The (In)competent Secret Society


I’ve been fascinated by secret societies ever since I read a book called ‘The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail’, back in the 80s.  Dan Brown took the fabric of this investigative piece of work, added a plot and called it the Da Vinci Code.  If you happen to be a fan of the secret society genre, you’ll find that the Knight’s Templars, the Freemasons and the Jesuits are pretty much responsible for everything that’s happened behind the scenes from the twelfth century onwards.  In fact, the more you read, the more brain knots you’ll end up with, as each author argues persuasively that it was their favourite society who were responsible for this or that event, and not another author’s.  Fast forward to today, and the vast array of secret organisations attempting to control the world are mind boggling, including in their number the Trilateral Committee, the Knights of Malta, Skull & Bones, Bilderberg, etc.  All of these societies are presented to the layman as totally omnipotent, in control of our lives from the day we’re born.  Occasionally, member’s lists sneak out, and lo & behold – everyone who’s anyone is a member of them all.

Before I go any further, let me state that I am not and never have been a member of any secret society, although obviously, if I was, that’s exactly what you’d expect me to say.  D’oh!  I was once a member of Round Table, but that’s: a) not a secret club, and b) a charity organisation.  What I discovered from that experience is when you throw a load of successful businessmen in a pot, add a framework for the purposes of imposing order, and stir, what comes out the other end is not necessarily as successful as its constituent parts.  This is mainly thanks to infighting and vested interests.  The same can be said of Parliament and the Senate – MPs and Senators do what is right for them and their backers, not the people who put them in power.

Back of the US one dollar bill.

Back of the US one dollar bill.

Given that this is how things work, I have to ask whether the idea of the all-seeing, all-powerful secret society that cannot be beaten and never makes a mistake is fact the truth.  Perhaps that what they want you to believe, because the truth would shatter their carefully concocted image.  Certainly, if everyone who’s anyone is a member of every society going, then their vested interests will conflict between societies, causing proceedings to grind to a halt.  Plus, the Anyones will never have any time to do any real work, because they’re so busy with their secret society schedules, they can’t fit the day job in.  Just a thought, but it’s one I like very much – the incompetent secret society that blunders its way through history, screwing up every major deal it’s involved in.  When they try to hint how powerful they are, even that continually goes wrong, with the result that they’ve never been mentioned in print for the whole of their 200 year history.

City of LondonWith most of the protagonist Vs Secret Society plots, the hero is desperately trying to outwit the bad guys and solve a mystery before their men get him.  Now flip that on its head.  What if the protagonist is a member of an incompetent secret society who find it difficult to recruit new members because no-one has ever heard of them.   The only thing they’ve been able to do is infiltrate the world of finance (City of London), and they’ve made a massive dog’s dinner of that, thanks to corruption, vested interests and plain stupidity.  This is the world in which Ferret finds himself – he is that protagonist.  And he’s had enough of taking ridiculous orders, he wants out.  What happens when one tries to leave an incompetent secret society that has a habit of handing out concrete flippers to those who want to leave?

You’ll have to read the novel to find out.


It’s a Wrap

Ferret in London

Ferret in London

Thirty months ago I set out to write a novel, not really having a clear idea of where to begin.  Being the sort of chap who learns best by doing, I threw myself headfirst into the task of producing a framework with major plot points.  It took six weeks to create the novel’s back story and the character arcs.  The writing commenced shortly afterwards and I proceeded at pace, adhering assiduously to the plan.  Two months in, I published some excerpts to this blog and after considering the feedback, realised that what I’d proposed was: a) far too long for a first book; and b) was not going to fly in its current form.

Rather than soldier on, I changed track, rethought the plot and cut the size down, turning one book into two.  In the process, I was forced to edit out two of my favourite scenes.  That really hurt.

The first draft took nine months nearly full time.  I spent roughly 4 days a week, 8 hours a day writing, and 2 days a week reading advice columns, character hints and other writer’s blogs.  All very useful stuff and I urge anyone who’s struggling with a first draft to do the same.  The ending was all a bit rushed, I needed to get it finished so I could go back to work.  So much was missing, so many loose ends untied.  That was June 2013.

