Archive for February, 2010

The Wildcat’s Burden

February 17, 2010

You can find The Wildcat’s Burden at the publisher’s site —

I post the whole of chapter one below.


The Wildcat’s Burden by Christopher Hoare, © February 2010. All rights reserved.

Chapter One – Riot

Major Gisel Matah, military governor of the city of Skrona in liberated Tarnland, stepped onto the concourse at the top of the Town Hall steps as the mob reached the Great Square. Her four Iskander security guards fanned out around them as the two officers accompanying her scanned the approaching crowd.

“You were right, Major.” Captain Jans commanded the cavalry of the garrison, the same 3rd Light Cavalry she’d led in the last campaign the previous year. “The demonstration has turned into trouble, but my troopers are ready.”

Gisel studied the crowd a moment, all displaced Lubitz settlers. They had genuine grievances, but she wasn’t about to let them bring their anger into the streets. The mob streamed down the three major arteries into the square from Hagriche Park where their leaders had inflamed them with speeches. The words they shouted were incomprehensible but raised fists and brandished iron bars and pick helves told her everything she needed to know.

“Return to your squadrons, Captain Jans. Seal off all the exits from the square once the mob is inside. Leave the main avenue to the naval docks open. Keep your sabres sheathed unless I order otherwise. Your officers will herd the protestors south against the dockyard walls.”

“Yes, Major, but I will leave you a half troop here to support your Peace Officers.”

She turned her head to fix him with a fierce stare. Her men had started bending her orders of late – something they’d not presumed to do with her instructions before. Almost in the last month of her pregnancy, they treated her as a delicate flower instead of the fierce Wildcat. She scowled and shook her head. “I may waddle like a goddamned duck, but I can still shoot straight.”

Jans grinned and saluted.

As he turned away she softened her tone. “I appreciate your consideration, Captain; a section will do. My husband will be grateful for your care of me while he’s away.” Yohan bitterly railed at her commanders, who refused to allow her maternity leave, but clearly they did not want the pregnancy to diminish her Wildcat persona. Ha! Thanks, guys.

The Lieutenant of the Peace Officers, once a sergeant of the town militia, regarded her expectantly. “My men are in the street behind the building, Governor. What are your orders?”

Gisel eyed the crowd that streamed into the square. Mostly men, but she could see women and a few children running between the groups of ruffians. “Form your men into a single line across the concourse, about fifty paces from the bottom of the steps. Hold firm to keep the mob from reaching the building.”

He licked his lips. “Yes Governor . . .. There are . . . a lot of them.”

“I see that, but I have backup for you.” She scanned around the tiled rooftops of the tall buildings opposite, looking for visible heads. “My riflemen are waiting on the far side of the roofs for my order to move forward. You understand that I do not want to have them open fire, but if your men are threatened I will so order them.”

“Thank you, Governor.” He threw a loose salute, pivoted about, and marched away.

She had selected his detachment recruited from the Lubitz citizens to keep order against their countrymen. The Tarnlish Peace Officers were patrolling the rest of the city. The genocidal dissension between the two groups wasn’t new – it had been ongoing ever since Iskander captured the city five years before. Forty percent of the inhabitants were from Lubitz and they disputed the inevitability of returning Skrona to the Tarnlish crown.

Their anger had caused this riot. A group of Lubitz citizens had accepted an offer to travel to new lands outside Tarnland where they would build new homes. It was a good deal for the new settlers, but their fellows remaining behind demonstrated against reducing their numbers and power.

She was as much a target of the anger as her fellows. Her first successful undercover mission had opened the main gate to let Lord Ricart’s Iskander cavalry columns take the city. Since the stranding of the starship Iskander on Gaia seven years before, their technology had revolutionized the 17th century world. But the changes that had improved the lives of many had diminished the power of others. Those who had lost, hated them.

Everyone assumed her governorship had been a reward for her early success. She knew better – it was no reward – the position she held required her to take actions she hated. She believed any action ethical when defending herself, but keeping order over an unruly populace narrowed her options to a knife edge. Tarnland’s rulers expected her to seize these ringleaders and hang them – but she wouldn’t. Neither would she let loose the cavalry sabres to cut down rioting citizens – unless she had no option left.

