Getting the lie of the land

A lot of locations for stories are based on places that I’ve visited. So, any time I’m on holiday, I’m also discreetly observing, and noting, the places with an ulterior motive.

At some point in time they’ll finish up in a story.

Places like Florence, London, Paris, New York and Venice have all been used in recent stories.

Of course places change, and there are some that I can’t get to, so it’s useful having Google Maps and Street View. These can either make up for lack of memory and a be a refresher.

Especially if you need to visit Africa. Parts of several stories are set in Nigeria, not exactly a place I would go, no matter how much I wanted to get the lie of the land, nor would I go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda, maybe, but in investigating locations, it is interesting to discover that places like Kenya and Rwanda are reasonbly safe. Uganda is more or less the same, but whether I’d visit, as inviting as it might be to see the wildlife (animals that is) I’m thinking Google Maps will do for now.

And, of course, at the moment there is another reason why I can’t get a practical look at overseas locations. Covid-19.

I have always had a fascination for other places, from way back when I was in school and we did a subject called geography. Back then, nearly 60 years ago, we had school atlases that had all of the British colonies, even if they had become independent, coloured red on the maps, and there was a lot of them.

Places like London, of which we also studied in history, always held a fascination for me, and, in particular, the royal family. Oddly enough, I knew all of the kings and queens from 1066 onwards, and yet had no idea who our Prime Ministers in Australia were.

It wasn’t until much later we learned about Australian history.

But seeing places foreign are only part of the story. I have had time during the pandemic when we were not allowed to leave home, to delve into the historical side of Australia, and it has created a fascination for writing a story that has basis in fact.

This was unwittingly pushed along when my grand daughter came home from school with the assignment of writing a story about a character that was affected by a historical event. Thus Eliza at the Eureka Stockade was created.

I remember back in university days when working on the narrative part of my literature stream we were set an assignment based on pictures from a certain period, and a series of written documents to put together a story. Mine was about a passenger on a ship from Melbourne to Geelong in the days before rail around the time of the gold rush.

I’m guessing that’s what is called historical fiction.

Well, it’s time to get back to the mists of time…

First Dig Two Graves – The final draft – Day 30

Here’s the thing.

Ever had an itch you can’t scratch; that’s a part of what you’ve written, you have reservations, and you’re not sure what to write in its place.

For a few days now the start, or maybe the end, has been swirling around in my head.  To be honest, I don’t like the start, and I can’t get a feel for it.  I have about five different starting points, but none of them feels right.

I’ve been thinking of writing it from John’s perspective, but there are so many peripheral characters that need to be drawn in, people he doesn’t really know much about, or some who have a vested interest in his current girlfriend if she could be called that.

So I thought I’d throw a few words down and see how they sit:

You would not know by looking at MaryAnne that she was probably one of the best assassins in the world.  You would be more inclined to consider she was just another spoilt American brat on the loose on holiday.

She was certainly one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met.

And she was certainly one of the most deadly.  I could personally attest to that having seen her in action.

I could also attest to the fact that somewhere under that hard, conscienceless exterior, there was a heart, and sometimes it was visible.  After all, I was a target, her target, once, and I’m still alive thanks to her.

It was a small detail I omitted when I introduced her to my parents, but that was one little step on a long road that I thought was going somewhere.

Perhaps, after all this time, I’d misinterpreted the signs and I was wrong.

We were sitting on the balcony of our hotel room on the 45th floor of the hotel we were staying at in downtown Surfer’s Paradise, a mecca for holidaymakers from the rest of Australia, and overseas.

It was perfect for tourists.

The champagne was cold, and although it was a hot 35 degrees Celcius out in the sunlight, the mood on the balcony was as decidedly cool as the champagne.

Today was the six-month anniversary of the first day we had spent together as, well, I was not sure, now, what we were.

She turned to look at me.  She was nothing like the Zoe of old, and I had finally gotten used to Mary Anne.  It was an amazing transformation, but with it, I had thought she had finally shrugged off the Zoe persona.

She hadn’t.  That hardened expression that I had hoped would be gone forever, had returned.

“It’s time to go back home, John.”

It was also that tone, the one when she spoke, that sent shivers down my spine, not the good shivers, but the one that told me trouble was ahead.  Deadly trouble.

“I need to do something.  Don’t get me wrong, this had been a delightful rest, and I could not ask for a better companion, but it was time.  We both knew this was going to happen.”

