Dangerous Skies by Brian James – A Review


Dangerous Skies by Brian James


It is the height of the Blitz. Night after night, wave after wave of German bombers pound London’s streets, determined to bring the city to its knees.

Alan and his best mates, Tommy and Wilkie, have virtually given up going to school. Classes are continually disrupted. Many of the teachers, dragged out of retirement because of the war, hardly care whether their pupils learn or not. Some days there are silences at school registration – where the names of children injured or killed by falling bombs once were.

As Alan and his friends roam the streets of Clapham and Brixton, they get sucked into Duggie‘s world – a teenager who runs a gang of looters. Alan vows never to steal for Duggie again. But they become caught up in the dangerous dealings of an armed robber called Ted.

Ted is on the run after shooting a bank guard, hunted by the police. Duggie tells Alan and his mates if they help Ted escape, they need never work for him again. As bombs fall all around his lookout, Alan believes it is the end of their troubles. But he is wrong. Alan is taken by the gangster’s and faces certain death.

This thrilling story, based on the author’s own experiences growing up during the Blitz, is an antidote to nostalgia. It shows the terrors of the Blitz and how war brings out both the best and the worst in adults and children alike.


This was a good read, bringing me back to a snapshot in time when London suffered under the Blitz.

The terror of living through frequent German attacks, as seen through the eyes of a child, is vividly described. Brian James has done a fine job of putting flesh on the broken scaffolding of those dire times, using Alan and his friends’ adventures, their imagination, and their sense of fun on even the worst of days. The immediacy of his descriptions gives the reader a real sense of a primary schoolchild’s life in wartime London, one with no rose-tinted glasses in evidence. The realism of a working-class boyhood in the 1940’s, and how children could and did fall into the hands of dangerous gangs by unlucky chance is quite graphic. The children, getting an inadequate education in an ill-run school, find it all too easy to roam the broken streets. Streets that are as full of bad as good, as a policeman Alan meets says:

Lot of bad people out there,” sighed the policeman. “You’d think with this war on, bombs dropping all over the place, killing innocent people, it’d be enough to worry about. But it’s times like this when the rats crawl outta their holes and take advantage. No one’s safe from these gangs. And there’s plenty of guns about too. As if we haven’t got enough bother with Hitler and his evil crew.”

The boys become almost feral, and survive experiences that might scar them for life, but where there is life, there a chance to dream, and Alan dreams of living in quieter, happier places.

James’ writing is both gripping and grim, with scattered moments of pure joy in the children’s improvised games. The snappy colloquial dialogue of the London streets and plenty of action, makes this story a real page turner for any youngster.

As I said, I enjoyed the read and recommend Dangerous Skies to both adults and children who would like to know more about how dangerous the gritty streets of London were, and not only from the skies above, during the war.

R B Watkinson


So I have been told a few times now by various readers, that the cover for my book The Cracked Amulet, is a bit meh. What I’d like to know is: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COVER STYLE FOR A FANTASY BOOK AND WHY?

There is such a huge variety of covers out there, from the symbolic to the realistic:



From the up close and personal of a single character to a landscape:


All of them are eye-catching for different reasons and all appeal to different tastes. Also, over the years, tastes have changed, for what worked in the 70’s certainly would not this century.

Everyone has their own opinion of what works and what doesn’t. I’d be very interested to know those opinions, and I’m sure there are a great deal of other new authors out there who would love to know too.

TELL ME: What do you like?


All the best

R B Watkinson

I was interviewed – I survived

R B Watkinson Interviewed by Katie Isbester

At the launch for Essential Audio Books  in the lovely Senate House, London University, I was pounced upon by Editor in Chief of Claret Press, Katie Isbester, to do an interview. I have given the link above for those desirous of a good laugh or, alternatively, an ideal remedy for sleeplessness.

I was prepped to mention a few key points about The Cracked Amulet a few minutes before but, as you can see, that deer-in-the-headlights moment hit, and pretty much everything disappeared from my noddlehead. Ah well. Obviously I’ll not have telly or radio interviewers knocking on my door in the near (or far) future. Next time, maybe a script Katie?

A few good questions from the lovely Katie get me going however, and so I chat about The Cracked Amulet, especially the kick-ass protagonist Katleya. A girl I would love to have been and, I like to think, the kind of girl a lot of readers would love to be. An independent, resilient, fighter with lots of attitude – and knives. She’s so good with knives and curses, you’ve got to love her, want to be her even (well, I do anyway). Some might say the book has a certain feminist leaning to it, for it also has another strong female character, an older woman who mourns her dead love, another woman. Then there’s the antagonist, a warrior, focused, ruthless – and female.