A movement to her right made her turn her head. The Peace Officers in full riot gear marched into the square in single file. She caught the Lieutenant’s eye and clapped her hands together. He turned to march backwards as he gave an order. The men raised their riot shields and clapped their riot sticks against them in a loud cadence to their marching steps.

The ominous sound echoed across the square as the men marched into position. Most of the oncoming crowd slowed but some picked up rocks to throw. The Peace Officers pulled down their face shields and turned to face the crowd. They locked their shields into a continuous wall and braced themselves against the expected onslaught.

Gisel turned to gesture to one of her orderlies in the doorway. “Bring me a loudhailer.”

The clatter of hooves heralded the arrival of a dozen cavalrymen. She smiled as she recognised the leader – Sergeant Major Cubbins, one of her most reliable men of the 3rd Light Cavalry the previous year. He now commanded the new D Squadron as Iskander built up the battle-scarred battalion to full strength.

Those in the mob who had resumed running forward slowed to a walk at the arrival of the cavalry. With their eyes on the horsemen, they edged across the square to about twenty metres from the riot police – throwing stones at them. Behind the first ranks of the mob she recognised Nakred the rabble-rouser and Davadis the hot-headed reporter for the Skrona-Lubitz News – a fledgling free press that Iskander had encouraged. Gisel ruefully acknowledged the paper she allowed to operate fanned the flames of the Lubitz citizens’ resentment.

Her orderly reached her with the loudhailer and she switched it on to put to her lips. She gulped a deep breath, not quite full with her babe pressed up against her diaphragm. “Pavel Nakred,” she boomed, “permission to hold this gathering is rescinded. Disperse these people at once.”

“Not until you have heard our grievances,” he shouted back.

“Order your people to cease throwing stones.”

“Their anger is too strong for me to so speak. You may shout with your huge voice machine.”

Gisel signalled to the sergeant of the Assault Infantry Company, near the door behind her. In a moment, the riflemen climbed over the roofs to take up positions where they could shoot down into the crowd. She fixed her gaze on Nakred. “Order your people to disperse before I quench their anger with rifle bullets.”

Nakred and his companions turned to stare up at the surrounding riflemen. After a minute’s argument he faced her again. “I don’t believe you will do it.”

A movement beside him revealed one of his bodyguards carrying a firearm – possibly a cavalry carbine. He seemed ready to aim at her. Fear for her unborn child lanced through her.

She covered her belly with both arms as she turned to the sergeant. “Your sharpshooter. Quick!”

He shouted into his radio and a shot rang out from a window above them in the building . The armed man threw up his hands and collapsed with a shriek.

Her heart pounded in her breast and she felt sweat break out all over her forehead and down to her shoulders. She had thrown down her biggest trump – would he call her bluff? “There’s one. Do you want to see a hundred fall? A thousand? I have killed that many on the battlefield – I can do it more easily here.”

Those at the rear of the mob shouted. At first she thought they wanted to know who had fired, but the sounds turned to cries of alarm. Gisel could see into several of the thoroughfares from her vantage point. The cavalry appeared in the distance, horses shoulder to shoulder. Good for Jans – he had judged his moment to a tee.

All around Nakred and Davadis the mob milled about, bending toward the fallen man and gesticulating. No doubt they shouted to one another, but their voices were lost in the din of the mob. Nakred emerged from the milling crowd, his voice indistinct. “You . . . killed . . . cousin. I accuse . . . cold-blooded murder.”

“Order your people to disperse or there will be more. Do you see the cavalry advancing down the avenues? I have only to give the order for them to break into a charge.”

“Never!” He stepped out of the mob, arms on hips. “Shoot me down, you bitch. I will not move from here.”

Gisel caught Sergeant Major Cubbin’s eye. The old soldier’s face looked grey but he nodded his head toward the riot police, now standing motionless and unengaged.

She caught his meaning – a good idea. “Lieutenant!” she said in a lower voice. “Take six of the riot squad forward and seize that man. Arrow formation. Sgt Major, take your horses in support.”

This had to work. If the mob resisted the police advance she’d have no choice but to order the riflemen to fire. Her pulse pounded like a jackhammer. It all depended on the execution – her men must act before the crowd realised what they were doing.

She needed to hold the crowd’s attention. She raised the loudhailer again. “Pavel Nakred, if you want to discuss your settlers’ grievances, I am willing to listen. But this square must be cleared first. Send the people to the Autarch’s Avenue and leave by way of the dockyard wall.”

