ethnicity, gender disparity, sexuality, and emotional and physical addiction. Each character’s journey, along with elements of magic realism, will absorb your thoughts and emotions to the last page.
Read more from Gill Prates
TRIBE is the story of a year in the life of a semi-domesticated Gypsy – Owen McBride. Owen still works with his itinerant ‘cousins’, breaking and selling horses, even though his Gorgio girlfriend, Ann, wants to drag him into the settled post-millennium mainstream euro-life, with house, car, tie and ‘steady’ job. He is reluctant to cut the final thread with the disappearing Gypsy world – the hard and discriminated-against life of Romanys, Tinkers, Gypsies and Travellers. This world is described accurately and authentically in TRIBE and the attitudes and humour of these colourful people are explored without compromise.
The novel also enters the deeper waters of identity, as Owen stands with one foot in the Gypsy world and the other in the Gorgio world and struggles to decide what he really is. He doesn’t seem to belong in either world and circumstances continue to intervene, to make the inevitable decision even more difficult. Owen and his demolition-man friend, O’Connell botch a robbery for a group of dangerous gangsters and that’s when the trouble really begins. The problems and passions caused are explored in a serious, yet blackly comic mood and the main characters’ skirmishes with this menacing Gorgio underworld are vividly painted.
After falling foul of the Gorgio gangsters, O’Connell is murdered and Owen is forced to hide out with the Gypsies and begins to feel at home with them, breaking horses and hunting and eating hedgehog by blazing campfires. He meets Tolui, a Mongolian horse-breaker and philosopher, who teaches him how to accept who he really is. But this life is not to last. The Gypsies eventually move on, as they inevitably must, leaving Owen alone again. He must resolve his problems with the gangsters and he does this with the help of Mad Mary, a homicidal middle-aged woman with a grudge to settle.
Owen also has a brief affair with a Romany Gypsy woman, Litzy, who’s married to a bare-knuckle fighter, Felix. Litzy is so remorseful about her one-night stand with Owen, she attempts suicide and her husband is looking for the culprit, to kill him. Owen manages to convince Felix that it was the gangsters who caused Litzy’s attempted suicide and Felix takes his revenge out on them.
When the dust settles, Owen has had enough. He knows when he’s beaten and he makes a decision – he’s been left a house in the will of his close friend, O’Connell and he and Ann plan to move in and become a normal, settled couple.
Tribe illustrates the conflict at the meeting point between the commercial culture of high technology and the dying life-style of a people now almost extinct.
The book is fast, provocative and written with a brisk dialogue bias which has converted effortlessly to screenplay format.
Talking to God
Nobody knows what causes Schizophrenia. Modern psychiatric methods are improving all
the time, but we are still in the dark ages when it comes to understanding, diagnosing and
treating this disease. What is known is that the disease affects one in every hundred people
throughout the world. It is a greatly neglected illness whose devastating effects swamp
millions in misery.
Schizophrenia is not a single condition, but rather a wide group of conditions under one
umbrella title. No two schizophrenics experience exactly the same symptoms and the disease
can range from mild to chronic. In some sufferers, it is never detected at all. The symptoms
described in Talking to God are genuine and accurately painted. I have used material from
The National Schizophrenia Fellowship and The Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain
in my research of the subject, along with books and articles by leading psychiatrists in the
field and by families of schizophrenics and schizophrenics themselves.
Talking to God allows the reader through a door – into the mind of one fictitious
schizophrenic, Francis Page. His experiences are not everybody’s, but they are authentic
nonetheless. Francis is a 40 year-old London doorman. He is nearing the end of his shelf-life
in the bouncing game and he wants to make some real money before he retires. Francis is
unhappily married with two daughters. He also has a black girlfriend who is HIV positive.
Things go downhill for Francis, his wife leaves him and his plans to make money come to
nothing. Francis is eventually tempted by Yardies into smuggling drugs to make his nest-egg.
Francis gets caught and sent to prison, where his violence is misunderstood and treated with
strong tranquillisers and neuroleptic drugs. He kills a warder and is eventually sent to
Broadmoor Secure Psychiatric Hospital where he is kept on a high drugs regimen. Francis
escapes from Broadmoor and finds out that his eldest daughter, Fiona, has become an addict
and his girlfriend, Glendora, has been murdered. Francis goes on a revenge spree, killing
everybody he believes responsible, whether they are or not. He is spoken to by many ‘voices’
who tell him contradicting things. He can’t make sense of it all and eventually he commits
The main theme takes a harrowing, yet sympathetic and realistic look at the way
schizophrenia affects the lead character, Francis Page, and how society views and treats
someone in his situation. It is both topical and controversial and paints a surreal picture, full
of strange landscapes which are alien to most individuals, but which are a very real part of the
The novel is set in the club-land world of London doormen, gangsters and ‘tough guys’, as
well as New York and Amsterdam. The language of this world is strong and
uncompromising and the characters observed at first hand.
