In the last Briggs and Prenderghast novel my two stalwart – and very old – heroes were assisted by a pair of young whippersnappers called Duffield and Parkinson. Duffield was a pilot, with an aeroplane, while Parkinson was an Australian wizard. They had both appeared before, in short stories featuring Briggs and Prenderghast.
While writing Grailquest I had not originally intended to spin Duffield and Parkinson into their own series of novels. But, one day, while crossing the road near the pub, I had an idea for a plot which would eventually become the first Duffield and Parkinson novel. I suddenly wanted to create that novel, even though I had not yet finished Grailquest. As soon as I finished Grailquest I began writing that new Duffield and Parkinson novel, writing very quickly, sketching out the bones of the story, which is the way that I work when the muse is with me.
Writing is almost like an addiction. It is like a habit, but one which does not really cost me any money. I have to keep pressing on, to try to get down on paper all of the ideas burning through my mind. I cannot understand things like writer’s block as I always have something which I want to say; if not on one novel, then on something else. So it was with this novel.
As I wrote the novel I realised that, with the novel being set in the 1920s, rather than the 1890s, I could have a feeling which was a little more steampunk, and a little less gas-lamp. I could also examine some of the themes and tropes which have always appealed to me, being the era of pulp.
Pulp heroes have long appealed to me, whether Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Shadow or the Phantom. with Duffield and Parkinson I could write my own series of short novels harking back to that era, where the two good friends defeat monstrous villains, escape seeming death, and always come out on top, as heroes in that era always did.
To date I have written three Duffield and Parkinson novels (and done a few words on a fourth). Eventually, when I have enough time, I hope to do at least seven novels featuring those heroes.
The first novel is The Madman of the Air. That was the idea which I came up with while crossing the world. It is about an arch-villain who threatens the peace of all of Europe with his flying machines.
The second novel is Captain Renegade. That novel is set in Florida, post reunification of the USA and CSA (in my novels the American Civil War went on for some eighteen years, ending in an armistice, rather than the North defeating the South). a young, idealistic man – the Captain Renegade of the title – attempts to get the South to rise up again.
The third novel is Phantom Island, in which Duffield and Parkinson set down a jungle island which, according to maps, shouldn’t even exist.
Extract from The Madman of the Air
From out of a leaden sky the attack came, a series of biplanes diving down out of thick, grey clouds above the city of Vaduz in the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein. Before then, it had been an unusually cloudy day in the month of June, 1925. A thick grey cloudbank had loured over the city and its castle, the possession of the prince, all morning. That was despite the fact that there was a very faint breeze. But nobody had noticed – or, if they had, they had not remarked on – the fact that the clouds had not moved, but appeared to be parked there.
In the city of Vaduz people went about their daily business, much as they had for centuries, getting up, going to work, selling, buying, getting through another peaceful day in the Liechtenstein capital, in what everybody expected to be pretty much like the day before. The castle, which looked like some chateau from out of the sixteenth century, it had been destroyed in the Swabian Wars, and had been rebuilt over the following centuries, but in the style of those years. It had only been eight years ago that restoration work on Vaduz castle had restored it to how it had appeared, when it had been destroyed in 1499. It looked down on the city from its perch atop a hill, a stone sentinel against war in a time of peace.
A city? No, Vaduz was nothing more than a town. Only a few thousand people lived in this old settlement, whose history went back hundreds of years, back before, even, the castle had been built. The first mention of the castle was from about 1322, but there had almost certainly been a settlement at its base by then. No, only a few thousand people witnessed the attack with came out of the sky that day: there were, after all, only some twenty thousand people in the whole of the Principality of Liechtenstein, nestled, as it was, between Austria and Switzerland.