Steady, cowboy

Steady, cowboy

Two years later and the second draft proper is finished, with the ending now complete.  One of the advice columns I read – I can’t remember who said it, or I’d post a link – but paraphrased it goes like this: think of yourself not as an author but a pilot.  The audience has climbed aboard your plane, participated in the take off, flown the flight.  If you’ve done the catering right, they’re all still aboard (apart from the ones who freaked and parachuted out early on).  Now, they’re trusting you the pilot to land the effing plane, so you better not disappoint.  In the case of Ferret, the plane has an outbreak of snakes, there’s a pair of armed terrorists aboard, food poisoning has incapacitated the flight crew, the landing gear is jammed and there’s a storm directly ahead.  Oh, lordy…

Truth be told, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.  Well, since IBM declared me persona non grata for producing a series of films, with the participation of their top brass, which supposed the firm was run like the mafia.  They terminated my contract and tried to impound and incinerate every one of the DVDs.  Fortunately, they failed.  Anyone who know me knows that every once in a while I have to create some noise and cause trouble.  It’s a genetic trait – I blame my father for instilling in his children a healthy disrespect for the establishment and their organs of justice.  Company newsletters were my thing for a while.  Three times I went too far for the liking of management, collecting one written and one verbal warning.  Fidelity Investments took great exception to a piece about tattooing barcodes on the back of their employee’s necks and checking them in and out with a barcode reader, for security purposes.  Shortly after that I moved on to short stories published in various magazines, regarding working practices in IT, with names changed to protect the guilty.  The guilty may not have spotted themselves, but their co-workers did, which forced me to switch to a series of pen names.

All in the Edit

All in the Edit

Ferret ups the ante considerably.

Whilst it is a work of fiction, it takes many real life experiences garnered from hanging about with consultants, working in high finance and on confidential government projects.  I’ve not set out to spill any secrets, merely write a tale of how these organisations behave under the covers.  Believe me, this is a full-on cage rattler – lord knows, I’ve taken enough time to get there.

I’m now commencing the final edit, which I’m really looking forward to.  I know from making movies, that the editing studio is where those six hours of footage become 5 minutes of freaky fun.  Hard work looms, but I can’t wait to see what comes out the other end.


Musical Influences

music is what feelings sound likeI’m a big listener of music, always have been and if I need to escape from the world for a while it’s the headphones that I turn to.  Judging by the number of people I see on a daily basis wandering around the city, on public transport and even down the gym, I’m not alone in this pastime.  With so many people on the planet tuned into their favourite sounds, it will come as no surprise to learn that fictional characters have musical preferences too.  Let me put that another way: if you’re writing a character and they DON’T have a favourite tune or band, you’re missing a trick.

Personally, I’m a fan of singer/songwriters with a story to tell (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), symphonic rock (guitars plus keyboards and an orchestra), and plain old guitar driven rock.  In years gone by I’ve listened to practically everything from high tempo punk to stoner rock with its gyrating, sludgy bass.  Somewhere in-between comes the Seattle sound, led by Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

I find with music that certain songs act as an anchor to certain feelings, and simply playing the right song takes you back to the right head space.   Conversely, if you have a favourite song that you used to listen to with an ex, it can be too painful to listen to that track or album for years on end.

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is Futile

The Ferret Files is a mix of high finance meets secret societies meets government conspiracy; the right band to get me in the Ferret headspace is without a doubt Muse.  Matt Bellamy of Muse is a musical geek who loves a conspiracy theory, which is just perfect.  The other band I listen to a lot is Nightwish, a Finnish female fronted rock act who deserve to bigger internationally than they are.  Fantastic live.

In order to tell the story, I’ve chosen a number of characters who each have POV chapters.  When writing, it can be tricky to flip between them and get in character.  As each of them is a different person, with differing musical tastes, one of the tricks I use is anchor songs.