Maximilian Moeran is an American Senator in Washington DC. He’s ambitious and intends to run for the White House. He’s also a crook, a womanizer and an ex American-Football star. Maximilian is a popular man with the people and his colorful character and reputation for rubbing shoulders with lesser mortals antagonizes his political-insider peers. He’s street-wise, charming, calculating and totally without scruples. He also has a sexual affair with Esmé, a young girl of school age and this is the only thing that troubles his conscience.
The action of the book is set around Maximilian’s political agenda, which includes getting Congress to pass a bill giving genetic engineering to the masses – a Congressional sub-committee debating putting wild animals back into selected areas of national parkland to combat the menace of an uncontrolled and growing population of insects – and the China crisis, where China is rapidly becoming the world’s greatest superpower with the US in decline – issues which are realistic enough.
Just before the Presidential election, Maximilian escapes from his secret service ‘minders’ to attend a football game with a couple of corporate hosts. After the game, Maximilian stays behind in the stadium. He takes a nostalgic walk down to the touch-line and out onto the field-of-play. Right out to a black circle at the very centre of the 50yard line. The stadium lights go off and Maximilian is alone in the dark.
Then something very strange happens to Maximilian Moeran – out there on the field – at the circle in the middle of the 50yard line. He encounters himself – who he really is – what he really is. When he returns, Max is a changed man.
Maximilian becomes completely honest – he understands more than he’s ever understood before – sees beyond his humanity. He tries to impart some of his new childlike candidness to the political community in DC. They don’t understand. He’s frustrated by the attitudes of those close to him and tries to spread his knowledge further afield through the media.
Maximilian is believed to be having a nervous breakdown. He fails to win the Presidential election and his political career goes up in smoke. He admits his affair with Esmé and is viewed as a dangerous eccentric, if not a criminal. Charges are brought and nobody wants to be associated with him. His wife leaves and his children boycott him. Despite the fact that Maximilian is a far better person than before, everybody preferred the old Maximilian and shuns the new one.
Maximilian becomes an outcast and a recluse, living on a remote estate in West Virginia. Esmé eventually comes to see him, seeking some kind of redress for the innocence he took from her. She is older now and after they communicate, Max reverts to his old self again.History repeats itself and Maximilian, this time, does become President – only to die at the inaugural ball.
Childeyes is more than a satirical look at politics in America. The book incorporates several themes and asks some big questions – all set against the background of American politics and the insider-culture of the most political and media-obsessed town of them all – DC. The world of Washington DC insiders has similar charisma and popular appeal to the world of Hollywood stars, though as yet fairly untapped in literary terms. But ultimately, the book is about our concepts of good and bad – and guilt. It also takes an honest and objective look at human relationships – the Lolitaesque affair between Maximilian and Esmé is controversial and taboo-breaking, but it is also treated sensitively and without hysteria.
Otherwise Kill Me
Mohammed Sharif is a Kashmiri geologist and a devout Muslim. He has revenge on his mind for the murder of his family by Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a militant Islamic faction involved in the dispute over the sovereignty of his homeland. Sharif’s father is a moderate Muslim who practices the gentle, compassionate form of the religion which is preached in the Qur’an. His family pays for their opposition to the fundamentalists with their lives – all except Sharif.
Daniel Hutten is a Jewish man, living in New York. He is indebted to an ultra right-wing faction, because they helped him get to an Ivy League University and expect him to be politically useful to them when he graduates. Daniel, instead, goes into the precious stone
business and the right-wingers are disappointed with his liberal views. They threaten to ‘take action’ against him or his family if he can’t ‘buy himself out’.
Christian Childe is a cynical trader in the Bangkok financial district. He comes from a privileged background in Buckinghamshire and a sinister grandfather who is involved with neo-nazis. However, a liaison with his superior’s fiancé brings him to grief. He is manipulated into a bad financial decision and gets the sack. Christian is used to the good life – he has an expensive apartment, a flash car and a certain lifestyle to maintain. He soon finds out that he has become persona-non-grata in financial circles and he has to look elsewhere for
Sharif is invited to Burma to retrieve some emeralds for the Karen rebels who are fighting the military junta there. He discovers a ‘miracle stone’ at an excavation site in the jungle and wants to keep it to help his own cause back in Kashmir. In the process he must desert Suli
Neng, a guerrilla woman with whom he has a special relationship.