The biplanes were fighters: small, fast, and highly manoeuvrable. There were twelve of them, of a design which had not been seen before. Each of the biplanes was painted a bright red, in a shade normally called vermilion. On the wings of each craft was painted a design, some legend of he who had despatched these aircraft towards Vaduz. The logo was a white roundel with a laughing black skull inside it; a design which would suggest to all who saw it that these aircraft served some sinister purpose. Who else but a bad person would bear such a symbol on their craft, something reminiscent of pirate flags of old, albeit with the colours reversed? The intent was clear: to terrify those who saw such a design.
The biplanes zoomed down towards the town. People stopped and stared up at the sky, wondering where these red craft had come from, and what they were doing in the skies over Liechtenstein. They could not be Liechtensteiner craft, for Liechtenstein had no air force. They had to come from abroad; and most people thought that they must be Austrian, as Austria did have a small, nascent air force. But what were the Austrians doing over Liechtenstein? Had Liechtenstein’s neighbour invaded? And, surely, the people on the streets of Vaduz asked each other, the colours of Austria were red and white: the flag was two red stripes, with a white stripe in between them, with a black heraldic eagle in the centre of the flag, clutching a hammer and sickle in its talons, broken chains flailing from the bird’s legs. This was not the symbol on those planes. No, the image of death was on those wings.
The biplanes flew down towards the defenceless town of Vaduz. And why should it need any defences? Liechtenstein, as a nation, was too small to bring harm to anybody. It did not have any natural resources of any value: it had some timber, including copper beeches, lime, and sycamore; and its woods were plentiful in game. But Liechtenstein already imported some timber, rather than cut down its own forests, and see the steep slopes of the principality become swiftly eroded, and the sylvan idyll of its woods be ruined.
There were no gold or silver or precious gems to be mined; there was only a little agriculture; there were no rare earths or other minerals to be had. The fact that there was little of value in Liechtenstein had, for a long time, been defence enough.
An attack was taking place on Liechtenstein, though, something which the good citizens of Vaduz discovered when the biplanes opened fire.
Machine guns were mounted on the biplanes, in front of the pilots facing forwards. These were only one man crafts: the pilot was also the shooter. These machine guns were not Maxim guns, or Gatling guns, or of any design of such a weapon found in the armies of the world. Like the biplanes themselves, the guns were of a new and original design. The guns rattled out their bullets, timed to miss the propeller mounted in front of the gun.
Bullets bounced off the walls of the recently restored castle, leaving tiny pockmarks where they ricocheted off. Bullets strafed the formerly peaceful streets of town, as people ran in panic, trying to get out of the way of these attackers, trying to avoid getting shot.
Old Hans Lederer, who had sold vegetables to the citizens of Vaduz for nigh on thirty years, did not run fast enough. He was struck from behind by the bullets from one of the biplanes. More than a dozen bullets hit him, from his left flank up to his right shoulder, his brown costermonger’s overalls providing no protection from the hot metal.
The biplanes continued to strafe the town with their gunfire, killing three more people, and wounding several, as the panicked citizens of the place ran for cover, believing that they would be safe behind the shelter of stone walls. Soon there were no more victims on the streets of Vaduz to be shot. But the terror which had come out of the skies on that June day was not done with Vaduz yet. There was another weapon aboard those planes.
Each aircraft carried two rockets on them, loaded beneath the bottom set of wings. These rockets now were used on the city of Vaduz. Each pilot of these vermillion planes of death selected a target, and activated the device which released the rockets.
Twenty four rockets swooshed down onto Vaduz. They were, perhaps, not the most powerful rockets in the world. But, packed with explosive, they were powerful enough. There was a direct hit on the post office in Vaduz; several other buildings suffered direct hits. More suffered damage which was, in the end, seen to be more superficial than anything. But the citizens of Vaduz, sheltering inside those buildings, as the walls shook, and plaster fell from the ceiling, did not realise that. They thought that the end of the world had come. For those caught in the gunfire; for another three people killed in the destruction of the post office, the end of their particular worlds had come, that day.
The Madman of the Air; Captain Renegade and Phantom Island are all available as e-books on the Amazon Kindle store.