Pangolin – a short story about greed and ignorance


A very short story about the plight of the pangolin, seen through the eyes of two-year-old pangolin Lucky. ‘Up to 200,000 are estimated to be taken from the wild every year across Africa and Asia, and the pangolin is critically endangered. Their meat is considered a delicacy by some in China and Vietnam, while their scales and fetuses are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a range of ailments from arthritis to cancer. Pangolins are also used throughout Africa in traditional medicine’. WildAid.


I had my birthday yesterday and we ate ants. Mummy said I was two years old. She called me Lucky when I was born, I’m not sure why yet. Mummy knows a lot about pangolins. She said we always try to be helpful, and that’s important, isn’t it? And we mostly help humans, because they’re in a lot of trouble.

“How many people are there?” I asked, when we were looking for ants this morning.

Ants are hard to come by in the Nigerian forests these days. Partly because there are a lot less forests. But at least there are even less lions, so that’s an upside. Above all, there’s more people all the time.

Mummy licked an ant off her chin, although we don’t actually have chins. “About eight billion, I think. That’s eight thousand million, Lucky. There’s a lot. And there’s another eighty million each year. That’s a lot too.”

“Wow. And how many of us are there?”

Mummy frowned. Which is hard for a pangolin to do, not having any eyebrows. “No one knows, but it’s not a lot.”

“A million?” I had heard that was a big number. It felt big, anyway.

She sighed. “Maybe half that much. We’re very particular about what we eat and where we live, and we’re not very good at running away from people. We roll into a ball. Maybe It’s time for some new tricks.”

That sounded great. “Like changing colour or running really fast. Or being small, like ants.”

When she looked at me, she seemed sad. Although it’s hard to tell with pangolins. “Something like that, Lucky.”

I ate some more ants. That’s all we eat, but I always enjoy them. “Where’s Daddy?”

She sighed again. “So many questions. He’s had to go and help the Chinese.”


“They think we can help them get better when they’ve got aches and pains. That’s where most of our people have gone, which is why we’re all that’s left.”

“So will he come back, when he’s helped them?”

Mummy wiped her eye, although we pangolins don’t cry. “He won’t come back, Lucky. And he can’t help them, because we don’t make people better at all. We’re just pangolins. All we do is eat ants.”

I thought that was a shame. Surely there was something helpful we could do. “A lot of people are sick at the moment, aren’t they? Perhaps we can help make them better?”

She stopped eating and seemed thoughtful before she said, “It’s true that we’ve been linked to the transmission of Covid-19 to humans, and we do have an unusual form of immunity. But we don’t do well when we’re away from home, Lucky. Or when we’re sick. We can’t make babies when we’re with people, because we’re not happy. And because so many of us help people in China and Vietnam, there’s not enough left to do anything else. But I expect some of us will end up in laboratories being helpful.”

I followed her across the new road, watching out for cars, although I don’t really know what they are yet. I’ve seen their lights in the darkness and heard the roar they make, and the smell. There was a field on the other side of the road, with people working. But beyond the field there was a bit more forest. And in the forest there were a few ants. We found a ditch, and no one saw us until we were under the trees. There was time for one more question.

“What’ll happen, eventually? I mean, if we’re so helpful then will people help us in return, by making forests bigger and taking away the roads, and leaving us alone?”

Mummy didn’t answer the last question. I never found her again.

The Shadow King – A Voodoo Magic Story

This gripping Voodoo magic novel by John Frank Marshall mixes ancient beliefs of Vodun spirits with the menace of biological weapons. The narrative moves at a fast pace, blurring the boundaries between dream, hallucination and reality.

The opening

Jason Kramer is a freelance journalist, investigating possible United Nations involvement in a black market for biological weapons and vaccines. He believes that Larry Saunders, reclusive owner of Swiss biogenic company Si, is at the centre of the illegal trade. Kramer’s obsession has already destroyed his marriage and damaged his relationship with his son Michael. He follows Saunders to the mountains of Haiti. Kramer’s about to capture his evidence on film when he is struck by lightning from a cloudless sky and falls, apparently dead.

Mama Black

When Kramer awakens, he is blind and held captive in a tin shack deep within the forest. An old woman called Mama Black tends him – and something evil is coming. That night, Kramer has an experience that not only leaves him deeply disturbed, but changed in a way he cannot begin to imagine.

Recovering in hospital, Kramer is visited by Mark Smith, a security expert working for the UN. Smith wants Kramer to help him uncover the vaccine trade but Kramer refuses to help, suspicious of his motives. When he finally leaves hospital, Kramer searches for the place where he was held captive, and finds two decomposed bodies. He also finds his camera and with it, drugs and a small glass phial. Before returning to England, he finally meets Saunders, who reveals that he is playing a game; he wants to corrupt Kramer, and threatens his family. Kramer knows that Saunders also wants the phial, and hides it.