Christian goes in desperation to the Bangkok unemployment centre and tells them he needs a job which pays well. They send him to a local iron-foundry which is the highest paying job they have on their books. Christian Childe finds himself in a Dickensian world of soot and smoke and molten metal. It is a complete culture shock – but he has no alternative. He meets Mohammed Sharif there.
Sharif needs to trade his emerald to the highest bidder to buy arms for his particular faction in Kashmir. Christian Childe knows Daniel Hutten and the three become unlikely allies. The Karen guerrilla, Suli Neng, tries to warn Sharif that a fatwãh (death sentence) has been issued by Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. The right-wingers are trying to get at Daniel Hutten and the neo-nazis are after Christian Childe.
Absolution is an extremely topical book and the story of the converging lives of these three men and the extraordinary women they come into contact with – their unlikely alliance and the consequences of that alliance. The book is a truly global one, moving as it does from the
prep schools of England to the Far Eastern financial community to the jungles of Burma to the hills of Kashmir to the gem dealers of New York. The novel incorporates and interlaces several themes, including global terrorism and fundamentalism in all their forms.
On a lighter note and as a contrast to the main theme, each man has his own peculiar obsession (hence the title) and each man must find the solution to his personal obsession and conquer the demons inside him. These problems cast a satirical eye on the world and are
dealt with in a blackly comic way.
Above all, however, Absolution is a book about people – and the premise that, in the end, truth and justice are universal commodities, not exclusive to any religion or set of economic rules.
The book is written in the style of my first novel Tribe and has the urgency of first-person, present-tense narrative. The novel has a strong visual/dialogue bias which will adapt effortlessly to screenplay format and I’m confident it will prove to be both controversial and popular at an international level.
Thomas Shelbourne is raised in a New York orphanage. His mother doesn’t know who his father is and chooses a name at random for the birth certificate. When Thomas grows up, he traces his surname back to the Revolutionary War and finds out that George III made the man he thinks is his ancestor, an Anglo-American carpenter, King of America in an attempt to avoid the revolution. However, the rich aristocrats in the colonies wouldn’t accept a carpenter as king and Thomas now feels he’s been
cheated of his birthright.
Thomas works as a chauffeur for rich ‘aristocratic’ families whom he hates (A British family called Rolle-Hampole with Hollywood connections, and an Austro/Jewish family called Rosenweig with Wall Street/Network TV connections). He has two affairs which result in two children being born – a boy from one family and a girl from the other. Thomas grows rich himself through illegal means and he becomes a very powerful, sinister man. He ruins the families he used to work for, by way of revenge for his ancestor.
Thomas wants an heir, a boy who he can make ‘King of America’ with the money and power he now has. He brings his impoverished ‘aristocratic’ son and daughter, Redfield Rolle-Hampole and Rachel Rosenweig, together and promises them a large estate, FOREVERLAND, in New Jersey, if they can produce a son. Redfield and Rachel don’t know they’re half brother and sister and Thomas reckons the heir will have his genes from both sides. He’s unconcerned that the boy may have some impairment because of the closeness of the parents’ blood.
Redfield and Rachel fail to produce an heir and time is running out, when a Gypsy couple, Girondo and Lola, camp on the estate. Rachel (a cynical agnostic) has an affair with Girondo (a Sunni Muslim) and Lola (a Sufi Mystic) has an affair with Redfield (a Christian Evangelist) and two sons are conceived.
Thomas Shelbourne has other secrets, including an African son from a liaison with a tribal princess while he was making his illegal fortune on that continent and there’s an old vendetta with a private detective. Both of these people turn up to complicate the situation, along with a schizophrenic gamekeeper and an enigmatic backpacker.
The two sons turn out to be identical twins and they get accidentally mixed up, so that nobody can tell one from the other. This has the effect of thwarting Thomas’ plans and of having FOREVERLAND inherited by both boys’ legal parents.
Foreverland is a satirical and blackly comic novel which, although it’s set in America, will definitely have international appeal and could, with the right marketing, cross over from “literary” to “commercial” fiction.
