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‘A superbly written, fast-paced, ‘crossover’ novel between literary fiction and subtle horror, with characterisation worthy of Susan Hill and seascapes of a modern Conrad.’ Ian Drury, Sheil Land Associates, Literary Agents
Jack Ahlquist’s a troubled guy; a decorated veteran who’s having flashbacks to combat, and who’s drifting between jobs. Doctors could fix his wounds, but not his marriage or his career. He’s spent time caring for his much-loved grandfather, Eddie, but he didn’t expect to inherit Eddie’s cottage and century-old sailing boat, the Draca. The legacy drives a wedge through an already dysfunctional family; Jack’s estranged father expected to take it all.
Draca was was the last of the sailing pilot cutters, old Eddie’s pride and joy. Eddie, obsessed with his Viking ancestry, has left a last letter for Jack; he wants Draca burned, with his body inside: a fireship funeral. 'Draca will know where,’ he writes.
Impossible, of course. Draca is beached and derelict. Besides, Jack has other ideas; Draca will sail again, and restoring her gives Jack a new purpose in life. Good therapy for a damaged hero, some say, but yachtswoman ‘George’ Fenton has doubts.
George is an orphan with attitude who’s made her own way from care and foster homes to be manager of the local boatyard. She saw changes in old Eddie that were more sinister even than cancer, and by the time the old boat tastes the sea again, the man she dares to love is going the same way. Like his grandfather, Jack finds a wild exhilaration in rough seas, alcohol, and ever riskier sailing. Combat stress, some say, but George senses a malevolence about Draca itself, and it centres on a Viking carving that Eddie fitted as a figurehead. To George, Jack’s ‘purpose’ has become ‘possession’; the boat owns the man.
So is Jack haunted by his past, or just haunted? When Grandpa Eddie died raving that he ‘tried to give it back’, was he talking about the Viking figurehead, or had his cancer gone to his brain?
One thing is sure; four characters are heading for a confrontation; there’s Jack, the flawed hero on a mission to self-destruct. There’s his controlling and disinherited father, pushing him ever closer to the edge. And there’s George, the feisty yachtswoman, trying to pull him back.
Then, between them all, there’s an old boat with some very dark secrets and perhaps a mind of its own.
When all four collide, there may be no survivors.
Half of all author royalties will be donated to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress, who care for heroes like Jack whose wounds are more than physical.
Geoff served in the Royal Navy for nearly eleven years, and made his first attempts at writing fiction during long deployments in warships. Fortunately none of these early efforts survive.
A subsequent career in marketing and general management produced several false starts to novels. Geoff wanted to inhabit a world of his own imagination and write books, while his employers insisted he live in the real world and add commercial value.
A row with his Chief Executive gave him the opportunity to become a freelance consultant and, in the process, release time to write. His first novel, Saxon’s Bane, reached #1 in Kindle’s ‘ghost’ category. Draca will be his second published novel.
Geoff now writes full time. When not crafting words he is an enthusiastic amateur equestrian and a very bad pianist.
Jack’s father didn’t recognise him. Not at first.
Jack saw him coming, and waited at the hospice’s entrance. Harry Ahlquist strode tight-jawed through the car park, rolling his shoulders as he came as if bracing himself for a fight. The sun could have been in his eyes. It was warm on Jack's neck, warm enough for the sweat to stick his shirt to his back and to taint the porch with smells of tar and hot metal. And as Harry came closer he glared at his son in the what-are-you-looking-at way that he might out-stare a stranger.
He finally did a double-take and stopped.
"Good grief, what brings you here?" Harry's eyebrows folded until vertical, parallel creases appeared in his forehead above the bridge of his nose. The eyebrows were thicker than Jack remembered, still sandy despite the silver over the temples, and they bristled in the old danger signal.
Jack swallowed, dry-mouthed, ridiculously nervous like a boy caught playing truant. "Hello, Dad. Same as you, I expect."
They stared at each other. Neither tried to shake hands.
"Well enough. She misses you. How long have you been back?"
"A while." As he knew. That was Harry's way of reminding Jack of his failings. Jack turned away and walked into the building, scanning the day room beyond the reception for his grandfather.
"Fell out of a truck and broke my leg. It's mending." Jack kept it simple. At least he didn't need a stick anymore. They stood at the door to a room large enough to hold perhaps twenty ill-matched armchairs, some pushed back against the walls, others clustered around a blaring television. About half were occupied by sick, elderly people who looked as if they'd been waiting for something for so long that they'd forgotten what they were waiting for. French windows stood open to the garden, admitting hard sunlight and soft summer smells of cut grass and roses, a sweet layer over the undercurrents of floor polish and stale urine. A uniformed nurse near the door was putting a cup of tea beside a chair, her smile as shiny as the institutional china in her hand. Resilient. Caring but functional.
- 19th April 2021 A DATE FOR YOUR DIARIES
DRACA: IN SUPPORT OF COMBAT STRESS
CHALFONT ST GILES AND JORDANS LITERARY FESTIVAL
SATURDAY 15TH MAY, 5PM, ONLINE
As you know, Draca was due to launch last year at the Chalfont St Giles & Jordans Literary Festival until covid forced its cancellation. This year the organisers have invited me back to talk about Draca, the story behind the book, and my partnership with the veterans…7th December 2020 Merry Christmas - and thank you.