I noticed her features had softened a little when she mentioned my name, but the message was the same.  We had talked about this moment at the outset.  There was always going to be a use-by date on this adventure, for me at least.

It was also the time when she would, she said, decide where I would fit, if I fitted, in her future.  When we originally spoke about it, she was still unsure of her feelings towards me.  Over time, I had also hoped that they would be the same as mine for her.

Perhaps I had been expecting too much.

“When did you decide?”

“About thirty seconds ago.  That’s when I realized it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, I still want to be with you.  So, how do you like the idea of going into the assassination business?”

I’m not sure what John might think of this development, but I think you will agree with me, so long as he is with Zoe, he’s happy.

© Copyright, Charles Heath 2018-2023

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 53

A tempting offer

It was a resolution, though it begged the question of how far the others, on either side, would go to extract the Princess.  She was in an invidious situation, one that I wouldn’t like to be in.

I could see how staying on the ship would be the most viable for her, now.

And it was not that the ship couldn’t do with a diplomat with experience in other worlds and it was a tempting offer.

But the current threat wasn’t going away.

“That’ll be our plan B, but for now, do you have any idea why they would be out here to meet you?”

“Not greet, but refuse entry.  I represent the old way, representative of a time when there was peace but when our world was divided into classes, basically the leaders and the led.  It worked, but over the years a growing number of young people questioned why it had to be so.  It took a generation before the first uprising, and another before the internal wars started in earnest, particularly after we achieved space travel, and the new leadership all but destroyed our home world.  We had to seek new worlds to live, and, sadly, conquer.”

Was that not the history of everywhere?  We’d basically done the same and at that point where we were seeking new horizons.  They’d done it all before, and it had not been a success.

“I can see how personally you alone could start a revolution.”

“It’s the idea of what I could represent.  If I am a threat, then it means the current leaders are holding onto a very tenuous leadership.  It might be that the people are finally tired of the new ways.  You also I believe have an expression, things were better in the old days.”

I was not so sure they were because I could not remember a time when we were not facing one or two calamities at a time.  Now, life on earth was difficult, the climate had changed so much.  We could have staved off the impending disaster but inaction by governments, greedy corporations, and confused people misled by mixed messages had destroyed any chance of survival.

It was why nearly three-quarters of the population now lived in space stations and planetary outposts, and why our ship was the first of many in the new exploration program, looking for a new earth.

“My old days were bad days I’d not want to go back to.”

“You are young, as I said.  100, 200 of your years perhaps things were better.  You had not got to the point where you could destroy your environment.  But it is, as you would say, all academic.  I liked my time on your planet, it was so peaceful and the people so simple in their needs and desires.”

Why didn’t it surprise me to learn she had been there.  We seemed to be the only people who knew little or nothing about the galaxy and its inhabitants.

“The fodder of another conversation I would like to have when there’s more time.  But you think they’re here to keep you from going home?”

“That would be my best guess, though I can’t see what influence my coming back would have.  Like I said, I’ve been away too long and the political landscape has changed many times since then.”

That told me she had been keeping up an interest in what was happening on her home world clandestinely or otherwise.  The question was whether she had kept up communications with anyone, and where they were in the political spectrum.

Perhaps there was more she wasn’t telling me.

“It’s not going to get you to leave though, is it?”

“We came here to bring you home which I believed was what you wanted.”

“It’s not an imperative.”

“Then what would you want to do as an alternative”?

“That would be up to you.  But if those ships out there belong to the people I think they do, then it’s not going to be as easy an encounter as your last.”

If she was trying to paint a bleak picture, it was working.

To underline that scenario, she added, “Do you have a death wish?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but I don’t react well to bullies.  You can’t convince me these people would attack us simply because you are on board.”

“And, as I said, you are relatively young, and very galactically naive, but to answer your question directly, yes, they would, and it would not be the first time.”

I shrugged.  Right then, it couldn’t get any worse.  “You wouldn’t happen to know what sort of weapons they have.”

“I’m not a weapons expert so I have no idea.  But weapons are basically the same everywhere so whatever you have, theirs will be bigger and better, or it could be possible you are better armed than they are.  Sometimes, though, it’s not about the person with the biggest gun.”

A voice came over the comms system.  “Captain?”

Number one again.