Jack Bates and the Wizard’s Spell
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Jack Bates and the Wizard’s Spell is the first in a series of books chronicling the adventures of Jack and his friends in the wonderful world of the OTHER. It’s a rollercoaster ride, full of drama and colour, strange creatures and strange landscapes. Full of magic! The book is unique in its genre, as it combines true history with myth and legend. It’s a story that’s different than any other you may have read. Could it be true? Who knows?
Jack Bates and the Wizard’s Spell will be enjoyed by kids of all ages, from eight to eighty and beyond. It has everything – action, adventure, enchantment, romance, wizardry and total charm. The reader will travel with Jack on his journey from a shy, introverted boy, to a courageous young leader and his character will resonate with and appeal to kids and adults alike, boys and girls, men and women. The narrative is simple but sophisticated, and that’s not a contradiction in terms. The story is simple enough for younger readers to understand, yet the style is sophisticated enough for older readers to appreciate. You won’t just like Jack Bates and the Wizard’s Spell, you’ll love it! You’ll be captivated from the very first page, wanting to know what’s going to happen next, feeling as if you’re a part of the story inside the pages yourself!
LABYRINTH MANOR is the first book in a series entitled “THE ENCHANTERS”. The book is set in the present and the main protagonists are Emberley Edge and Raine Ravenhall. Ember is fourteen, Raine is sixteen and they are both Argents. Argents are people who possess “natural” or “soft” magic, which is used for good, even though its use has been criminalised by the government, called The Council. It has been criminalised because of “dirty” or “hard” magic, to which people become addicted and use for evil purposes. The Council, however, makes no distinction between “soft” and “hard” magic.
Emberley is a bit of a misfit and hasn’t fully mastered her abilities as a “fire” Argent. Raine is more skilled as a “water” Argent. He knew of his abilities as a child and mastered them, while Ember was unaware she had any natural magic, apart from setting fire to her mother and to her boarding school. Labyrinth Manor begins with Emberley escaping from a detention centre for “magicals”, before they’re sent to a place called Argent Rock to be “cleansed” – which involves mind-altering therapy.
Emberley makes her way to a refuge, run by Avior, an elderly mentor and an activist and advocate for decriminalising “natural” magic. However, she’s being pursued by a Hunter – haft human and half machine – which sucks out the brains of escapees. In the ensuing turmoil, two government CEA agents get killed and Avior dematerialises. Emberley escapes by drinking a vial of “Blind-Eye”, which makes her temporarily undetectable to the Hunter.
The popular media depicts Argents as dangerous criminals who must be removed from society and cleansed – and now Emberley is being blamed for the deaths of the CEA agents as well. Before she dematerialised, Avior gave her a hologram map, with directions to Labyrinth Manor. Labyrinth Manor is a secret retreat where Argents can perfect their skills and stay out of the clutches of the government – and addicts can be rehabilitated from “dirty” magic to “soft” magic.
Emberley meets Raine at Labyrinth Manor, as she learns how to control her abilities with the help of a “gauntlet”, which can be activated from within the Argent’s hand. Sightera, the Hunter who came after Emberley, manages to find Labyrinth Manor and gains access. Emberley and Raine form an alliance with a group of other young Argents, aged from twelve to sixteen, to combat Sightera. They learn of a magical instrument hidden somewhere in Labyrinth Manor that can turn time backwards and forwards. Sightera is also after this, as time manipulation devices are rare and highly sought after.
Sightera has very strong powers of her own and combating her leads to situations of high tension – a roller-coaster ride of defeats and victories, undulating at high speed through the dark labyrinth beneath the manor, full of strange creatures and dangerous trajectories. Gradually, the other Argents are immobilised and Emberley is left to face the deadly Sightera alone. Emberley emerges victorious and she’s hailed as a hero. But there are more Hunters out there and Emberley and Raine can’t hide in Labyrinth Manor forever.
To be published
Hippie is a book on two levels.
Firstly, it’s a history of the hippie phenomenon, from its origins in the Beat Generation of the 1950s, through to its survival today in the form of New-Agers and post New-Agers, environmentalists, alternative lifestyle enthusiasts and spiritualists. It traces the life of one particular hippie on a journey from the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco in the 1960s to New York during the Summer of Love and then to Woodstock in 1969.