“No! You will not intimidate us. Your Wildcat trick is -”

His words dried up as the wedge of riot police charged him. He attempted to dodge back to his escort but the two flanking columns of cavalry horses pushed the dense mass of rioters closed. The riot squad seized him and frog-marched him away, even as his protective escort reacted. These men were armed, Gisel could see several muskets and at least one more stolen Iskander firearm. Their attempts at rescue were beaten back by the sabres of Cubbins’ men. Three of the rioters fell before the rest fled into the crowd.

Gisel watched the mob mill about, some running forward, some back. At this point she expected anything. They could rush forward to attempt a rescue or they could break and flee in terror. The riot squad did exactly the right thing – testimony to the painstaking effort she’d put into their training. They marched forward again, beating their riot sticks against their shields, closing their ranks around the withdrawing men and their prisoner.

Gisel raised the volume on the loudhailer. “Your ringleader has agreed for you to disperse,” she boomed. “Leave the square. Go down Autarch’s Avenue to the dockyard walls. Go quickly and I will hold the cavalry back. All of your grievances will be heard. I give you my word.”

The mob wavered, their voices loud and shrill. Davadis stood firm, shouting at her but drowned out by the din.

“Oddr Davadis,” Gisel boomed again. “Your chance has failed. Do not lead more of these innocents to their destruction. The demonstrators are dispersing – their protest has been heard. Go in peace.”

She found herself holding her breath as she watched. The Sgt. Major’s small cavalry force regrouped against the front rank of the mob. No one attempted to rush forward to pull them from their mounts. That in itself said the nerve of the rioters had been broken. As the cavalrymen urged their horses slowly against them the mob fell back, sweeping Davadis and the remaining ruffians away with them.

The crowd changed from a pattern of angry faces to their retreating backs. Women rushed to grab up their children; men hastened to shield their wives. Gisel let out a long breath. Her hands trembled, but this time she’d won. Governorship as a reward? Hell no, it was torture.


The Wildcat’s Burden

February 12, 2010

Released today by Double Dragon e-Books

The Wildcat's Burden

Find it at

Early Lessons Stick

February 8, 2010

One thing I believe I absorbed early on, during wartime, was that women could run almost anything. I think that gave rise to my later championship of female protagonists in my fiction – and Gisel’s ability to out-do the men at anything. They drove the buses, and they weren’t easy things, but cranky old diesels with crash boxes. For those of you that only know how to drive cars with ‘granny’ transmissions, a crash gearbox was far harder to manage than a modern manual transmission. The gears had no synchronizing mechanisms and so to shift from one gear to the next the engine speed had to conform to the vehicle speed. Revved up to shift down – and allowed to slow, just the right amount, to shift up.

But women took many more non-traditional roles. David Bashaw’s book on Canadian fighter pilots in WWII has an amusing account of the time when a squadron’s pilots were having a difficult time learning to manage the new Beaufighters – rather hulking twin-engined brutes used mainly as night fighters. One day a new Beau came by delivery flight from the factory and when it taxied over to the squadron area and shut off a tiny young woman climbed out lugging a parachute pack almost as big as herself. After that there were no more complaints about how difficult these brutes were to fly.

Women’s work kept the farms and factories running, and my mother worked in the local market gardens and farms as soon as I was old enough to leave untended. I started school early, at four, so she could go to work. (I must admit that I have little patience with some of the education complaints today – I could read and write before I started school.) Every spare patch of ground had a garden in those days – I remember how one would see vegetables growing along every railway right of way, where the railwaymen had their ‘victory gardens’. If we’re in for hard times – as the unadorned economic statistics suggest – no one should starve in Canada. There is enough fallow ground within every city to provide fresh vegetables for everyone year round.

Mother had a patch of ground, called an allotment, at nearby Starcross. She grew fruit and vegetables for us to eat as well as sell. She said that allotment was the foundation of her bank account, but later in the war her plot was taken away to give to a returning serviceman. Wartime equality soon degenerated into male entitlement. Mother was active in the Women’s branch of the British Legion, but all they could do was commiserate.

Her first investment was in a hut near the beach area of Dawlish Warren. The hut was one of many that stood on blocks around the edges of Blackmore’s fields and was administered by some trust called St Piers from London. They were summer cabins, the forerunners of the huge expanses of ‘holiday chalets’ that filled the English countryside from the fifties. Mother’s was rented out by the week or fortnight during the summer, and while she was at it she looked after the two huts owned by a friend of hers who worked night shift in a factory in London.