Dreams and addiction

Since his accident, Kramer has been experiencing increasingly violent mood swings. The old woman fed him drugs and his growing addiction leads him into a world of hallucinations from which he cannot escape. He feels that he is not alone and on his return to England, is haunted by disturbing dreams. More worrying, his young son has also been having similar nightmares. Kramer disregards the signs. He persists with his investigation, travelling to Paris to meet Louise Hilton, an ex-girlfriend working for the UN. She reveals that she is part of the conspiracy and warns him that they are all in danger. She believes that Saunders has developed Blackpox virus, a deadly hybrid of Smallpox and Ebola Fever. And he needs the vaccine to bargain with. Shortly after Kramer leaves her apartment, she is murdered and so he hides out in a motel before returning to London. He experiences a terrifying hallucination and so finally seeks help from Paula Lopez, a psychiatrist specialising in trauma treatment.

Paula is a central character in the novel. A self-controlled realist who, since the death of her husband lives with her West Indian mother Miranda. She is also an impulsive character who believes in the pre-Christian religions and challenges Paula’s rational world-view. As the story unfolds, Paula realises that Kramer’s apparent mental illness is a true manifestation of evil. She becomes further immersed in her mother’s beliefs when Silas Tombi, an ancient relative, arrives from Haiti. Slias claims to have been sent by God to fight the growing evil. He takes up residence in Paula’s garden, and she has to cope with Silas’s eccentricities and Miranda’s unscientific reasoning.

The Sousson-Pannan

Kramer seeks treatment and under hypnosis, the personality of Mama Black reveals itself to Paula and she experiences its power. However, someone of far greater importance is also concealed within Kramer. Paula forces it to say its true name: Sousson-Pannan. Only later does she discover what the Sousson-Pannan is capable of, and its true purpose.

Jason meets Helen Jacobs, an attractive biochemist. He seduces her and they embark on a torrid sexual relationship as she also becomes addicted to the hallucinogenic drugs. Her personality begins to divide as Mama Black’s persona takes control. She analyses the contents of the phial; it contains Blackpox vaccine, and is the key that will bring Kramer to Saunders. The Sousson-Pannan and Mama Black drive Kramer and Helen Jacobs to murder, depravity and worse.

The killings start

Mark Smith has been following Kramer and visits Paula to warn her about the danger she faces. They are attracted to each other although worlds apart, but Paula cannot accept her feelings for him. Mark and Paula must evade the police in their attempts to stop Kramer, whilst Saunders’ hitman (Wellbeloved) is on their trail, with orders to kill anyone that gets in the way. He murders Jason’s contacts, but before he kills Helen Jacobs, she and Jason are able to corrupt her sister Lydia, infecting her with Mama Black’s spirit.  However, Lydia is very different from Helen. She is a cocaine-sniffing model that makes pornographic films and she and Mama make a dangerous combination.

Mama Black is angry that the Sousson-Pannan is becoming obsessed with Kramer’s son and deciding that Michael must die, kidnaps him. Miranda (Paula’s mother) helps Mark identify where Michael has been taken, and during the rescue, Lydia is apparently killed. Meanwhile, Wellbeloved has been instructed to eliminate Paula and her mother. Mark fights with Wellbeloved in Paula’s house, and she has to kill Wellbeloved to save his life.  

Kramer leaves a policeman dead and an inspector seriously wounded before escaping to Switzerland where Saunders’ biochemical facility is based. Mark and Paula follow, and Paula meets Mark’s business partner, who is expert at breaking security systems and will help them enter the Si building.

The finale

They realise that the Sousson-Pannan is using the virus as a bait to get close to Saunders to release Blackpox. Somehow, Mark must find a way into the plant and destroy the virus before Kramer gets there. Kramer is left close to death. Something far more powerful than the Sousson-Pannan keeps him alive, and he must seek redemption.

The finale to this voodoo magic story is a battle between the basic instincts of the Sousson-Pannan and Mama Black, and the developing love between Paula and Mark. For Kramer it is also a quest for redemption and the love of his son. The central characters face impossible odds and those that survive will have their most fundamental beliefs torn apart.

Do urban fantasy writers really make a difference?

A question for you

Is it just me or is this world getting increasingly crazy? Does the work of urban fantasy writers actually matter in the end, or is it just plain old escapism? I feel like we are heading towards a moment where the human race can choose between the traditional and unsustainable Trumpish values of greed, dishonesty, over-consumption, mink coats, palm oil, global warming, dictatorships and GNP (sorry to be a bit political here)…

…Or a new world order that people dreamed about in 1972.

That was when world leaders attended the Stockholm Conference. They agreed a new manifesto tackling – guess what – climate change, biodiversity, genetic engineering, social inequality and all the rest. 1972 FFS! I remember lecturing on the subject in my university days. That was almost 50 years ago now (giving away my age…). And now I have joined the ranks of urban fantasy writers instead.

Are we past the tipping point where ‘small is beautiful’ can achieve anything? Can writers and artists influence the deeper levels of how people see the world and open their eyes? Or are we just preaching to the converted?