The biography comes back to England at the end of that decade and the story resumes in the UK of the 1970s and 1980s. It narrates the history of the free festivals like Windsor and Stonehenge and the brutality Hippies faced from the establishment and a rabid tabloid press. The book touches on Greenham Common and the Peace Movement, before taking to the Hippie Trail and trekking to India and Nepal. The pseudo-biographer suffers personal loss on the way back and experiments within a commune as a way to deal with this trauma. He eventually goes back on the road in a horse-drawn vardo before organising his own music festival in Gloucestershire.
On a second level, the book delves into the metaphysical philosophy of the hippie culture, at first using hallucinogenic drugs, but eventually experiencing enlightenment through understanding. This element of the story may be difficult for non-hippie readers to grasp – but here’s a simple step-by-step guide to its meaning.
But if you get it, you’ll be taken on a roller-coaster, hallucinogenic ride that you’ll never forget!
“Sorrow” is an ‘imagined’ autobiography, written in 1st person and from the point-of-view of Clasina Maria Hoornik, the prostitute who was mistress and model to Vincent van Gogh. The book is titled after the iconic drawing of Sien (as Van Gogh called her).
Despite their poverty-stricken and volatile relationship, Van Gogh loved Sien and she loved him. They were two outcasts, adrift in a turbulent sea of uncertainty. They found each other and gave each other something to cling onto – a tenuous lifeline – until they were ripped apart and went under, to drown in the trauma of life without each other.
Sien was a huge influence on Van Gogh’s early work. She gave him a sense of humanity and an affinity with the poor working people he drew and painted. Vincent sketched her over fifty times, in many guises – as worker, companion, mother and lover – and some of his sketches capture her sense of forlornness and abandonment, none more so than the drawing “Sorrow”.
Van Gogh wanted to marry Sien, to give her some kind of security – and she wanted to marry him, to give him a sense of family life that he craved. Vincent took care of and loved Sien’s children as if they were his own. In fact, there is some speculation that Van Gogh was the father of her son. They desperately longed to remain together, but this could never be and the couple were forced to part, only to be haunted by the memory of their love until they both committed suicide.
Vincent and Sien is one of the greatest love stories never told – until now! We’ve heard Van Gogh’s voice through his letters to his brother Theo – now it’s Sien’s turn to tell her story.
There are many known facts about Sien’s life, and these are all included in the book. In that respect, it is totally factual and authentic. Her feelings and emotions are also represented as authentically as possible by a variety of contemporary sources and Van Gogh’s own letters, in which he speaks of Sien on many occasions.
To be published.
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Ebury Press (11 July 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1785039261
- ISBN-13: 978-1785039263
No Way Out
“They’d degraded me to the point where I’d become this sex thing – this thing that wasn’t human, but just an object. To the point where I believed that’s what I was.”
Kate’s ordeal began when she was living in sheltered accommodation, and she was violently introduced to an Asian sex ring. Traumatised and alone, she was too weak to try to escape or even tell anyone. Four years later, she had been passed between over 70 men in the West Midlands, was on drugs, and suffered with PTSD so severe she was on the edge of suicide. So when Operation Chalice came to recruit her, would she be strong enough to turn the tables and bring her abusers down?
Staying Strong is the immensely human story of how a working-class boy from Tyneside in the north of England became a world champion BMX dirt rider in America – then went downhill through partying and drugs and alcohol, until he hit rock bottom. But, with determination and hard work, Stephen Murray had the tenacity to fight his way back to the top of his sport and, in 2007, he was once again riding in a world championship final. Then tragedy struck – he crashed and broke his neck, flat-lined three times, and ended up paralysed from the shoulders down. Though he lost the use of most of his body, Stephen never lost the fighting spirit that made him world champion and saved his life. Now he fights on a different front, staying strong in the face of everyday adversities, with a super-human mental resilience that inspires quadriplegics and action sports athletes the world over. His story is inspirational and his book is a triumph of the soul.
Rozana McGrattan was a Brazilian street girl, living rough in the dangerous slums of Sao Paulo. She is now a successful business woman living in London, and her story Street Girl is full of drama, colour and inspiration. In this unique memoir we journey through an extraordinary life of homelessness, poverty and violence, with Rozana’s inner hope providing the only light in a city of darkness as she fights to escape and succeed, against insurmountable odds. Rozana’s tale is an inspiration to people all over the world, showing that abuse, exploitation and intimidation can be overcome with courage and belief, and that love can truly set you free.
