One Last Shot concludes the trilogy of Freddie and Jo-Jo, which has moved through time in a series of flashbacks, showing how the couple fell in love as teenagers, why they drifted apart, what happened in their lives away from each other, and what happens when they meet up again over three decades later. At the end of the second book, An Extra Shot, Jo-Jo tells Freddie about her dark secret. Confused, vulnerable and in a state of shock, he says he needs time to think about what to do next. Jo-Jo’s right to be worried. Freddie doesn’t react well…
by Stephen Anthony Brotherton, Author of the Shots trilogy.
Hunting for Ghosts
1.00 AM. Rocky tosses the remains of a double Monterey Jack burger into his mouth and swallows it in one. He settles back in a tweed covered Sherlock chair, wipes grease from his chin with the back of his hand, and closes his eyes.
‘Is everything okay, young man?’
‘Jesus,’ says Rocky, his eyes flashing open. ‘You scared the crap out of me.’
Ned tightens his dressing gown belt, sits down on the settee and nods at the monitor on the glass topped coffee table. ‘You getting anything?’
‘Not yet,’ says Rocky. ‘They’re unpredictable things, spooks. Invisible prey most of the time.’
‘You’ve hunted a lot then?’
‘Yeah, of course. Don’t worry. I’ve got motion detectors in every room. Nothing squeaks in this house without it flashing up on my screen. If there’s a ghost here, I’ll find it.’
3.00 AM. The monitor crackles awake. Ned nudges Rocky.
‘She’s here, son. In the bathroom.’
Rocky rubs his eyes and stares at the screen. A flickering head and shoulders shadow has anchored itself on the white porcelain tiles. Suddenly, the shower gushes into life. Rocky grabs Ned’s arm. ‘Who’s in the house? Who else is here?’
‘It’s the ghost. What are you waiting for?’
The grandfather clock stops ticking. Someone turns off the shower.
‘If this is your idea of a joke, old man.’
4.00 A.M. Alice looks up from her knitting. ‘How did you find him?’
‘He’s got a ‘Ghouls for Us’ logo in the Yellow Pages.’
‘How exciting. What did he do?’
‘Nothing. He’s a charlatan.’
‘So why was he here?’
‘To relieve the boredom.’
She stands up and walks over to the window. Ned puts his arm around her shoulder and she snuggles into his chest. They watch in silence as Rocky drags his trolley load of equipment down the driveway back to his white transit van. The wheels of the trolley wedge in the flint chippings. Rocky stumbles. Alice laughs. Ned squeezes her closer and kisses the top of her head.
‘I miss you,’ he says. ‘I will always miss you.’
I was born in Walsall, grew up in the West Midlands and now live in Telford with my two cats, Boris and Tai.
After working in the health and social care sector for over thirty years, I have now written the trilogy that has been rooted in my head for most of my life.
The Shots trilogy is based on a first love relationship I had as a teenager. It tells the story of Freddie and Jo-Jo, who are reunited in a coffee shop three decades after the end of their teenage romance. How they originally met, why they parted, what happens in their lives apart, and what happens when they reunite is all told through a series of first person vignettes.
Getting these stories down on paper has been a cathartic process. I hope you enjoy them.
How true are the family histories that tell us who we are and where we come from? Who knows how much all the beautiful liars have embargoed or embellished the truth?
During a long flight from Europe to Sydney to bury her mother, Australian ex-pat Katrina Klain reviews the fading narrative of her family and her long quest to understand her true origins. This has already taken her to Vienna, where she met her Uncle Harald who embezzled the Austrian government out of millions, as well as Carl Sokorny, the godson of one of Hitler’s most notorious generals, and then on to Geneva and Berlin. Not only were her family caught up with the Nazis, but they also turn out to have been involved with the Stasi in post-war East Germany.
It’s a lot to come to terms with, but there are more revelations in store. After the funeral, she finds letters that reveal a dramatic twist which means her own identity must take a radical shift. Will these discoveries enable her to complete the puzzle of her family’s past?
Inspired by her own life story, Sylvia Petter’s enthralling fictional memoir set between the new world and the old is a powerful tale about making peace with the past and finding closure for the future.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
An absorbing, addictive ancestry, which takes the reader across Europe, in troubled times, following Katrina’s quest to discover her roots. The writing style is engaging, as each player, in the life drama, tells their side of the story, the atmosphere, characters and events of the time come to life.
The historical detail is fascinating, the visual imagery compelling, and the characters are complex. The structure of the story maintains its momentum and the ending has some final twists.
Sylvia Petter was born in Vienna but grew up in Australia, which makes her Austr(al)ian.
She started writing fiction in 1993 and has published three story collections, The Past Present, Back Burning and Mercury Blobs. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales.
After living for 25 years in Switzerland, where she was a founding member of the Geneva Writers’ Group, she now lives in Vienna once more.
Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick, although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone. She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’). Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this. She is going on an intrepid journey – to save the penguins.
