The Beauty of Listed Buildings – 19th April 2016

A chance visit to Blackburn in Lancashire inspired me to write this post, mainly because it evoked my love of historic buildings. The Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa in Clayton Le Moors is such an example, described as ‘a converted 700-year-old country manor in a tranquil setting.’


Modern architecture has its place in today’s society where a progression of more efficient construction techniques and machinery has resulted a rapid turnaround and faster return, compared to the years of exhaustive toil endured by hundreds of labourers. Yet it is important that these older buildings are preserved, if for no other reason to honour the skill and craftsmanship that prevailed in years gone by.

The first sight of this building was breathtaking; a square construction of golden stone, two wings topped by crenelated battlements reminiscent of a castle. The interior was even more beautiful. The rooms feature panelled ceilings with decorative plasterwork (known as a cornice) as well as huge windows. They are adorned with pelmets and drapes of a heavy brocade and the furniture has a traditional feel that reminds you of a stately home.

Panelled Ceilings are an attractive feature of historic Houses

Panelled Ceilings are an attractive feature of historic Houses

So why this interest in traditional architecture? It was the sight of the fine staircase that prompted me to write this – allowing me to recapture memories of my second book Visions, the start of a long and absorbing research project into the restoration of older properties.

I was interested in period property before I wrote Visions; a subject that is extremely complex where I found myself hankering to express some of my passion into my novel.

The plot is equally complex. James Barton-Wells is the owner of a magnificent country hotel built in the 1700s and passed down through his family – but it is the fated visit of a property developer from London that sends his life plunging into chaos. The house is in need of extensive restoration and without it, James faces the agonising prospect of losing his ancestral home.

Little does he know that he is the unwitting victim of a scam and about to fall prey to the rapacious Perry Hampton. It is Perry’s lust for power that has drawn him to James’s property, thinking he can turn it into a corporate venue and a potential gold mine. First he must drive the current owner out by making him bankrupt. It is a scheme which involves some unscrupulous players of his own; from a chartered surveyor who issues the first damning survey – to a shady building firm. Their instructions from Perry, to delay the reconstruction of damaged staircase, is designed to keep the hotel closed for as long as possible, forcing James to lose valuable income. Yet this is just the start – Perry’s utter ruthlessness is guaranteed to keep his victims in a state of fear as the destiny of Westbourne House hangs in a veil of suspense…

And while I’m still thinking about that beautiful staircase, here is an extract:

James allowed his eyes to travel back down the staircase, where the tapering grace of the vase shaped balusters struck him as being particularly beautiful; the open string formation was punctuated at intervals by newel posts – the entire construction, built from dark wood, had retained its charm for over two centuries.
“It is lethally dangerous, Sir,” Edward added gravely.
“Dangerous…” James pondered, feeling the first chill of anxiety.
But Edward had not quite finished. “The woodwork has started to crumble. To be honest, I am surprised one of your guests hasn’t put a foot through it…”
James followed his gaze, observing the patterned carpet which trailed down the path of the stairs. Even those colours seemed faded – as if to betray the deterioration of the stairs underneath.
“This staircase must not be used until the damage is rectified,” Edward said bluntly. “Someone could injure themselves. Say, one of your older guests grabbed the handrail for support – any one of the balusters could shatter. The results could be disastrous!”
“Are you trying to scaremonger me?” James whispered in horror.
“Not at all,” the other man replied, unfazed, “though I must insist you close off this staircase.”
“But it’s the only access to the west wing,” James spluttered, “as well as the guest accommodation. If I close off this staircase, I might as well close the entire hotel!”
“I’m afraid that may well have to be the case,” Edward agreed, pinning him with his intense stare again. For several torturous moments, he was silent as he continued to scrawl his notes. But eventually, the tense silence was broken – where the next few words were more damning than James could have predicted.
“You cannot jeopardise the safety of your guests. The fact is, you could replace this entire staircase at a cost of around £2,000 but in its present state, you could be sued ten times that amount if, say, a healthy adult suffered an accident. In the event of this happening to someone elderly, it could be fatal. That figure could run into millions! Do you really want to run the risk?”
“Of course not,” James whispered in a voice which was drained of strength.

This staircase features the same open string formation as described.

This staircase features the same open string formation as described.