Later in the war, when the couple who were billeted on us at the rented cottage in Cockwood became too overbearing to stand, she and I moved out to the hut. Billeting bombed out people was a wartime expedient, but these two still monopolized the cottage for several years after the war until Mother bought the cottage and sold it from under them. I loved living in the hut. It had kerosene lamps for light, kerosene heaters and stoves for warmth and cooking, outside pit toilets, a battery powered radio, and a water tap connected to the municipal supply just outside. The only other child my age in the area was Betty, a year older than me, who lived in a hut with her mother in the next field.

We roamed the countryside at will. Through all the lanes; the two miles to Dawlish to visit the town or the children’s playground; down to the beach to hunt for lost coins in the sand (a good day we could find enough for candy and pop at the store); down to the dump to throw rocks at the rats or find someone’s cast off treasures (that was where my Crimean War swords came from); a mile away to the woods to play; down to the wartime coastal artillery bunkers and pillboxes to play soldiers; into the marsh to explore and get covered in mud; or just down the lane to what Betty called the Faraway Tree from the Enid Blighton children’s adventure stories she used to read.

The local authority pretended to be aghast at the fact that several families were living in these sub-standard huts throughout the year. No doubt the two children who wandered at large throughout the area were regarded as being particularly at risk. The fields were closed, and St Piers could do nothing about it. Mother would have lost the money she’d sunk in the hut, a hundred pounds or so (worth real money in those days) except that Colonel York, who lived in the big house up the hill in Cockwood, took his leadership of the community seriously and bought Mother’s hut to use as a garden shed. I remember peeking into his garden some years later and seeing this oddity – entirely out of place in an English garden – and realized that in a just society (as Britain was in the immediate post-war years) some concept of doing good for the sake of humanity should exist.

The post-war Labour government did many things to free working people from what was traditionally an aristocratic society. One piece of legislation allowed tenants to buy their homes from the estates – titled and ecclesiastical – that owned and neglected most of the rural countryside. Villages were renovated all over the country – electricity was brought in, as were the privies that had been outside for generations, and even a few coats of paint were splashed about to dispel the gloom of Dickensian England. Mother was able to borrow some money from her maiden aunt to buy the rented cottage from the two Pollard sisters who had been landlords since before the war. It set her on the way to investing in the cold and drafty Victorian terraced house in which I completed my growing up and helped (modestly) to run as Holywell Guest House.

The Butler Education Act opened up the private secondary schools throughout the country to youngsters whose parents would never have been able to afford the fees – simply by awarding scholarships to those who demonstrated their potential in the eleven-plus exams. Without that entry to the formerly exclusive Teignmouth Grammar School I would never have received my educational start in life.  Even university education was provided through a system of educational grants in a foresighted plan that recognized that training the young was a social good, instead of a system that used education as a means of making money. I chose to challenge the Ministry of Supply competitive examinations that resulted in my gaining a student apprenticeship at RAE Farnborough, Britain’s NASA, and was trained in engineering not only free of tuition fees, but was also paid enough for the hostel accommodation where we all lived – and even eked out a tiny surplus of pocket money. I fondly imagine that Gisel Matah’s Workers’ Brotherhood and her father’s training school at Bergrund starts Gaian society on a similar course of social advancement, and also strengthens the readers’ attachment to social justice.

Our Fathers that begat us

February 1, 2010

Since all of us are molded by our families in one way or another – even in the absence – I guess I should start at the beginning. As near the beginning as I remember. While most memories dim with time, I had the experience of one surfacing a few years ago.

I hardly remember my father, he went away to the war when I was just two years old. He never came back. He lies in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand after his body was moved to the permanent site from his original resting place at the Hintock River Camp. Those who remember the war movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, will know of the suffering and loss of life of about 13,000 prisoners of war and almost 100,000 local civilians who were forced to build the Burma Railway for the Japanese Army.

I learned, a few months back, that a Hintock River Camp still exists but now it’s a jungle tourist camp built on the site of the prisoner of war camp. The thought occurred to me that I could visit and stay at the camp – think about my father – but the contrast between the reality in war and the comfortable amenities now would be too hard to accept. I think I’ll pass.

