Elephants, giraffes and crocodiles, oh my

P1000219Elephants loose in Birmingham? And not in one of my books?

Well, yes and no. Like the ones in my books, these aren’t actual elephants. Unlike the ones in my books, they are at least concrete – or rather, metal – and often life-sized. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Akamba.

Back in the day this was a small, exotic garden centre selling a range of sub-tropical plants like ferns and bamboo from a small sliver of land in the suburb of Acocks Green. It was deeply mysterious, with trees lacing overhead and a network of ‘paths’ created through the jungle-like undergrowth, plus tribal music playing quietly on hidden loudspeakers, and a tiny shop selling African crafts.

It was one of those hidden gems that only the locals know about, but it was obviously very popular because soon after we first visited, it closed its Acocks Green premises and moved to a much larger site on the southern fringes of Birmingham, near to the new town of Dickens Heath. And here it remains, although there have been big changes recently (and I’m not just talking about the elephants).

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Nowadays the garden centre part of the business is something of an afterthought, and this is primarily a ‘venue’. There’s a large café/restaurant with a stage area which can be hired out for events; there’s a vast outdoor beer garden/cocktail bar area; there’s a tropical house and bird walk for the kids. And everywhere you look there are metal sculptures of animals, looming out of the bushes in a quirkily entertaining way.

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As an unusual venue it must be right up there at the top of the list. Perfect for book launches, was my first thought – especially anything set in Africa, the jungle or the tropics. Even the restaurant is done out like a colonial tea-house, with lamps formed from (metal) antelope heads and pendant lights designed to look like weaver-bird nests. It’s very atmospheric, and tremendous fun. And if you’ve got a spare few thousand pounds, you can even buy an elephant.

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Raising the… profile

Raise the Blade FrontIt’s now less than two weeks until my book ‘Raise the Blade’ is due out from Caffeine Nights Publishing, so I thought it was about time I doled out some more information on it.

For starters, it’s a darkly humorous psychological noir novella featuring a serial killer and the idea that people may inadvertently contribute to their own fate.  Phew.  Once you’ve digested all of that, it was inspired partly by a news report of someone finding a dead body in a Birmingham canal, and partly by the wonderful Pink Floyd track ‘Brain Damage’, from their Wish You Were Here album.

Floyd have long been a firm favourite of mine and the Roger Waters lyrics on that particular track grabbed me by the throat years ago and have never really let go.

You can find out more about the book, including the blurb, on a brand new page at my website.  Over the next week or so I’ll be adding other snippets, including pre-ordering information and a decent excerpt, so do keep checking back.

Oh – and don’t forget the elephants.

Spot the elephant

4489d07754dfd9008d2bde215a2b4f99It’s about time I shared a little bit of my latest story, ‘Tuning the Old Joanna’, which hit the streets in Crime Syndicate magazine at the beginning of the month.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek tale which could well be sub-titled ‘never mind the wife, what about my piano!’.

I could hear the sound of the piano from the dining room. The door was closed, but vague musical crashes and thumps echoed through the wood. What the hell was going on? 

I burst through that door like a rampaging bull and caught them red-handed – and red-cheeked. They were at it, of course, but I hadn’t expected they’d be using Great Aunt Sally’s piano as a prop.  Joanna was shoved back over the keyboard with her tits hanging out of her frilly blouse and the bloke was banging away between her legs. The music they were making was anything but sweet. Grunts, groans, the scrape of clothing on polished wood, and that endless clash of disharmonic notes. 

I saw red too. “You fucking morons, that’s a valuable family heirloom,” I yelled at the exact same moment they realised I was there. Both of them leaped about six feet in the air and came down again with a thump of jangled piano strings that reverberated throughout the house.

They recovered fast enough, I’ll give them that. Joanna stuffed her tits away and the bloke pulled back, tidying his todger inside his pants and smoothing down his hair.

“Oh, Roy, what are you doing back from work?” Joanna said with a pout. I could see her stupid brain working overtime to come up with an explanation. “This is George. He’s here to… to… to tune the piano!”

There’s a genuine Tess Makovesky elephant hidden somewhere in this story, too.  Extra brownie points if you can tell me where.  And if you haven’t yet treated yourself to a copy of the magazine, which is bursting with seven other stories as well as this one, then you can find it on Amazon for only $6.99.  Happy elephant hunting!

Elephants galore

Anyone who’s read the ‘trivia’ on my webpage will know that I have a thing about elephants.  I love trying to squeeze new references to our trunked companions into my longer works (there isn’t much space for an elephant in most of my short stories).

So I was amused to find a plethora of the beasties on our recent holiday – in fact, they seemed to crop up everywhere we went!  First there was the elephant-shaped headland on the coast.  Then the complete fossilised elephant skeleton, dug out of the local strata, in a museum (and lots of cute cuddly elephants in the shop – it’s something of a local hero, apparently).  And then when we went to a nearby National Trust property, I’m blowed if one of the previous owners hadn’t put together an entire collection of elephant ornaments, of all shapes and sizes.

It’s amazing where mighty, four-footed ruminants can turn up…