VISIONS can be read as a standalone mystery thriller and available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback formats. It is the 2nd book in the series ‘Same Face Different Place.’

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Time for a Break – 11th April 2016

I really feel it is time I published something about progress on my latest book. I don’t want to keep anyone in the dark but it is coming together very nicely.


There were times when I experienced moments of panic – I glanced at the synopsis and wondered how on earth I was going to create this amount of story matter! Writing this whole series has been a huge undertaking but had I bitten off more than I could chew?

Several months down the line, it has occurred to me that given all the complex twists and character plots, I’ve somehow managed to develop ALL those story lines. Book 4 Retribution, is still a work in progress but I’ve reached a point where it is time to stop and recapture everything that has happened in the novel so far.

With 35 chapters written and the final quarter of the synopsis still ahead of me, I have a clearer vision of how this series will end but it is a finale needs that requires careful planning and execution. Everything that happened, has happened for a reason – so with various loose ends to tie up and a extremely complex mystery to resolve, I have my work cut out.

In Book 3 Pleasures, there was a similar point in the writing process where I hit a brick wall. I had reached the end of a very gripping scene with only the finale to complete – but I was unsure how I was going to get there without the story losing its momentum. 

bookofchocolateSo I am going through a similar process and this could be advice for other writers.

There are times when it is an idea to take a breather; recapture the essence of the book before soldiering on to the end. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost your way. But I know I will create a much better ending if I can digest the story so far.

And while I’m blogging about my thoughts, I have been thinking about the cover. With credits to use up on one of my stock photography accounts, I was forced to make a decision last week. The cover reveal below is an idea I have had for a while now and is probably the one I will run with. 


The cover can be clicked to see an enlargement

Note: the top photo is from – fire image from

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It was almost as if it was meant to be… 11th March 2016

Writing can be a huge commitment and I should know.

kent-landscapeI am currently working on my 4th book and have been badgering away since last August to get the first draft done. This means I have my synopsis planned out but each one of those story lines has to be developed. I am speeding my way through the 1990s and so far have covered such topics as the Catholic child abuse scandal and the war in Bosnia but with a vast amount still to write. So dedicated am I in getting this drafted in full before August this year, I haven’t ventured out on any research trips since September 2014.

Once in a while it does me good to get out on location and revisit the places where the books are set. Last year I did actually get to visit Nottingham (one of my characters studies at Nottingham Trent University {formerly Trent Polytechnic} where I went myself) I had a good wander around town to familiarise myself. The scenes set in Nottingham however are short and sweet. The majority of this series is still based around London and Kent by February 2nd it was a good time to make another journey.

Book 4 Retribution had a slight difference; I have set many of the scenes in winter.

The story focuses more on the evil characters and their activities than the lives of the good people. There is a resurrection of organised crime in this book and where criminal gangs play a huge part. It is definitely more of a winter novel than a summer one and lends itself to barren landscapes, less flowers, cold weather and short days. I deliberately chose winter to return to Shoreham Village so I could get a good feel for that atmosphere.

The low sunlight, skeletal trees and long shadows create a slightly more sinister ambience for Book 4 Retribution. (Click images to see enlarged views).

Being so close to London, I couldn’t resist a chance visit; but only if there was time. Yet it seemed the universe was definitely working in my favour today

I would get the train from Orpington Station, only if I could park. Further more, some very kind gentleman gave me a parking ticket for day which saved me £6. What a stoke of luck! After purchasing my ticket to London, I made my way onto the platform and the train turned up a minute later. Great!

Sitting on the train, I watched the familiar London skyline wander into view with its stunning array of buildings; Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard… I landed in Waterloo, probably the most prominent station in the series (lots of scenes set here) and for a change, I decided to visit Chelsea. This is a place which is renowned for its antiques and given that one of the characters is in antiques dealer, seemed like a good place to explore.


Beautiful winter sunlight. The looming black clouds and bare branches were particularly stunning in this shot where the timing couldn’t have been better.

I would have liked to have spent a few hours here. Though there was enough time to get a good look round, admire the architecture, take photos and even enjoy a quick bite in the heavenly Café Concerto in Kings Road. The return journey was equally enjoyable (I even relived the underground chase scene from Book 2 Visions) and every time I stepped on platform, the train turned up a few seconds later.