I had one slight recollection of my father from an early age. I had some illness that resulted in my eyes closing, perhaps from some infectious disease. When they began closing, I called from a cot that seemed to have been located in the small living room, “Daddy. Open my eyes.” I don’t remember his ministrations, but he was a trained medic in the Airforce at the time, and had been a male nurse in a mental hospital in civilian life. He was probably a better nurse than my mother.

He was also a strong and enthusiastic swimmer and mother told me many times of how he would set me on his shoulders and take me swimming. On one occasion we were caught in an offshore current and he had to struggle mightily to get back to shore. That memory came to me years later in a dream. It was vivid, I could feel the warmth of his shoulders beneath my bottom, and sense the urgency of his effort to get us safely ashore. I have to wonder what other memories I have buried in this lump on my shoulders, and whether more will surface one day.

I remember an episode on a crowded wartime train when I was a bit older than a babe in arms. The corridor was packed with soldiers and I had an urgent need to go the toilet at the far end of the coach. My mother attempted to squeeze past the soldiers but they were too densely packed until one solved the problem. I was lifted and passed form soldier to soldier until I reached the one nearest the toilet – who took me inside and ensured the duty was done – and then passed me back along the chain to my mother.

I remember being woken in the night of one of the air raids on Exeter. I have a blurred mental image of the sky lit by flames and searchlights – and a bomber silhouetted against the glow as it dived toward the house on its way to escape to safety over the waters of the English Channel. I remember a small group of us children and mothers outside the Ship Inn when a low altitude air raid was made against the main railway line that passed the village. I can still see a crewman in a twin engined aircraft looking down at us, while we gaped up at the dark machine with its black cross markings – as it swept over our heads and was gone. Since the line past us was the most vulnerable stretch of track leading to the naval base at Plymouth and beyond, it was attacked several times. I recall hearing that the embankment was breached by bombs at least once, as well several trains being machine gunned as they passed along it.

I have told the story of the three small boys looking for spent ammunition on the air to ground firing range elsewhere; it’s longer, so will leave it for another time. The Liberty ship that ran aground in the estuary during a storm became a feature of the landscape for many years. Attempts to refloat it always failed but each winter a storm would move it. We would see it from our schoolyard and notice how the waves could always turn and shift it where the tugs had failed. It lasted there for many years and was only cut apart and salvaged down to the level of the mud sometime in the 60s.

That mud used to give us occasional treats back during wartime when some otherwise idle fisherman would spend a day digging cockles and winkles to boil in a bucket beside the harbour and see that all the villagers had a bent pin to pull the creatures out of the shells to enjoy their share.

After the war, that river estuary used to be a magnet for the fliers stationed at Exeter airfield. I can hear now the roar of two Merlin engines wide open as a Mosquito swept across the railway embankment, scant feet above the tracks.  I remember a Meteor screaming down the estuary and across our heads while I worked my first after-school job as deckchair attendant on the beach. That same summer I saw a very close shave for the crew of a Short Sturgeon, flying innocently along at a few hundred feet altitude, and buzzed by a Vampire trainer, the pilot of which pulled up from his dive so close to the nose of his target that they were a split second from a collision.

Well, those are a lot of reminiscences and I’d like to connect them to my writing. The place where I had Gisel’s people land for their first ground investigation in “Arrival” is set along that river estuary. The rescue of the Delphin takes place off the river’s mouth where I remember going on a mackerel fishing trip during the war. Kenstar, the name of the castle in Arrival is derived from the name of the villages near the actual Powderham Castle – Kenton and Starcross. I shifted the castle a bit and redesigned it to suit the story, so it sits in my world on the slight rise of land occupied by Powderham Church and its river gate cuts across the main line railway track that used to be a Luftwaffe target during WWII.

Not having a father in my life, I have made Gisel’s relationship with hers a sometimes troubled one as she struggles to assert her independence. I wonder if Cyril Hoare would have had as stormy a one if he’d made it back from the war and begun to exert his authority. I might have been guided away from many mistakes, but then, I’d never have learned a thing.

To finish up, I’ll post a photo of the village harbour of Cockwood, where I lived as a child. It looks it’s best here, with the tide in. With the tide out it deserves its local name, Cock’ood on the Mud.  This pic comes from Google Earth, so thanks for the memory.