I received a copy of this book from Transworld Publishers in return for an honest review.
I was drawn to this book initially because my son has always loved penguins. This story has so much to recommend it.
The star of the show is, Veronica McCreedy, a virtual recluse, who feels at 85 years she still hasn’t made her mark on the world and has lots to offer. She dislikes how she looks because inside she is vibrant and young. Her life is steeped in tragedy, which has contributed to her current reclusive state.
Patrick is at a particularly low ebb in his life, and he becomes introverted and prickly with others. The story unfolds from Veronica and Patrick’s viewpoints, as they get to know each other. Through journals, we learn of Veronica’s past life and find it has some similarities with Patrick’s. Then there is a great adventure, which proves more significant than the geographical miles travelled.
The characters are believable and for the most part lovely. Everyone has their flaws but its this humanity that makes them relatable. Veronica’s relationship with Patrick and the people she encounters on her journey of self-discovery are humorous, poignant and uplifting.
The plot flows and the storytelling is engaging. The conservation message is implicit in Veronica’s quest for the penguins, Like so much in life, Veronica’s life is enriched as she works tirelessly in helping the penguins and Patrick. This is an original, story which entertains, informs and motivates, It gives hope to those of us, firmly on the wrong side of fifty, that we are still important, and can make a difference.
HAZEL PRIOR lives on Exmoor. . As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist.
AN INTERVIEW WITH HAZEL PRIOR
VERONICA MCCREEDY, MY AGING HEROINE
Veronica McCreedy is eighty-six when she has her adventure with the penguins. Why did I want an old woman for my main character? I have some way to go before I reach her age, but, as I gather wrinkles, I find myself often reflecting about the pros and cons of ageing. Our society still seems to lead us to believe that it’s better in every way to be young. It would have us think that at 30 the best part of your life is over, at 40 nobody notices you anymore and from 50 onwards you may as well not exist – particularly if you’re a woman. The vast majority of novels seem to echo this view, with the protagonists finding fulfilment/tragedy/ happy-ever-after while still in their twenties. This is so wrong.
We develop at different rates, but I suspect a person is never fully-formed. We are in a state of evolution throughout our lives. This evolution isn’t a steady process, but stagnates sometimes and then goes in spurts, depending on events and our reactions to them. I admire people who are hungry for life, who go out and seek new experiences regardless of their age. For example, a friend of mine started learning the harp at the age of ninety. And my neighbour’s father took up skydiving in his eighties. These are extreme examples, but we never stop dreaming, learning or having new adventures. Every year that passes adds to our rich bank of experiences, our store of stories. The logical conclusion is that the older you are, the more interesting you are – so wouldn’t an octogenarian be the perfect heroine?
VERONICA PAST AND PRESENT
I’m very aware that we all judge by appearances, and the first thing you’d notice about Veronica McCreedy if you met her might be her age. But I wanted to show her as a complete person; I wanted to make the reader review this initial impression. We get to see her as a young girl, too, and gradually some of the elements that have shaped her come to light. These days she has slipped into certain habits: tea-drinking, litter-picking and dishing out scorn, but there is much, much more to her than this. Look inside the dry old lady exterior and you will find a vitality and strength to rival that of many young people. And she cares deeply about things, much more than she’s prepared to let on.
Veronica’s advanced years also gave me the opportunity to explore wartime Britain. That time interests me particularly because my parents were alive then. My father was in the RAF. My mother – who would have been contemporary with Veronica – was a teenager, and her entire school was relocated to a country mansion in the north of England. (That’s where the similarity ends though!) As I researched, I became drawn into this poignant time in our history. There is something very nostalgic about an era without computers, traffic and smartphones, but at the same time, the whole population was living on a knife-edge. It seems that life was lived with added intensity on every level, people grasping whatever joy they could because the future was always in question. The moral values were completely different as well (oh, the shame of having a baby when you weren’t married! The double-shame of sleeping with the enemy!). So much food for thought…
The cruel side of getting old is, of course, the physical deterioration. Veronica is very conscious of this because as a girl she was exceptionally attractive. Her beauty brought her the benefits of (briefly) requited love and (eventually) a millionaire lifestyle, yet it also led her to shame and utter degradation. She misses her beauty, though. These days wealth has replaced it as her means of getting what she wants. It takes her a long time to realise that she doesn’t need to be so manipulative. There is another pathway to happiness if only she can learn to accept genuine human kindness.
Although Veronica is now robust for her years she’s deeply frustrated by the ageing process. Her body has become an encumbrance that won’t work as well as she wants it to and she hates the fact that she now has to operate within this unreliable vehicle. In a way, however, her body’s failings also serve her because she is eager to contradict naysayers and prove what she can do. She pushes herself to her limits. When her body nearly gives out, her spirit fights on. I believe this is the stuff of true heroism.
What Veronica’s experiences have given her – along with certain prejudices and a fear of forming close relationships – is resilience. This resilience is perhaps one of the reasons she’s so drawn to penguins.