It was almost as if it was meant to be.

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Have a Go: Enter a Short Story Competition – 1st February 2016

2016 kicked off with the first highlight of my writing career. I was picked as a winner for a local short story competition “Write Across Sussex.”

It was a wonderful moment and something I never expected. I’ve never entered a short story competition before, in fact short stories are not really my forté. My writing has been centred around producing full-sized novels which is one of the reasons I was so thunderstruck! A short story needs to be very focussed. You have to capture the essence of the story, the atmosphere and characters in very few words. Dreaming up an idea for a story is the first hurdle, be it a childhood memory or a dream, an item on the news or maybe a funny story you heard down the pub. I thought about some of the things my mum told me about her childhood, where one story stood out in particular. As a consequence, my story is based on a real event that happened in World War II:


By Helen Christmas

East Sussex 1940

“You should think about it seriously, Connie. She isn’t safe here!”
Six-year-old Dottie stopped colouring, pencil suspended in mid-air, the moment her ears pricked up to the sound of a raised voice drifting beyond the kitchen.
“Shh!” her mother reprimanded. It was only their neighbour Clara, and by the time the conversation was resumed, the voices had dropped back down to a flurry of whispers.
Dottie wasn’t sure what it was about the sentence that unnerved her. She allowed her gaze to wander around the living room, drinking in the atmosphere: her dad’s high-backed chair smothered in dark green upholstery, the subtle fragrance of his Woodbines. She knew his health was frail. He seemed to spend a lot of time in bed when he wasn’t pottering around in the garden, tending to the vegetables and chickens only to stagger back indoors almost breathless.
She could still see the newspaper resting on the arm of his chair. She sighed, confused as to what was really happening. BRITAIN & FRANCE MOBILISE screamed the headline; it was something to do with the war.
Once again, she pictured the tidy rows of vegetables in their garden and the fruit bushes. Everyone grew their own food. They had a glasshouse too, where Daddy grew strawberries the size of apples; there was always a slightly musty aroma in the kitchen from whatever fruit happened to be fermenting in an old bucket to be turned into wine. Her face buckled into a frown as she listened to the low murmurs emanating from the kitchen. Just the tone of voice suggested something ominous. It reminded her of those radio broadcasts – dark and sepulchral, the ever-rising threat of danger, which always seemed to drain the smile from her mother’s face. Most of all Dottie dreaded hearing the siren – a prolonged and undulating wail, rising and falling, scattering the residents, the sound echoing in her head long after it had ended.

grandmotherConnie pursed her lips, concentrating on her knitting. The rhythmic click of needles was soothing compared to Clara’s constant harping. Yes, of course she had thought about having Dottie evacuated. On the one hand, Clara was right; the child might be a lot safer. Coastal towns were frequently being bombed as the Germans dropped their load prior to returning home across the Channel. Even the cumbersome lump of steel in their bedroom that served as an air-raid shelter bore testimony to the ever-present threat of war looming over their heads.
“I think the Children’s Overseas Reception Board is a wonderful idea,” Clara gushed.
“I see,” Connie sighed, “and you say they’ll be sailing out on a steamship?”
“It’s one less thing for you to worry about, dear,” Clara added with a faint smile. “To a lot of these kids, it feels a little bit like a holiday. I saw some evacuees going off on a train yesterday – you only had to look at their faces.”
“But Canada…” Connie whispered to herself.
How could she bear it? Especially when William was so unwell? Doctors had said it was a ‘miracle’ he had even survived the onslaught of tuberculosis. He might not live long and Dottie was an only child.
By the time the sun sank behind the apple trees, she was still thinking about that conversation, watching as the light began to fade and the long shadows came stalking across the vegetable patch. The air had turned a little icy, the soft clucking of chickens indicating that they too were snuggling down for the night. It was nothing compared to the chill that fluttered over Connie’s shoulders – she stared up into the sky and shivered.