“Born into a fog-ridden south London slum in 1932, Eileen Killick quickly learned to look after herself. Her brothers were wayward, her mum had TB and her dad was working all hours on the railways. By the time she was fourteen she had survived the Blitz, a spell in a care home and her mother’s death, but she craved excitement, embarking on shoplifting sprees, liberating fur coats and rolling toffs up west with notorious ‘queen of thieves’ Shirley Pitts. Eileen soon found herself in borstal, put to work building roads like a navvy. Known as ‘Kill’, she had a reputation as one of the hardest woman behind bars. Then, in the 1950s she met and married career criminal Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney, and she was soon fraternising with the toughest, most colourful characters in the London underworld. She went on to have four children, whom she loved and protected, but life was extremely tough and Eileen fell back into her old ways, thieving and fighting to make ends meet. The 1970s brought police corruption and brutality to Eileen’s doorstep.
When Harry was banged up, Eileen carried on the ‘family business’ alone and found herself on the wrong side of the law – again. Yet throughout a catalogue of trouble this defiant London bad girl of the old school always kept her defiant sense of humour. Borstal Girl is a true story of shocking violence and survival that pulls no punches, but it is also a secret criminal history of a London long past. There is no other female memoir like it.”
The Boy from Treacle Bumstead
“This brilliantly written memoir takes the reader on a journey into the past, to a rural England long gone, when horses worked the fields and small boys spent most of their time outdoors. Ken Sears was born in 1934 to a poor farming family in Hertfordshire – the fifth child of what would be eleven. He learns how to fend for himself at an early age. His boyhood life coincides with wartime, evacuees and American GIs arriving in his home town of Hemel Hempstead (the ‘Treacle Bumstead’ of the title). At the age of nine he is caught stealing eggs and accused of killing a chicken (which he denies to this day) and is sent to reform school for five years. So begins a punishing existence, but it breeds a tough teenager, and after learning the trade of bricklaying he is called up to do his National Service in 1952.
So begins his adventures in the Army, in Europe and Korea, where the ever-plucky Ken – who has an eye for the ladies and is always landing himself in trouble – finds not-always legal ways to make life that bit easier. After the Army he comes back to England and sets up a building business. From there he sees his home town change out of all recognition. The story is a characterful testament to the resourceful generation of the men who did National Service, fought wars, built towns and stood up to everything in their way. Ken’s story reads like ‘Commando Comics meets Fred Dibnah’.”
Her Ladyship's Girl
Anwyn Moyle was born in 1920 in a small mining village in Wales. As a girl, she went to chapel every Sunday with the rest of the village, which was a dirty place from the coal residue. Her father fought in the Great War and was gassed – he was never able to work after that and her mother had to do wet-nursing and take in washing, while the children scavenged for coal and did anything else they could to make some money.
Anwyn and her family lived in a two-up-two-down terraced house with an outside toilet. The back garden of the little house was 60ft long and they grew vegetables and herbs for healing and a type of coarse tobacco for smoking. When electricity came to the valley in 1926 – the power company thought nobody was using it because, when they came to read the meters, people in the first terraced house would bang on the wall of the second house and so on and they’d pull out the illegal wires they were using to get the electricity but bypass the meters.
She went fruit and berry picking in summer – her mother would make pies out of what she gathered or “scrumped” from orchards. The kids also had to clean up after the sheep that came down into the village from the mountains at night – the sheep shit everywhere and pulled rubbish out of bins, etc.. When she was 13, Anwyn got a Saturday job in a ladies hatshop, but had to walk six miles there and back for a thruppence in wages.
She went to London a year later, where she got a live-in job as a downstairs scullery maid – she worked from 5am to 8pm and had to be up first to clean the grates and light the fires, then scrub floors and polish – all for 2 shillings a week, one of which she had to send home to her mother. After being in London for about a year, she applied for a job as a ladies maid. She got the job, and a wage of half-a-crown a week, by lying about her experience (her limited experience in the ladies hatshop helped). She had to send 1s-6d home to her mother which still left her only a shilling a week to live on, but the work was a lot easier. She had a liaison with the owner of the house and got sacked by his wife.
She went back to Wales and got a job in Cardiff as a live-in maid and started going out with a boy who was nice and good-looking and fun. It was 1936. But she’d learned to be independent and didn’t like the parochial attitude of the Welsh boys, so she went back to London again. She got a job as a barmaid and everything was good for a while – she liked the work and the customers and got on well with everybody. It was 1937 now and she was 17.
But it didn’t last – she was injured by broken glass after a fight between dockers and fascists. She was rushed to hospital, but she couldn’t walk properly. She found herself with no job and nowhere to live and went back to Wales. She stayed in Wales until her foot. There was no work about, so she had to apply for another skivvying job, which was back to square one, cleaning grates and scrubbing floors.