It's that time of year when we're all pestered by emails trying to sell us something.
This one just says 'Merry Christmas' and tells you that you've done something rather special. In helping me to launch Draca you've helped veterans whose wounds are more than physical. The first royalty payment, for a shade over £600, has gone to Combat Stress and, depending on sales, more will follow…10th June 2020 "WE’D LIKE A WORD..."
WE’D LIKE A WORD is a podcast, not a socially-distanced tap on the shoulder as you break lockdown restrictions. A very good and very influential podcast at that; previous guests have included Anthony Horowitz and Graham Norton. Now the wonderful guys who run it have invited me to come on their show on Wed 17th June to talk about Draca. My fellow guest will be General Sir Peter Wall, a former Chief…19th May 2020 She's sailing!
You should have your copies of Draca by now. You've helped to bring her into being, and I hope you are pleased with the result. Even more, I hope you enjoy the story. There have been quite a few challenges in corona-stressed logistics, but in the few days since release book bloggers have posted some great reviews. Here's extracts from the first five:
...'I really struggled to put this down…4th April 2020 Good news as Draca goes to print
Draca is almost ready to go to print. This weekend will see the final approvals of front & back covers. I've shared three 'cover quotes' with you already - General Sir Nick Parker, Suzie Wilde, and Ewen Southby-Tailyour - and I'm delighted to say that just in time to make the cover I had this from Sir Peter Wall, the President of Combat Stress:
'A really cracking read about a soldier who attacks…18th March 2020 Draca will now have a 'virtual' launch
In a world where people are rightly concerned about their loved ones' health and about crashing economies, a mere book launch seems like a trivial issue. However you've helped me bring Draca this far so let me update you on unfolding plans.
There were to have been two 'launch' events; the Chalfont St Giles Literary Festival, and a celebratory gathering at Daunt Books' City…29th January 2020 Draca Cover Preview
Draca is becoming real. Each of you has helped to make this happen, so let me share a preview of the cover. I think it captures the mood of the book perfectly. Soon I'll be banging the drum in the usual author 'cover reveal' of pre-launch publicity, but you, my wonderful supporters, saw it first. Thank you.
.19th January 2020 Psst! Know any good celebrities?
Happy New Year, everyone. Draca is about to move into the production phase, with a publication date of 14th May. I've just been sent the first draft cover, (great, but not yet ready to be shared,) so the pace is heating up.
My immediate challenge is to find a celebrity who'll read an advance copy of the book and provide a suitable endorsement to go on the cover. "Brilliant page-turner, great cause…17th December 2019 God Jul from the dragon
There's a dragon in Draca; a restored figurehead with a dark history. The Vikings who carved and venerated that fearsome eye would have celebrated not Christmas but Yule, the midwinter solstice and the birth of the new year, so Happy Yule, God Jul. Or, as it may have been in Old Norse, Gleðileg jól.
It's a long wait, isn't it?
3 months since Draca reached 100% funding, with your help.
Over…16th September 2019 Thank you!
We did it. You, me, and about 250 other enthusiasts who believed in Draca enough to buy an advance copy of a book that might never have existed. It wouldn't have done, but for you. Together we've done something amazing.
I'll keep you updated about launch plans. I've been invited to speak at the Chalfont St Giles and Jordans Literary Festival on 21st May 2020, and the first challenge for Unbound…1st September 2019 BIG NEWS, A SMALL REQUEST, AND MORE SHORT STORIES
Exciting news; I have been invited to speak about Draca at a literary festival in late May next year. The organisers tell me I shall be sharing the billing with a “household TV name”.
I'd like to factor this great opportunity into the launch plans for Draca, but the timescale is very tight for Unbound to have completed the editing, design, and pre-publication process in time…30th July 2019 When worlds collide
As anyone who has read Saxon’s Bane knows, I like to write stories where worlds collide. Not, I hasten to add, in the astronomical sense; I don’t write Science Fiction, but I do like the past to echo in the present. Even better, to play on it in a way that has the reader wondering if there is more in today’s world than can be explained by science.
Weaving the past into the present
In…19th July 2019 The original DRACA
There’s a classic sailing boat at the heart of the plot of Draca. Those who know me well have asked how a landlubber like me could write the maritime passages. After all, ten years ago the only thing I could remember about sailing was a bushy-bearded instructor bellowing at me. I think he was saying “when you see the seagulls walking, it’s time to go about.”
Confession time. In a previous update…8th July 2019 The Angel in the Marble
Like all writers, I’m often asked where I find the ideas for my books.
“Sainsbury’s,” I usually reply.
Others have a less flippant answer. I once heard an author quote Michelangelo; ‘I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free’. I snorted at his pretension, even though I had a sneaking admiration for anyone who can claim to see the finished work at the outset. I’d love to…30th May 2019 Meet George!
Firstly, huge thanks to everyone who has helped DRACA start so well. Unbound say that projects that hit 30% in the first month tend to succeed; with your wonderful support DRACA is at 38% after two weeks. Please share, tweet, tell your friends, and let's keep the momentum going.
By way of thanks, let me offer you a preview. I've already posted an extract that introduces you to Jack, the flawed…
These people are helping to fund Draca.
Helen Susan Crawley