I also mention book two of the Wefan Weaves, The Fractured Portal. And let slip that the portals, mentioned in book one, are actually used to travel extraordinary distances not only within a world but also between worlds. Two new protagonists travel this way, through an unfortunate set of circumstances – and a Bloodhunter – from London to the world of Dumnon. It was hard enough for Coryn and Katleya to travel through that world and they were born there, how will Evie and Alan survive?

Anyway, enough of that for now.

All the best to you all

R B Watkinson

Review of The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

Summer GoddessWhile at BristolCon, I acquired a copy of the lovely Joanne Hall’s latest book and got her to scribble her name in it. I only managed to read it during my trip to London and back last week. It’s a long journey to Devon. So here are my thoughts on The Summer Goddess:

This is a story about a woman called Asta, chief of her village after her father’s death. She vows to her dead brother, now a spirit who piggy-backs within her, that she will find his son, six-year old Rhodan, taken by slavers in a raid, along with half of the village, and bring him home. But she is betrayed and taken by the raiders before her search begins.

On her journey from one land to another, she discovers that the world is vast, strange, and filled with beliefs other than the one Asta knows. One where Summer Goddess’ are worshipped in hope of deliverance from famine, another where a hungry God requires regular sacrifices and its oppressive priesthood subjugates the people.

Asta is strong, fragile, intelligent, stupid, brave, reckless, focused, and bewildered. In other words, a normal human being. No perfect hero, just someone trying her best to find her way through one problem after another to find her nephew and her people and bring them home.

The world is populated by many other characters, none of whom are all good or all bad. Each are multi-faceted, each bear their troubles, each pursue what they believe to be the right course for their people. Some help Asta, some use her, some she uses, some she must kill to survive.

It is a well written story, but there were times when I got annoyed by Asta’s choices, thinking that perhaps a woman in that particular situation would not have made them. Too reactive to perceived wrongs rather than adding together the information she had already received. Yet, exhausted and confused, there are times and situations when thinking things through was not something Asta could do. I understand what Joanne Hall was doing here.

The story had an ancient world flavour to it, but was written with a visceral, modern, and fairly pithy voice.

Overall a good and enjoyable read.

I hope you find this review interesting, and perhaps pick up a copy to read for yourselves.

All the best

R B Watkinson

Late Chat about BristolCon 2016

Hello all and sorry that I’m so late in writing of my experience at BristolCon 2016. To those who have never been, go. It’s a wonderfully welcoming and all embracing event, with the best people you could ever ask for running it and attending.

Check this out for next years BristolCon event

At BristolCon 2016 I had the best weekend ever. Technically, it is only a one day event, but there was a fringe function on the Friday night and some breakfast banter on Sunday morning, both in which I was an enthusiastic participant.

BristolCon was my first ever convention, being a newbie on the scene. My first book was published earlier this year and the lovely peeps at BristolCon launched my book in September and, liking what they saw and heard of my reading and interview (or being tone deaf) invited me to the Convention to both do a reading and be a panellist.

Awash with authors, artists, and readers, the convention was exciting and rather awesome. A particular highlight was meeting so many authors of books I’d read or wanted to read, including Mark Lawrence, G R Matthews, J P Ashman, and T O Munro. A more friendly, enthusiastic and generous bunch of folks you couldn’t hope to meet.

There were a variety of panels, workshops, an art gallery, a brick-out room (for chilling and gaming), and a trade room (stalls run by local small presses, jewellery, memorabilia, small local bookshops, and Forbidden Planet).

I attended the excellent reading workshop on the Friday night, run by BristolCon Fringe, which was followed by an open-mike session. Literally, and I mean that literally, I shook like a leaf when I read my extract. No one noticed – I know not how. Steven Poore read a hilarious short story. Thanks Steven, it’s always good to laugh.

The Art Show was amazing. To see the style of art on canvas that I have seen on many a book cover was wonderful. I chatted to the delightful Fangorn and drooled over his art, sorry Fangorn.


I was a panellist on ‘When the heroes have gone’, a discussion on who cleans up the mess after the evil megalomaniacs/monsters have been defeated. A lively chat, covering the post Blitz London clean-up to shovelling away monster poo in New York City. My co-panellists were Juliette E. McKenna, Joel Cornah, Joanne Hall, and Fangorn (who created the wonderful cover art for the programme).

One of the panels I attended was ‘Murderous Women’, another lively and interesting discussion on whether women want their reading grim and dark. Anna Smith-Spark certainly wanted it grim; the darker and bloodier the better as far as she was concerned. Amanda Kear, Jonathan L. Howard, David Gullen and Dolly Garland were the other excellent panellists. All agreed women are not faint-hearted creatures; we love to read gritty stories containing scenes of dismemberment and death with all the gory details, the only provision being that it should belong within the narrative.