‘We have a new problem, two more ships just appeared on the rear scanner, and I don’t believe they will be coming to protect us.”

Just when the situation couldn’t get any worse.  “I’m on my way.”  I looked at the princess.  “Any idea what this is about?”

“No.  There’s no reason to send five ships on my account.  They might belong to one of the other home worlds seeking to take advantage of a situation.”

“Exactly how many space travel capable planets are in this galaxy, and how many of them might have an interest in your situation?”

“About eight, and three that might remember my family, but I’ve been away too long for anyone to care or remember what our world was like back then.”

She had that inscrutable look of what might have been an android, but I got a distinct feeling there was something she was not telling us.

“Well, stay here if you want to stay safe.  You can’t be transported off the ship from this cabin.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

Friday night at a hotel bar

It’s a writer’s paradise for characters

I’m not a night person and even less so a pub person, except perhaps for a Sunday lunch, for what is usually an incomparable steak.

But tonight is different.

We’re meeting people who have come up from Melbourne for a wedding, people we haven’t seen for a long time.

I’m not a conversationalist, so I leave them to it, and go on a character hunt.

And the pickings are rich.

My first victim, If she could be called that, is the one I call the lady in the red dress.

She’s on the other side of 40, with a sort of earthy attractiveness about her.  The first thing to notice, for her age, the dress is too short.  Maybe that’s the fashion and I’m just an old fogey, but it does say something.

She’s definitely single, or perhaps a player, certainly a flirt.  She holds the stage, and talks with her hands, and those around her are captivated.

The untidy hair loosely collected in a hair tie tells me she carries a sort of messy but not messy look, and I wonder at the state of her residence.  It’s a leap I know, but small signs indicate bigger things.

I’ve counted two glasses of beer in an hour and a half, so she is sensible, aware of her surroundings, and of the three men she has spent her time with, it’s hard to pick a winner.  It’s not hard to captivate a loser.

Next comes the party girls three 20 somethings dressed to be noticed, and overly animated and screams look at us.

Oops, they just parked themselves nearby with the very expensive and exotic-looking matching cocktails.  There’s the obligatory selfie together, and then a casual look around to see what’s on offer.

I don’t think there’s a lot, but my standards and their standards are most likely miles apart.

Hang on, news flash, they’re a part of another group nearby, several older office workers who could be the so-called chaperones, or just having a quiet drink before having to go home to any of, a family, a car, an empty flat, or blessed relief the week is finally over.

Next door to us is a family group, the kids are teens, and I’m wondering if the boys are boyfriends.  The mother is an older, very attractive version of the daughter.

Perhaps it’s an experience for the girls because I don’t see a man who could act as a husband unless it’s the second time around with a younger version.

Why not.  Men do it, why can’t women.  But out on the town with your teenage children?

The bar’s entertainment … a single guy playing the guitar, along with backing music that makes him sound better, but people seem to agree that it’s good but not brilliant.

He’s singing covers, which may have made him just so so, perhaps if he sang his own material it might take him to the next level.

But, who cares, no one seems to be listening, the noise level of what seems like a thousand concurrent conversations drowning out any appreciation.  

Of course, it’s headache-inducing because he has the volume so high, just to get over the ambient noise, and in doing so, it takes away the intrinsic musicality of it all, and it’s just more noise to contend with.

I suppose it’s better than canned music.

OK, news flash, the red dress had moved down the table and settled on a prospect, about 15 years younger.  Her animation has intensified, and yes, there’s the casual brushing against him, like a cat marking its territory.

The night is young, and it’s looking good.  I’m not going to pretend I have given a passing thought to spending a few minutes with her, for character creation purposes only.

And yes, we now have a sing-along.  At half-past eight, it’s a bit early for the crowd to be too exuberant.

A squeal shatters the, well, not silence, and is one of the groups pretending like someone had dripped ice down the back of a dress that has no back, the next phase of attention-getting.

And, attention directed their way, they do a little dance, skol the drinks, and with all eyes on them, head to the bar for round two, or is that three.  Several others join them, but they don’t need to do the dance.  The lack of clothes more than makes up for the squeals.

If these are the modern mating rituals a lot has changed in the last 50 years.  Or perhaps not, I’m just too old to remember.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Epilog

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

A little treasure!