Ferret’s anchor song is ‘Uprising’ by Muse.  Cyrano, his drug dealing tricky best mate’s anchor song is ‘Somebody Put Something in my Drink’ by the Ramones.  Marcus, the gay government official is anything by Kylie, but specifically ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’.  Juliet, Ferret’s posh girl-gone-bad girlfriend has a thing for bad boy rockers, so it’s Guns N Roses for her, ‘You Could Be Mine’.  Damien, the confused Account Executive who wants to tread the boards, but daddy would disinherit him – he’s fond of Les Miserables.  Flamen Dialis, High Priest of Jupiter – he listens to Pink Floyd.

conflictFor me, my character’s differing musical tastes help me to feel the conflict brewing between them, and ultimately it’s conflict and conflict resolution that drives any good story.  If everyone listened to the same music and wanted the same thing – well, there’s no point in me picking up a pen.

Cyrano, for instance, with his love of fast tempo punk is never going to get along with Marcus, who’s busy secretly prancing about in feather boas.  He’s also going to have a thing or two to say to Ferret about liking safe pop/rock.  Ferret & Marcus on the other hand, they get along just fine.  Whilst Matt Bellamy of Muse isn’t a true bad boy, he is quite bonkers, so Juliet will live with this while dating Ferret, just as Ferret will live with the odd bit of G’N’R in his life.  Cyrano and Juliet: funnily enough, they’re instantly drawn to each other, and such an attraction is never going to sit well with our hero.

Have a great week.  And while you’re at it, have a think – what’s your theme song?  What single song sums up who you are, your wants and desires?  One day you’ll have to make a fabulous entry, and that’s the song that you’ll want playing.  By all means, leave a comment and let the world know what it is.  In the meantime, never underestimate the power of music to evoke powerful, positive emotions in both you and others.






Ferret goes to Highgate Cemetery

Here’s a sneak peek at the second illustration for the Ferret Files, courtesy of my good pal Richard Argent over at

Cemetery scene

We were working on this scene, busily rewatching old Hammer Horror films when the sad news of Sir Christopher Lee’s death was announced.  I suspect that Ferret & Emily may well be making their way into the world of merchandising…


In Memory of Christopher Lee

AuroraMany years ago when I was but a lad and there were only three channels on TV, Friday night changed forever.  My dad, being a pioneer of all things media related purchased a color television, with the result that the old black and white set found its way into the bedroom I shared with my brother.  It turned out to be one of those just in time moments.  I’d been constructing and painting model kits for a few years, and had moved onto a range by Aurora, which were based on the monster movies of the day.  Dracula and the Mummy had turned up in my stocking the previous Christmas; my brother got Frankenstein and the Wolf Man.   Having never seen the movies, we made up all sorts of stories about our monsters, imaging what they got up to.  Vampires in particular scared me senseless, I was petrified of them.  I used to watch a lot of Doctor Who, he was my go-to hero of the day.  I tried to imagine how the Doctor might deal with Count Dracula, concluding that even a sonic screwdriver was no match for the might of the pointy teeth!

B&W TVIt was much to my surprise/shock/horror then, when one of the three channels announced they were going to start a season of Hammer Horror films on a Friday night, beginning with the classic Dracula.  My brother couldn’t wait.  For me, it was a terrifying countdown to a showdown with my horror nemesis, the Prince of the neck-suckers himself.  The tension became unbearable.  Even my parents knew that something was up, because if there was one thing they found absolutely impossible it was getting two young lads to go to bed on a Friday night, so they could get up to a bit of ‘parent stuff’.  That Friday night we were well behaved and ready for bed early.  It was unheard of.  In preparation, I borrowed a cross from my gran – I’d learned from a school mate that vampires don’t like Jesus.  My brother being more of a pragmatist borrowed a wooden tent peg from the family tent set.  He too had heard stories about vampires, and was determined to deal with Drac in his own way, should the pesky blighter try anything window related while the film was on.