Dottie found herself being shepherded into school, where the usual lines of children snaked across the yard before separating and trailing into their respective classrooms.
Whatever Mummy and her neighbour had been talking about, she hadn’t said much. Her face had been a little pinched when she stepped into the lounge from the garden, wiping her hands on her apron. The light from a table lamp emitted a golden glow where it cloaked the walls. It threw soft shadows over Daddy’s face as he sat dozing in his chair, and for the rest of the evening, there had been an unsettling silence. She could still hear the click click of her knitting needles, all conversation suspended – she pictured the lemon yellow wool she had spotted, hoping it would be for a new cardigan.
Yet all thoughts of her gentle home life were shooed from her mind the moment the headmaster materialised. He strutted into the corridor, head high, eyes glittering as they feasted on the encroaching line of children as if they were some sort of insects. Dottie shivered, forcing her head down between her shoulders, trying to make herself as invisible as possible. Was it only last week he had clipped her round the ear for no good reason? She had been fidgeting in her chair, that was all. The flash of a hand came from nowhere and she saw stars. She felt the well of tears behind her eyes before she could stop them, her lip trembling.
“Dottie, do get a move on. You’re dithering, dear.” The voice of her classroom teacher oozed from behind her.
She flinched for a second time, squeezing out a smile. “Sorry, Miss Porter.”
The classroom fizzed with activity as her classmates clutched the wooden boxes they were issued with. Fingers poked at the clasps and straps – gas masks, they were told. Before she even knew what was happening, the teacher was speaking again, urging them to try them on – this is a drill, if the bombs come down and the Germans invade… Dottie stared at the little boy in front of her. The mask had a long tube jutting out at the front that made him look like an elephant! Some of them even looked like Mickey Mouse! Titters and giggles escaped from every corner but did nothing to lighten her mood. It wasn’t funny, it was scary.
The next thing she knew, she could hear that haunting sound – the air-raid warning. The teacher told them it was a recording, but it made no difference. Dottie felt the shroud of goose pimples crawling all over her arms and down her back, never able to forget the effect it had on people. Her hands shook. She clutched the edge of her single wooden desk.
“Now get under your desks, all of you!” Miss Porter’s voice fired across the classroom. “Try to imagine this as a real air-raid warning!”
Dottie did as she was told and scuttled under her desk, her arms wrapped around her head as if to fend off some invisible attacker. But what if it ever was real? Would her little wooden desk be enough to protect her?
“It could save your life one day,” Miss Porter added. Her voice had a hollow ring to it that, even to a child of six, didn’t sound that sure.

“Mummy, are the Germans really coming here to attack us?” Dottie lisped.
Her mother’s face froze into an expression of shock. She lowered her knitting needles very slowly, then rose to her feet and clutched the top of Dottie’s arms. She moved her head a little closer so they were level and gazed deep into her eyes.
“My poor child, I have something to tell you,” she mumbled. “You must know how much Dad and I love you, so we’ve been thinking – did you know some kids have been sent away to live in the countryside?”
Dottie’s eyes grew wider. She nodded her head.
“It’s not safe living by the sea any more,” Connie added, her voice cracking slightly. “It’s the coastal areas that are being bombed, and yes – England is under attack. Some people are saying it would be safer if our children went abroad.”
“Abroad?” Dottie gasped. “You mean to another country?”
“Yes,” her mother sighed. “Another country – a big country called Canada. I’ve heard it’s very beautiful. It will be fun, Dottie, and far enough away to afford you a safe home.”
“Will it be forever?”
“Not forever,” Connie shot back at her, “only until the war’s over…”
“Is this what you and Mrs Hawthorne were talking about yesterday?” Dottie whispered.
Her mother’s eyes seemed to darken. They held her stare, two widely spaced pools of uncertainty and fear. A slight sheen of tears made them appear glassy, and for that moment, Dottie thought she was going to start crying.
“It was her idea. She too worries about your safety, Dottie, as do we all…”

Dottie found it hard to sleep, even though the exhaustion of the day dragged down heavily on her limbs, her mind and, most of all, her heart. Deep down, she knew what Mummy said was probably very sensible. She had barely stopped thinking about the drills at school, the air-raid sirens and the gas masks. They loomed in her mind like dreams, as if to remind her of the constant fear being bounced around the classroom.
She didn’t want to die.
At the same time, she didn’t want to be parted from her home.
Dottie clutched the bedclothes in terror and peered over the top of the counterpane. All she could think about was their lovely garden – of sitting under the blackcurrant bushes when the sun was hot – of Daddy scratching around with his hoe, humming to himself, occasionally interrupted by his chesty cough. She thought about the chickens, how much fun it was when she and Mummy had crept into their pen to collect the eggs. She clung to the memories of walks in the South Downs. Sometimes her uncle gave her a piggyback. There were cow pats as big as dustbin lids. She would grip his shoulders even tighter for fear he might drop her. Cowslips flourished in the grassy banks, the same pale yellow as her mother’s wool – Daddy picked great bunches of them to make wine.
The thought of sailing away on a great steamship known as the SS City of Benares surged darkly in her mind; about to tear her away from everything she loved. And it was in the silent darkness of her room, she eventually cried herself to sleep.