‘Under the Covers’, a panel on how important the cover art is for a book’s success. A good variety of covers were used as examples. Don’t use green, was a comment I didn’t quite get to the bottom of – any comments? In the main, everyone agreed that the book had to reflect the genre of the book or it just wouldn’t succeed. I couldn’t agree more. Terry Jackman, Jaine Fenn, Fangorn, KS Turner, and Patrick Samphire were the illuminating panellists.

Robert Harkess’ new novel, Amunet, was launched in the Brick-out room. His interview was interesting and inciteful, and his reading enjoyable. Yet another book to add to my teetering TBR pile.

I am sad to have missed the ‘Stage Managed Fighting’ workshop run by Dev and Dolly Garland. I heard it was excellent fun. A lot of high kicks (jinks) were involved, apparently.

I’d also like to flag up the new game, devised by Mhairie Simpson, called ‘Be A Bard’, that I played with her. A game requiring both strategy and imagination. She designed the game, the artwork on the cards, and even cuts each card by hand. Such dedication.

I will most definitely be attending next year. Luckily, I have been invited to sit on another panel and do a reading from book two of my Wefan Weaves trilogy, The Fractured Portal. Thanks Jo.

Even though the lovely Joanne Hall has stepped down as Chair, I am sure it will continue to be a most excellent science fiction and fantasy convention overseen by the new Chair, MEG.

All the best to you all

R B Watkinson

Review of Silent City by G R Matthews

Silent City“In the Corporation owned cities life is tough.

All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers.

For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?”

I love the premise of this book, a far distant dystopian future set not on Earth’s surface, but down in the depths of its oceans. A vast part of our world too little explored, I’d say. People now live in cities under domes, deep beneath the seas’ surface, far from the poisoned, almost mythical, skies. But the remnants of humanity do not seem to have learned much from history; they still make war on each other.

Written in the first person, so we’re right in Corin’s head, and I found him to be a pretty reliable narrator, honest with the reader and himself. A flawed character with a sad history and a bleak future, but still having tremendous grit and attitude. He’s quick thinking in dangerous situations, but not always quick on the uptake where people are concerned. He’s just a bloke who’s had some bad things happen to him and those he loves but has, somehow, kept his sense of dry, sarcastic, and self-deprecatory humour about him.

I also love the science. There’s plenty to keep my scifi-loving part happy. I like having to look up the odd word, the learning keeps me sharp. G R Matthews explains how this underwater world works without once going into info-dump mode.

The action is well described, very immediate, and there’s plenty of it. The narrative cracks on at a good, page turning pace. But there are also those quiet, reflective passages, where we get to know Corin’s mind. His take on his world, his personal history and his reasons for needing that next drink, and the one after that.

G R Matthew is a great writer, some of his phrases are simply sublime: “I sat there in my guilt-upholstered chair…”

It’s the first time I’ve read any of G R Matthew’s books. I shall certainly be reading more.

All the best

R B Watkinson

BristolCon – My schedule and your chance to hear a reading from The Cracked Amulet

Hello to all my lovely readers. BristolCon is coming and I will be attending, I hope you’ll be there too. It would be lovely to meet you.

BristolCon is a fantastic Fantasy & Science Fiction one day convention with many panels and readers. The guests of honour are Artist Fangorn, and authors Ken MacLeod and Sarah Pinborough. Here’s all the information you’ll need – it’s just a click away

Date: Saturday 29th October 2016
Location: Doubletree Hotel, Bristol – within easy walking distance of Bristol Temple Meads station

The day begins at 9.15am and ends – who knows when

There are various rooms each holding different functions throughout the day. I’ll be in Programme Room 2 for both my sessions, which are:

18.00 Discussion Panel

“After the Heroes Have Gone – We all enjoy a big battle, especially on the big screen, but what happens afterwards? Who’s picking up the pieces of New York after the Avengers have smashed it up, who’s living in the wreckage of a Godzilla-stomped Tokyo and what are the Alderaanians who were off planet at the time supposed to do next? Wars have knock-on effects that aren’t always explored – we ask our panel to think about the fate of the ordinary folk, after the heroes have gone.”

Panelists: Danie Ware (M), Joel Cornah, Juliet E McKenna, Chris Baker, R B Watkinson

Programme Room 2

18:50 Reading: R B Watkinson.  – Do you want me to read from The Cracked Amulet, or the yet to be published The Fractured Portal? Let me know, and I’ll go for the most popular request.


Since Halloween beckons, Bristolcon is holding a costume competition. The winner will be announced at the Closing Ceremony. There’ll be a small prize. I have no idea if I’ll wear anything weird or amazing. I’ll have to have a little think about that.

There are loads of other fun activities, group sessions, workshops, games, etc.

I expect it’ll be a blast for everyone attending and hope to see lots of friends I know and those I’ve yet to meet.

I am looking forward very much to my first Con, though I’m a little nervous. I know it’s silly but there you are, it’s the way I’m made.

All the best to all of you

R B Watkinson