Dracula - Christopher Lee_12v2From the opening score onwards I was under the sheets, hiding behind a pillow. Within fifteen minutes it had all gone horribly wrong for Jonathan Harker, who been warned to flee, then attacked and imprisoned by the most evil vampire of them all, portrayed horrifically by the magnificent Christopher Lee.  Enter our saviour in the form of Van Helsing, played by Peter Cushing.  Peter had played Doctor Who in a couple of made for TV movies, and this wasn’t lost on me.  Not quite the right Doctor, but the Doctor nonetheless had come to the rescue and with the aid of a curtain and the rising sun, eventually defeated the evil one.  Over the next few weeks, we watched ‘Brides of Dracula’, ‘Dracula Price of Darkness’, ‘Dracula has Risen from the Grave’, to name but a few.  The double act of Lee and Cushing to me as a kid was as perfect as Sooty & Sweep, Spocj & Kirk or Bill and Ben.  The perfect horror duo played tag-team with our hopes and fears, frightening the jim-jams offa me, whilst also instilling a love of the horror genre that persists to this day.

It’s with great sadness that I heard of the passing of the Prince of the neck-suckers.  Part of me wants to believe that given enough virgin’s blood, he’ll be back.  That’s certainly the way it ought to be.  For now though, I’m going to make a point of rewatching ‘Dracula’ this Friday night, and reliving old memories.

On a Ferret related footnote, I’ve been working with my pal Richard Argent on the first illustration for the novel, which is set in Highgate Cemetery West, a location used often by the Hammer Horror film crew.  The whole Hammer Horror genre has been in my thoughts a lot lately, as we’ve complied a list of all the monsters we want to fit in the illustration.   Hence my reasons for penning a tribute to a guy I didn’t get to meet, who was nevertheless influential in converting me to Hammer Horror and a film catalogue we all know and love.

RIP Christopher Lee.

One of my great guiding lights.


Boo to Banksters

Bankster: what a great Portmanteau word which succinctly communicates everything that’s rotten with our current financial system.

Bowler hat The first time I laid eyes on the City of London, it was the early 80s and everyone wore bowler hats.  Fast forward to the late 80s, when I started working there for real, and double breasted suits with red braces were the fashion of the day.  I confess, I couldn’t get into one of those suits – immortalized by 1930s Chicago – fast enough, although red braces were a step too far.  The City was pure madness, fueled by a mixture of greed, never ending bonuses, drugs, champagne, fast cars and loose women.  Sadly for me, I didn’t live that lifestyle, I simply helped support it with IT systems and software – anything to make stocks and futures move faster.  Looking back, it’s probably a good job I wasn’t a trader, as I’d either be dead or else hulking around a collection of knackered organs, bludgeoned into failure through massive overindulgence.

Michael Douglas as Gordon ‘Greed is Good’ Gecko in the movie Wall St epitomized the world of finance in that period of time; more recently the role of monied bad boy was reprized by Leonard Di Caprio in the movie Wolf of Wall St.  Both films portray the period as one massive hedonistic binge, which resonates with my experiences.  We all knew there were some bad people working the system, but they were our bad people, people who’d fought their way up from the bottom, displacing the Old Boys in their bowler hats.  It was all one big splurge of harmless fun.

GerkinSomewhere along the route that all changed.  Once the bankers in their bowler hats had been thoroughly displaced, the financialization of everything began in earnest.  Our people, with their wide boy attitudes and disregard for regulations paved the way for an influx of used car salesmen and outright crooks, who in turn begat bigger crooks.  Under their tutelage, finance became a massive part of the economy, the search forever on for ways to make ever bigger profits.  It should come as no surprise to discover that once the real crooks found their way in, they clamored for looser regulations.  When government employed useful tax inspectors, the financiers offered them more money to change sides.  The bought the regulators; they employed rocket scientists to create financial mechanisms that no-one but other rocket scientists can understand.  The party went from a few mates and a few beers, to neighborhood riot, advertised on Facebook.  Instead of stopping it when called, the police joined in and the party got larger still.

And here we are today.

Johnnie-WalkerIf you follow the financial news you’ll see fines for LIBOR rigging, fines for rigging the currency market, all shrouded in a culture of denial.  It was one bad apple, guv – honest.  The truth is, the banksters moved in and slowly but surely they captured every market and bought off the opposition.  They hypnotized government, then bought them off too.  Rigging markets is like you and your teenage mates drinking a bit of your dad’s scotch when he’s out.  To hide the crime you top the bottle up with water.  You get away with it, so you do it again and again, until it becomes impossible to stop.  Soon, the scotch is all gone.  So you fill the bottle with cold tea and hide it at the back of the booze cabinet.  Then you start on the gin and vodka.  Pretty soon the entire booze cabinet is colored water.  Next you spend all your time thinking up ways to keep your dad out. In the end, you leave home and when the crime is discovered, blame it all on your baby brother.  I know he’s only 5 dad, but hell can he drink!