daphne1Connie admired her daughter next morning. She was dressed in a pleated skirt, socks pulled right up to her knees. She helped her button up her blouse and brushed her hair – it was blonde and very fine, cropped in a neat bob just above her jaw. Connie swept it back from her forehead and fastened it with ribbon, looping the ends into a big bow, where it fell to one side.
Her eyes were an unusual grey-blue. Yet it took one glance to see she had been crying.
“What’s the matter, dear?” she murmured.
“Please don’t send me away,” the little girl begged.
Connie swallowed, pained to look at her. “This is a wonderful opportunity for you, Dottie. Dad and I discussed this. The truth is, there is a war on, and neither of us want you to die.”
“So what about you?” Dottie whined. “Don’t make me go away, please! I want to be here with you, even if they do drop the bombs! I couldn’t stand it if you were killed… I’ll be all on my own.”
She started sobbing. Connie backed away, but it was as if she couldn’t let go – her small hands stretching out in front of her, clawing at her coat.
“It won’t be forever,” Connie said again. “We only want what’s best for you, sweetheart.”
“No!” Dottie squealed at her. “I don’t want to go! I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…”
Connie closed her eyes. Her palm fell upon her daughter’s silky head as her sobs became almost hysterical. The child was right – they were such a small family, and if she was true to her heart, she couldn’t bear to be parted from her either.
It was in that splinter of a second, she made her decision.

It was some three months later, they were alerted to the radio broadcast.
The date was September 17th, a day when the SS City of Benares had been torpedoed and sunk, carrying ninety child evacuees bound for Canada. Seventy-seven of them had perished.
It was the voyage her daughter had been destined for.
Connie wept, but not out of relief. She wept for the other mothers – those who had made the wrong decision, unable to imagine their agony, their children lost forever.


On January 23rd 2016, I attended a special award ceremony in Chichester along with the other winners and each of us was presented with an anthology of the winning short stories. It was a truly magical moment – and as if it wasn’t enough to have the privilege of meeting best selling authors, Kate Mosse and Peter Lovesey, (who judged the competition), I was awarded the compliment that my story was a firm favourite and beautifully written. I felt an unmistakable glow of pride – even better, the book is on Amazon.

It was definitely worth entering this competition. I feel truly blessed and hope this may inspire other budding writer to have a go.


With best Selling author, Kate Mosse

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Where do I start? – 18th January 2016

I decided to write this post for the benefit of new authors who are thinking of writing a book for the first time with the hope that I can inspire them. I have often been asked this question: I want to write a book but how do I go about it? Well, it’s a difficult one to answer! The easiest way to ponder the dilemma is to relate my own experience.

Know your Plot

Books don’t just happen. First of all, you need to have an idea of what you want to write about. Is it your take on an old fashioned tale? Has something in the media made you so angry, you feel a need to express yourself? Did you have a dream last night that sparked a fantasy? Or did your dog look at you in such a way, you couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in his mind? The fact is, every writer gets a flash of inspiration and when that happens, you have two choices: either go with the flow or move on.

I was intrigued by stories which involved power – the power of the church, the power of politics, how power affects us lesser mortals in the ever turning wheel of life and that is how my series ‘Same Face Different Place’ started to develop.

Plan your Synopsis

Given the likelihood you have decided to develop your story, the next stage in my opinion, is to formulate some sort of plan. I think this is best done in rough note form. You really need to just sit down and work out the content. What is the book going to be about? What is going to happen (the detail can come later), who is it about (characters) and where (location of the story or place whether it is real or imagined). It is when you sit down and work out the first threads of a synopsis, your ideas begin to grow branches.