After a hot day, it was now the middle of the night, still quite warm, but a thunderstorm had just passed and the sound of the residual rain on the tile roof and plants outside the windows was soothing.

Nadia stirred momentarily beside me, and although it was quite dark, I could see the outline of her body and had to resist the temptation of running my finger along the contours.

She was the most beautiful girl in the world to me and had made the transition from a nervous, even frightened, young man, into something I never thought I could be, and I loved her more than anything else in the world

It was nearly a year now since the events back home, and still, whenever I closed my eyes, all I could see was Boggs, wide-eyed and eager to find that missing treasure, not knowing it was a fruitless and eventually deadly quest, not only for him but everyone in his family.

And I still blamed myself for what happened.

Shortly after Mrs Boggs last stand, she died.  There had been a third bullet, one that the paramedics hadn’t detected, that eventually killed her, but from the last words I heard her speak, just before the paramedics took her to the hospital, it was clear she wanted to die.

I could understand that, and perhaps in the same place, I would too.

My mother was beside herself when she found out what happened, not only because Benderby was dead, and her chances of getting out of the poverty cycle swiftly taken away, but of what might have happened to me.

An alternative suitor, the sheriff, was off the table because of his actions, so it was a sorry sight to see her back where she had started, alone, and the mother of an inquisitive, impetuous young man who should be making something of himself.

Sadly, all I wanted to was crawl into a hole and stay there, not only because of my role in the whole mess, but the fact Nadia had inexplicably disappeared, was nowhere to be found and not answering her phone.

To be honest, I was not surprised.  Anyone in their right mind would not see me as anything but trouble.

The funeral of Boggs, and his mother, was a sad affair attended by seven people, the sheriff, Charlene, Rico, three women who had known her, and myself.  It rained that day, with thunder and lightning of such ferocity, it was like God was making a statement.

So wrapped up in my grief I failed to notice a hand slipping into mine and a head leaning on my shoulder, until a whisper, “Sorry I’m late,” told me it was the missing girl of my dreams, Nadia.

I guess that was the first day of my new life.

Within a week, I left behind the last vestiges of my life in that dismal town and got on a very large aeroplane, for the first time in my life, heading for a new world, and new possibilities.

Nadia had made it all happen, not only for me, but also for my mother, who was reluctant at first, but warmed to the idea because I told her I was never coming back.

We moved to Italy, to a large vineyard in Tuscany, near a town with a funny name, though it wasn’t funny to those who lived there.

We lived with the other family members in a large villa in our own large room, in what used to be an old factory.  Community and family were everything to these people, and when they realized Nadia loved me as much as I loved her, I and my mother became family, it was like we always had been.

We had work, we had leisure, and we had each other.  The work was hard but satisfying.  We got married and had a traditional wedding where the family all came to eat, drink, and be merry.

Life was, indeed, beautiful.

“Still having bad dreams?” A voice whispered in my ear.

Nadia was used to my restlessness.

“It’ll probably take a little more time, but I guess eventually I’ll get past it.”

Time, as they say, was supposed to heal all wounds.  It was a belief I fervently wanted to believe.

“Perhaps what you need is something to take your mind off everything.”

I knew that voice, and Nadia at her most mischievous was something to behold.

“Oh, and what’s that?”

“Some news.  I was waiting until our anniversary tomorrow, but I think now is the time.”

Nadia was one of those girls who had anniversaries for everything, first meeting, the first kiss, first, well you get the idea.  I was just trying to think of what this one was.  Unfortunately, I was one of those boys who could never remember anything like that.

And over the last day or so, she had been particularly happy, for the first time since we arrived where she now called home.  The problems with her parents, what happened to Vince although he was only a stepbrother, and the fallout from the treasure hunt, it had taken a toll she had tried very hard to hide.

Being home, among her real family, the wedding, the purpose, and the satisfaction of work helped, but we both had our demons to deal with, and each of us strived to help the other as much as we could.

But it was like something was missing, like that single sky piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

And then I knew.

© Charles Heath 2020-2022

“Sunday in New York”, a romantic adventure that’s not a walk in the park!

“Sunday in New York” is ultimately a story about trust, and what happens when a marriage is stretched to its limits.

When Harry Steele attends a lunch with his manager, Barclay, to discuss a promotion that any junior executive would accept in a heartbeat, it is the fact his wife, Alison, who previously professed her reservations about Barclay, also agreed to attend, that casts a small element of doubt in his mind.