I propose that the international crime syndicate that captured our financial system operates as a secret society, thoroughly ingrained in the City of London and Wall Street.  Ferret, the hero of The Ferret Files belongs to said organization and knows many of their secrets.  As we’ve previously established, he’s a charming consultant who works in the City and thanks to insider trading has become very wealthy.  Now he’s bored and wants to follow his childhood dream of becoming a detective.  However, his friends are having none of it and unless he starts earning again quickly, he’ll soon discover how his superiors deal with foot soldiers who they deem are no longer of any use.


Hurrah for Consultants

Firstly, in order to remove any confusion, the consultants referred to in the title of this piece are of the Management variety, and not their more respectable surgical cousins.  I’m sure they both share many characteristics – that’s what the comments section is for.

I’ve spent many years working in corporates and the echelons of government, both as a consultant and an employer of consultants, so when I say that the chief characteristic of a great consultant is the ability to charm your pants off, you better believe it.  You know you’ve met a mediocre or poor consultant when at the end of a meeting you still have your pants fastened firmly around your waist.  The great consultant leaves with two pairs of trousers, and you’re so befuddled you don’t even realise until you get home that you rode the tube in socks and underwear.

smileWith great charm comes a great smile.  It’s that smile that acts as an anchor to the feelings you had during the first ever meeting with your new consultant chum, so much so that as soon as you see them, you take your own pants off and hand them over, along with your jacket and wallet.  With a wink, the great consultant hands you back your tube pass.  The mediocre consultant, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out how the hell the really good guy has a different suit for every day of the month.

Great consultants need great hair.  This is more a guideline than a rule, as it’s possible to make it as a baldie, but here’s the inside rip: you have to have a really nice shaped head.  One consultant pal of mine had lost a lot of hair, and if he let it grow even for a couple of days, he became invisible in a crowd.  Shaved right down, he had the IT factor in bunches.  His trick was not so much the collecting of pants, as the collecting of bras and frillies, although truth be told he was so smooth, he undoubtedly had a wardrobe full of client’s pants too.

A great consultant dresses the part.  Not over-the-top $10,000 suits like you find in banking circles, all that does is serve to alienate them from the average client .  A great consultant working in media dresses down, wearing smart casual.  The same great consultant working in advertising wears a nice fashionable suit.  The great consultant working in banking comes home with three of four $10,000 suits on their first day in the job, setting them up for the remainder of the week.

Finally, like all consultants, a great consultant speaks a proprietary language comprised of grandiose, highfaluting technical and business terms that sound utterly believable when they purr them out, but somehow manage to turn into utter twaddle when you try to repeat them in the lunch queue.  The ability to utter choice phrases as though your very pants depend on them is a confidence thing, something the mediocre consultant can’t grasp and mere mortals swoon over.

tubeI can’t claim to be a great consultant myself, on the grounds that I’m still buying my own trousers after twenty years.  But I am good at giving solid advice.  FYI – the type of advice not to give is: ‘your dress will look great on me’, even if it’s the truth.  During one charm offensive I did once swap clothes with a female client in an office with the shutters down, but that led to all sorts of horrible complications when she left to get coffee and didn’t come back for an hour.  She went on to join a top consultancy by the way, and still has my suit to this day.  I call her occasionally and ask for it back.  She tells me to pop over, which I tried the once.  Kindly, she let me keep my tube pass.

Anyway, the point of this article is to say hurrah for consultants.  Love them or hate them, the world would be a much more boring place without them.  So much so, that I’ve taken all the great consultants I’ve ever met and rolled them up into one character called Ferret.  A wayward consultant who’s great at his job but is gagging to become a detective.  Let’s call him a detecting consultant.  He has a wardrobe full of pants and a collection of frillies.  Nothing can possibly go wrong for him.  That is, until the day he loses his charm…