I spent about six months thinking about all this, before I wrote a word. For me, it was the characters who materialised first. Once I had a fairly good cast and a rough idea of what the story would be about, only then did I start scribbling out a few scenes.

Find your Motivation

Author Helen J Christmas 'Thinking about writing a book.'

If you have an idea, as well as a plan, the next thing you need is motivation. The chances are, if you are burning to get started, you’ll move heaven and earth to find the time. Writing a book does involve a degree of self-discipline. You can’t keep procrastinating. My advice is to put aside a couple of hours to get the ball rolling. It could be a free Sunday afternoon or an evening when there is nothing on the telly. I would even go so far as to advise switching off your phone and your computer to avoid interruptions.

My moment came, on a weekend when my husband was away. I had an entire Sunday afternoon and made the choice that this was the day I was going to start my book. I spent six months wondering how I would ever find the time. I’m glad I did.

Just do it!

It sounds simple but every writer needs to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you spew out several pages of rubbish – just write something, anything to get the ball rolling. If you are genuinely inspired, you will find the process gets easier as time goes by. Once you get started, the ideas keep coming and coming. The first few pages might be a little shaky but it doesn’t matter. You can always go back and edit them and once you become a writer you will discover that it is the editing that takes time. Writing is the fun part.

It took a while to get the first chapter written but once I had engaged with my story and its characters, it took off. I found myself waking up at 6:00 in the morning, unable get back to sleep. It was like a calling and this has now become my best time for writing.

  • Other advise to budding writers:
    Carry a notebook so if you get a flash of inspiration you can jot it down as soon as possible.
  • Or carry a recording device – most smart phones have a microphone.
  • Do research – visit the places in your stories, use the internet which provides answers to just about anything.
  • Make reading part of your own life – you can get lots of inspiration from others.
  • Enjoy yourself – if I didn’t love writing I wouldn’t do it.

I started my debut novel, Beginnings in 2011 and it took just 6 months to complete the first draft (in between socialising and work). After doing a complete re-write and further edits, I asked a couple of friends to read it. The feedback was so positive, I published the book on Amazon Kindle in 2012. I have never looked back and have since written two more books in the same series. All my books are self-published.

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Progress on Book 4 Retribution – 2nd December 2015

This is the first blog I’ve written in a while, a new post to say that book 4 is going great guns! I don’t have a watertight synopsis planned for this final novel but let’s say, some of the story lines have been buzzing around inside my head for years; ever since I started the series in fact.

Imagery for Same Face Different Place Book 4 Retribution

The official date I began writing Retribution was August 5th 2015 and I have hardly stopped. It begins with an explosive prologue; a horrific crime committed in Rosebrook resulting in two near fatalities. It is a crime that is about to change the nature of the community in ways the characters never expected as the main evil character of the series grows more powerful. Ben Hampton was 21 when he first appeared in the story but those who read the earlier books will know that he is something of a psychopath. Further more, he is a psychopath with a vendetta; lethally dangerous and out to do a lot more harm. In fact the atrocity committed at the start of this book is just the beginning; it marks the opening chapter of a revenge plan that will span at least 10 years.

What other issues have I tackled in this story?

Like all my books, I like to interweave a little social history. I therefore chose to focus on a few controversial news issues that emerged during this era:

  • It was around the early 1990s when the Catholic child abuse scandal first came to light – where runaway orphan, Peter, is finally forced to face his demons.
  • 1992 was the start of the war in Bosnia – Lieutenant Barton-Wells finds himself caught up in the conflict when his platoon are sent to assist in a peacekeeping mandate.
  • In 1992  The Maastricht Treaty undertaken to integrate Europe was signed: could this be a catalyst that inspires interest in an International consortium that had its roots in the 70s?
  • In 1995 the French resumed underground nuclear testing in the Pacific despite the end of the Cold War – could this have some bearing on the secret mission Perry has confided to his son?

The main difference with Retribution is that this is a book where the main characters are the baddies. Various parts of the story are finally depicted through their eyes – from the opening scenes of Beginnings to the closing scenes of Pleasures.

Last but not least, books 1 – 3 of  ‘Same Face Different Place’ is now available as a boxed set on Amazon Kindle.
This 3 book bundle incurs a saving of of £3.00 compared to buying the books individually.
Readers can catch up on the whole series so far, by clicking this link.


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