From that moment, his life, in the company, in deciding what to do, his marriage, his very life, spirals out of control.

There is no one big factor that can prove Harry’s worst fears, that his marriage is over, just a number of small, interconnecting events, when piled on top of each other, points to a cataclysmic end to everything he had believed in.

Trust is lost firstly in his best friend and mentor, Andy, who only hints of impending disaster, Sasha, a woman whom he saved, and who appears to have motives of her own, and then in his wife, Alison, as he discovered piece by piece damning evidence she is about to leave him for another man.

Can we trust what we see with our eyes or trust what we hear?

Haven’t we all jumped to conclusions at least once in our lives?

Can Alison, a woman whose self-belief and confidence is about to be put to the ultimate test, find a way of proving their relationship is as strong as it has ever been?

As they say in the classics, read on!


Searching for locations: The Lingering Gardens, Suzhou, China

The Lingering Garden

These gardens are very tightly put together and are interspersed with buildings that you can go in and look at as distinct from just looking in from the outside.

There are lots of paths that wind around interspersed with rocks which may or may not be sculpted, and equally interspersed with trees, bushes, and small plants.  In the middle is a lake which usually has lotus plants in bloom, but they are not in season.

The gardens were built around a small lake that was filled with fish of all sizes and colours

The buildings were also a contrast for those built for the men

and those for the women

In the middle of the garden was a significant rock pillar

surrounded by certain areas of the garden that had smaller rock formations


At the end of the garden is a large collection of bonsai trees, some of which are quite exquisite.

‘What Sets Us Apart’ – A beta readers view

There’s something to be said for a story that starts like a James Bond movie, throwing you straight in the deep end, a perfect way of getting to know the main character, David, or is that Alistair?

A retired spy, well not so much a spy as a retired errand boy, David’s rather wry description of his talents, and a woman that most men would give their left arm for, not exactly the ideal couple, but there is a spark in a meeting that may or may not have been a set up.

But as the story progressed, the question I kept asking myself was why he’d bother.

And, page after unrelenting page, you find out.

Susan is exactly the sort of woman the pique his interest. Then, inexplicably, she disappears. That might have been the end to it, but Prendergast, that shadowy enigma, David’s ex boss who loves playing games with real people, gives him an ultimatum, find her or come back to work.

Nothing like an offer that’s a double edged sword!

A dragon for a mother, a sister he didn’t know about, Susan’s BFF who is not what she seems or a friend indeed, and Susan’s father who, up till David meets her, couldn’t be less interested, his nemesis proves to be the impossible dream, and he’s always just that one step behind.

When the rollercoaster finally came to a halt, and I could start breathing again, it was an ending that was completely unexpected.

I’ve been told there’s a sequel in the works.

Bring it on!

The book can be purchased here:

First Dig Two Graves – The Final Draft – Day 29

The second Zoe thriller.

In a day of going over old ground and making it new again, I have revisited Zoe’s residence in Paris at the time John called, and found it empty, except for some kid who was all ‘get lost or suffer the consequences.’

Who is he?  We flesh that story out, and how it relates to Zoe and those early days in the story.

Similarly, I’m not happy still with how Worthington discovers Zoe, and this is going to need some more work, and definitely a rewrite.

In fact, I might have to revisit his whole appearance in the story and make it a little less bombastic and a little more subdued seething anger.

The whole Marseilles episode is good, it’s just the end and this discovery of who is behind Zoe’s abduction that needs a little work.  This is where we sow the enigmatic sees of Romanov and his purpose for wanting Zoe if it is not revenge like it is assumed.

Similarly, that whole thing with the Russian Minister and Anton needs a lot more work because there appears to be a connection between him and Romanov, but there’s not.  This is just Olga leaning on her connections to get a result.

Then Zoe takes off to find Romanov, or is it those seeking revenge, it’s not quite clear, and leaves John to contemplate his future.  Perhaps a piece here between them that sets the tone for the relationship over the coming months would be good, and the trigger that sets John off on a quest to find her.

His excuses at the moment are wishy-washy at best.

Phew!!!  Never knew self-criticism could be so harsh!

Today’s writing, with Zoe languishing in a dungeon waiting for a white knight, 0 words, for a total of 8,871.

“Echoes From The Past”, the past doesn’t necessarily stay there

What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.