Anwyn went back as a barmaid in a pub that had connections to the criminal Ikey Solomon, who was the inspiration for Fagin in Dickens’ Oliver Twist. She was able to go out dancing and enjoying herself, even though there was talk of war – but she didn’t care about that, she was 18 and life was good. A man called Adam Lane used to frequent the pub – he was 10 years older than Anwyn, but was very sophisticated and he beguiled her with words. He asked her to go out with him and she accepted. Anwyn was flattered he wanted to spend time with her and they started seeing each other regularly. In 1940, just before her 20th birthday, Adam told her he was going to be called up for service in the army. He wanted to have sex with her because there was a good chance he would be killed. What she didn’t know was, Adam was exempt from service because his well-to-do family paid for a doctor to say he had flat feet.
Anwyn got pregnant and Adam married her against his will. They went to live with his snooty family who hated her and called her the “Welsh Whore” for “trapping” their boy. Adam turned resentful – he was extremely jealous and stingy with money. She had no idea where the baby would come from and thought her belly would open up and it would “pop out” – her “old bat” of a mother-in-law said “it’ll come out the way it went in”. She was horrified and thought that couldn’t possibly be right. When Anwyn did have the baby, she wasn’t allowed to even touch her own child – the baby was removed by Adam’s mother.
Anwyn ran away to Wales with her baby, but Adam came after her with a solicitor. When Anwyn came back to London, she and Adam moved into a flat near Hampstead, but life with him was unpredictable – she never knew when he’d have a brain storm and attack her, or when he’d creep up behind her and try to strangle her. But she was well able for him physically (but not psychologically) and they’d both be screaming and the neighbours would rush in and he’d say he didn’t know why he did it. Anwyn fell pregnant again. This time the pregnancy was very hard, living on the top floor with a small child and the summer and the war. Adam was no help, he was a gambler and spent most of the money he earned on horses and in casinos.
Anwyn fell pregnant again in 1948 – she went out doing cleaning jobs to feed her children, as Adam wasn’t giving her any money. Anwyn had had enough of Adam and she left him on more than one occasion, but he always came after her and promised her he’d change, just to get her back. He died in 1973 and Anwyn was finally free of him at the age of 53. The children were grown and she could start living a life of her own – and she did!
These are just some of the highs and lows of Anwyn Moyles’ life – there is much, much more!
Anwyn’s story is not a mis-mem – it’s full of gregariousness and hilarity and eccentricity, as well as being a poignant account of the hardships endured by a woman with an indomitable spirit and love of life. It’s a story that contains every aspect of nostalgia from 1920 to 1990 – life in the valleys of Wales – the upstairs/downstairs life of a scullery maid – the duties of a ladies maid – the pub-life in London in the years between the wars. The wars themselves are touched on, but this is not a war memoir, it’s the story of a time gone by and one woman’s determination to be herself, despite the odds against her.
The Last English Poachers
In deepest Gloucestershire a secret way of life is clinging to a fragile existence. This is the world of the last English poachers – men who have lived off the land, taking game from the big country estates, risking the wrath of gamekeepers in order to feed their families and make a modest livelihood.
Bob and Brian Tovey are poachers of the old stripe: a father and son of 75 and 50 years old respectively, who are continuing their ancestors’ traditions, reluctant to surrender the old ways of sourcing food from nature. John McDonald has obtained unique access to the men’s lives and histories, and tells their fascinating story in their own words. The book is filled with anecdotes both moving and hilarious, as their sense of self-preservation, mistrust of outsiders and suspicions of modern technology express themselves in daily life. It is set against the backdrop of country sports as they used to be – and colourfully explains the shoots, the once-legal coursing meets, the centuries’ old techniques of lamping, ferreting and netting and, of course, how the poachers outwit the keepers and police and escape with their quarry. It is a genuine, colourful and offbeat chronicle that documents rural life from a whole new perspective and a sense of humour.
Letting Blake Go
Georgette Civil (co-written by John F McDonald)
“Letting Blake Go” is a memoir or exposé, rather than a full biography, per se, covering the period from 2006 (and before) to the present day. The voice in the book is Georgette’s, telling her side of the Blake Fielder-Civil / Amy Winehouse story, and how it has affected her as a mother, a wife and a human being.