Like Veronica, penguins are feisty and stubborn. They defy harsh conditions and refuse to be beaten. But, unlike Veronica, they communicate and cooperate. They live in a vast community and do everything together. Ever since Veronica’s teenage tragedies, she has remained closed to human contact (reflected by her obsession with keeping doors closed). As she witnesses the penguins’ mutual support system, Veronica begins to realise what has been lacking in her own life. Penguins are the perfect teachers for her.
I also wanted to write about penguins because:
• They are funny.
• They are very relatable. Let’s face it, they do look a bit like miniature humans and they act like us in many ways too.
• Adélies live in Antarctica – pretty powerful for a setting.
• I was inspired by my friend, Ursula, who made it her mission to tour the world taking photos of penguins after her husband died.
PANIC ABOUT THE PLANET
My job as a writer is to tell a good story and entertain people, not to preach. But I do like to deal with serious issues, wrap them up in a bit of fun and maybe provoke a thought or two. To the perceptive reader, my own values will doubtless show through. You can hardly miss the fact that I love wildlife and care deeply about it. So I’m bound to be worried…
I’m not a fan of doom-mongering, but it strikes me that our current environmental crisis can’t be ignored. There are many strands of thought here, and powerful feelings, too. Even though I, with my carbon footprint, am partly to blame, I am dismayed that lots of my favourite animals are hurtling towards extinction. A world without tigers, polar bears, gorillas, elephants, snow leopards… and of course, penguins? I’m mentally screaming at the mere idea. I don’t have any children but to leave such a legacy is surely a terrible abuse, both of the animals themselves and the next generation of humans.
We tend to treat wildlife as if it exists solely to serve our own purposes. It doesn’t. As Jackie Morris, illustrator of The Lost Words, states ‘We are not ‘stewards’ of the natural world, we are not something that stands apart from it. We are a very small part of an amazing ecosystem. The Earth is our home, but it is also the home to so many forms of life, life that is so astonishing, intelligence that puts our arrogance to shame’.
It’s not clever to destroy our own habitat. The effects of global warming have been well-documented. In addition to mass extinction, there are devastating consequences for humans: Floods, wildfires, malnutrition, disease… the list goes on and on. Scientists say we are horribly close to the point of no return, and if we don’t change our ways the planet will sooner or later become uninhabitable for us too. All this is now old news, but I just want to stress that this isn’t a bandwagon thing for me. In fact, I wrote my novel’s first draft before anyone had seen the David Attenborough programme or heard of Greta Thunberg. The publication of AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS is timely, though, and I’m glad that my quirky Antarctic story adds another small voice to the clamour for change.
Action is need on a vast scale and movements across the world are pushing politicians and businesses to act more responsibly regarding the future of the planet. But I think the little things matter, too. In my novel, Veronica spends her energy-saving a single penguin chick. To me, that is valid. We experience life as individuals and each individual is important, whether animal or human. I recently saw a photo of a baby turtle next to a hundred pieces of plastic that were found in its stomach. The shocking image was a reminder that everything we do has its consequences.
In my household we do our best in terms of everyday lifestyle. We grow our own beans, courgettes, potatoes etc; we spurn pesticides and slug pellets. We have a hybrid car and I can’t even remember the last time I got on a plane. I indulge in a rant whenever I see the words ‘packaging not currently recyclable’ and seek out some alternative on the supermarket shelves. I even use a bamboo toothbrush. Still, we often have that “If we’re doing it but nobody else bothers, what’s the point?” conversation. Then I think of the turtle. Yes, every little helps… And in fact more and more people are bothering. And if enough people bother, there’s hope.
In AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS I’ve hinted at a parallel situation. Wartime forced people into drastic action. During a national emergency, they managed to cooperate on a heart-warmingly huge scale. Women suddenly started working in all sectors. People dug up their gardens to grow food, they re-used everything, they used their initiative as never before. They gathered all their strength and kept on trying despite the odds stacked against them. Now that we have an international crisis that threatens life itself, perhaps we can finally get our act together?”
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
An interesting exploration of celebrity, life as a media agent and a romantic love triangle. The detail in this novel is clearly well- researched, it makes the story authentic. However, it lacks the in-depth characterisation that would give it emotional weight.
It’s easy to read, and interesting. The themes of celebrity, the invasion of privacy and the blurring of professional relationships, are emotional topics. I know the characters suffered, were challenged and confused, but I didn’t feel their pain.
An interesting foray into the media world, perfect for those who enjoy plot rather than character-driven stories.
Elaine spent 25 years working in marketing and communications in the media and entertainment industries. This included seven years marketing national newspapers and a variety of senior executive roles in TV, radio and film. I Can’t Tell You Why is her first novel.
Elaine lives in North London with her husband and their two sons. When she’s not writing, she can be found looking harassed on the school run, cheering on the sidelines of her sons’ football matches or singing her heart out at her local branch of Popchoir. FacebookInstagramTwitter
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