When I started working on the project that became Shark Alley I still had a fifth-floor office at the University of Fukui, writing at an old metal desk by a huge window, its massive concrete sill cracked by earthquakes, looking out across a vast cityscape towards snow-capped mountains and the Sea of Japan.
I do not believe in anything. My dear wife was always more religious than I. That is to say she was more open-minded when it came to matters spiritual and incorporeal, tending towards a polite agnosticism over my own intractable atheism, and general scepticism towards the supernatural beyond the pages of my own fiction.
For Remembrance Day, this is my maternal grandfather, Alexander Kennel-Webb, who I think was in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. Service battalions were part of Kitchener’s ‘New Army,’ and were raised entirely from volunteers. (My father’s father, James, was a professional soldier; an RSM in The British Indian Army, he returned home during the war to train volunteers like Alexander - I don't have a picture of him in uniform.)
As you don’t need me to tell you, today’s the 72nd anniversary of D-Day and the commencement of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. 160,000 British, American and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel that day, with 10,000 killed, missing or wounded by nightfall. And in the middle of all that, aged twenty-nine, was my dad, Walter William ‘Wally’ Carver, a Corporal in the Pioneers.
We were approaching the islands of Madeira, about midway in our journey, the day we lost a man and a horse. The animal belonged to Sheldon-Bond, and he was considerably more put out by its passing than he was that of the human being that accompanied it into the void. The young subaltern remained in a foul humour for the rest of that miserable and ill-omened day, his unfortunate man, Private Dodd, getting the worst of it. I tried to avoid him, as there was already bad blood between us, but this was difficult given the confines of the ship. As he stormed around the deck like a vengeful wraith in a graveyard, I could read the message in his eyes when they connected with my own quite clearly.
I had bald patches in my beard for two or three years, but I wrongly ascribed them to previous laser treatment and ignored them. As I preferred to be clean-shaven anyway, they didn’t cause me many problems. In the autumn of 2013, I started to get terrible allergy flair-ups, accompanied by infections I couldn’t fight off. After three courses of antibiotics in a row, my wife noticed a coin-sized bald patch on the back of my head. It grew back by Christmas but early in 2014, after another round of antibiotics, my hair started to fall out in handfuls. In just a month, the hair on my head was pretty much gone and by the summer of 2014 my entire body was as smooth as an unfinished waxwork and my nails were as thin as paper.
A couple of days ago, the millionaire Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, Sir Alan Duncan, defending the Prime Minister’s tax affairs in the House, rather recklessly argued that: ‘May I support the Prime Minister in fending off those who are attacking him, particularly in thinking of this place, because if he doesn’t, we risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low-achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and know absolutely nothing about the outside world.’
Jack Vincent used to be famous, part of a rising generation of literary authors that included Dickens, Ainsworth and Thackeray. Now he’s a nobody, scratching a living as a freelance journalist writing for a penny a line. Worse, the only job he can get is on a troopship bound for the frontier wars of colonial Africa. Outed as a friend of Dickens at the captain’s table, Jack recounts the events that have brought him to this fallen state. It is a journey that begins in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison and ends in the shark infested waters of the Western Cape and his berth on the HMS Birkenhead, the Victorian Titanic.
For a family that’s not much bothered by celebrity autographs we seem to have nonetheless acquired a few as part of our collection of film and rock ’n’ roll memorabilia, an ongoing hoard that competes for shelf space in a small house with about 2,500 books and god knows how many comics, records and action figures. We’re not serious collectors, like our friends Matt and Ray at Geek Shelf, whose walls are covered in signed convention photos of them beaming next to a positive pantheon of sci-fi and horror legends; our stash is much more limited and, to a certain extent opportunistic, if not downright eclectic.