The book consists of hitherto unknown facts about Georgette’s relationship with Blake, Amy, Mitch Winehouse and other people who have had a role to play in the saga that has unfolded itself very publicly. Blake’s early life with his natural father is also commented on, including experiences which may have contributed to his drug addiction.
The book begins with Amy’s death in 2011, while Blake was in prison. The phone call to Georgette, telling her about Amy’s death, reminded her of another devastating phone call, four years earlier – a call that was to change Georgette’s life irrevocably. That call, from Amy, brought news of Blake’s arrest on conspiracy charges – charges that were to send him to prison for two and a half years, without remission, because he insisted on shouldering the blame for everyone concerned.
Eventually, that call would culminate in driving Georgette to despair and, to get some respite and be able to sleep at night, reduce her to planning the suicide of herself and her three sons. That suicide pact was eventually abandoned by Georgette, mainly due to Blake’s unshakable support for his mother and his determined optimism in the face of impossible odds.
“Letting Blake Go” tells about Georgette’s encounters with drug-dealers, it reveals who was supplying Blake and Amy with heroin and crack cocaine, who was supplying Amy while Blake was in prison and the full truth about the conspiracy charges.
Blake’s trial and incarceration were deeply traumatic for Georgette – his time in Pentonville, including covert visits from Amy, where his drug habit was fuelled – his transfer to LifeWorks in Surrey, where he was victimised and from where Georgette helped him to abscond – his return to Pentonville, where he spent three months in solitary confinement – his transfer to Edmunds Hill and eventual move to Sheffield.
Georgette tells how Blake obtained drugs while he was in prison and explains, but does not try to justify, how and why she and Amy played their part in that process. She also writes about her pain and humiliation at the hands of the tabloids and the residents of Claypole, Newark, the village where she lived, and her eventual breakup with her husband, Giles Civil.
The book illustrates the lasting effects these experiences have had on Georgette, on Blake, and on the other members of the Civil family and how, even with Blake’s release and her new-found psychic “life” of angels and the spirit-world, Georgette’s nightmare still wasn’t over. Blake and Amy got together again after his release, but the self-destruct buttons were still being pushed. Blake eventually ended up back in prison having been convicted of burglary and firearms charges and Amy’s career and personal life spiralled downwards, with drunken appearances on stage and cancelled concerts.
The book ends where it began, with Amy’s death and the uncertainty of Blake’s future. Will he eventually follow the love of his life to an early grave? Georgette thinks this is a definite possibility.
As well as a book for all Amy Winehouse fans throughout the world, the book is must reading for mothers of drug-addicted siblings, everywhere.
Missing is Shelley MacKenney’s remarkable story of life as a ‘missing person’. An inspirational tale of her journey through extreme personal crisis.
“You can run, but you can’t hide from yourself.”
Abandoned by her mother as a young child and with a father constantly on the run, Shelley’s life was never normal. Her family’s involvement with South London’s criminal underworld left her isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Falling deeper and deeper into depression and despair – she snapped.
Shelley got on the first coach out of London with only the clothes she stood up in and £30 in her pocket. She didn’t care where she was going, as long as she could disappear completely from her oppressive life. For years, she lived anonymously in refuges, hostels and on the streets. It would take something remarkable to bring her back to the real world.
“Dean Williams was born into the tough Scartho area of Grimsby in 1972. His father was a violent, hard-drinking trawlerman who spent most of the year at sea and his shore time drinking and fighting. Obsessed with making young Dean ‘man up’, Bob beat him and locked him in a cupboard under the stairs for days on end. Dean’s mother, Andrea, did her best, but was also terrorised by Bob Williams. From the age of seven Dean was known locally as ‘the spike thrower’, for accidentally impaling the head of a young tormentor with part of a bicycle. The aftermath was a wayward teenage life, expulsion from school and notoriety through football hooliganism. But there were also times when Dean’s childhood captured echoes of a simpler way of life, playing out until dusk, catching newts and nicking gobstoppers. This astonishing memoir, although touched by darkness and violence, is infused with the sharpest humour. It has the atmosphere of a David Peace novel colliding with a Shane Meadows film. Like a cutting-edge, nouveau Dead Man’s Shoes, or a Somebody Up There Likes Me for the 21st Century, it is an uncompromising account of a life lived on the margins and the power of the creative spirit.”
Shakespeare Classical Comics
“Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY)”
“Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY)”
The Merchant of Venice
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Romeo and Juliet
“Winner of the Association of Educational Publishers Distinguished Achievements Award”