Do all those urban fantasy books matter?

I think so, otherwise I would not keep writing them. I feel that writing and other forms of art can influence us at a deeper level than conscious thought. And being so bombarded by media of all kinds (especially now), maybe our weary minds need to be given a chance to work things out for themselves. So pick up an urban fantasy novel, and give yourself a break.

Dystopian Fantasy about a New Age Messiah

After much thinking, got a spade in the ground on this new dystopian urban fantasy about a new age messiah…

To Heidi Vorn, the boy was the most beautiful person she had ever seen. He stood in the centre of the village with its tatty, wind-blown huts as toxic dust swirled in amber shrouds. Despite the ragged clothes flapping about him, he seemed to glow. His skin was almost golden, compared to the normal pallor. When he lifted his eyes towards the copter, she felt that he could not only see her but knew her. The feeling she experienced was a strange mix of peace and excitement of things to come.

The villagers – men, women and a few children – were kneeling before him as if wanting forgiveness. Heidi knew they had nothing to forgive. Her family was the source of their disease. Of their anguish and the famine that caved in their cheeks and left bones starting from the skin. A little further away, a scatter of gravestones poked up from the frozen ground.

“look at the poor fools. They think he’s a fucking new age messiah or something.”

Maxim’s voice seemed to come from far away, but the spell was broken. The clatter of the copter blades brought her back.

“Well is he?”

He seemed shocked. “He’s just a boy.”

“What’s his name?”

“Axel Cain.”

The air outside was filling with snow and she was already shivering. But the boy stood with his arms outstretched, and now he was smiling benevolently at his few followers.

More about this dark tale later.

New Dystopian Sci Fi Novel – Axel Cain

I began thinking about Axel Cain a couple of months back when I had laid Tree to rest. I needed to write something that was not on a global, epic scale, instead focusing down on a more personal narrative. And ended up with this ‘dystopian sci fi’ novel.


Isoland is a vast, circular expanse of darkness, desert, storms and suffering, centred on viral research for the weapons and biotech industries. Separated from the rest of the world (the ‘Outside’) by an insurmountable wall, the test subjects are convicts from the outside world, or captured from the simple tribes of outcasts scattered among the enclosed mountains. Unlike the Outside, the tribes have learned how to live harmoniously with their harsh world.

Homested, the biotech farm at the centre of Isoland is ruled by the Vorn Dynasty. Heidi Vorn, fifteen-year-old daughter of oligarch Maxim Vorn, learns of a boy who is uniting the Isoland tribes with golden words and magical deeds.

The magister

Known as the Magister, the boy appears to have other strange qualities, including an apparent resistance to the plagues used to control outcast populations. Heidi is sent with Maxim’s troops to capture the boy for research. Tragedy follows as he is taken and imprisoned, leaving Heidi deeply troubled.

Axel grows into a powerful and resourceful young man, forced to survive in the brutal conditions of Homested. Heidi remains fascinated by him, but Axel blames her for his suffering and the deaths of his adoptive parents.

Maxim is both curious and fearful of Axel, and develops a strange relationship with him as teams of scientists try to discover his secrets. Amica Bright, leader of the scientists also falls for Axel, but her love is cruel and his rejection of her turns love to hatred. In return, Axel tries to teach Maxim the truth of life, but his words and actions are wasted.

The Outside

In the Outside, the fight for remaining resources and viable habitats has led to viral war, and incurable sicknesses cause many deaths. Maxim is given orders to create a new weapon and turns to Axel Cain, but his growing powers already divine what is intended, and he mysteriously escapes from Isoland, heading for England. The threat of Axel falling into enemy hands is too great a risk, and death squads are sent in pursuit, led by Amica.  Heidi tries to persuade her father that she can find Axel and bring him back. When he refuses, she too leaves Isoland and follows him to London.

Axel finds a world being destroyed by greed and it is not long before he has a following. When Heidi arrives at the airport, everyone is talking about the mysterious stranger and the magic of his words. She sees an advertisement for a television interview and manages to get invited, watching from the audience. He is asked if he is Christ reborn. Axel knows nothing of such things, but he does know that the interviewer’s daughter lies in a coma, and tells her the child will recover. Soon after, the child awakens. At the end of the interview, an attempt is made on his life as a bomb explodes and kills many. Heidi escapes with Axel and persuades him to hide with her.

During that time, Heidi realises that she loves him, and begs him to stay with her. Axel cannot remain in hiding and leaves Heidi. He is able to cure children where others have failed, and his teachings are being listened to around the world. Soon, vast numbers of people are demanding change and sharing all that they have. Axel is a threat to the world order. More governments want to understand the source of his power, and Heidi cannot find a way to see him.


In the finale to this dystopian sci fi novel, Axel Cain travels to the Amazon. He is determined to save the last few indigenous peoples, and persuade world leaders how much they need to change. Heidi’s father makes contact with her, asking her to help save him. She joins with Maxim’s squad and travels with them, but learns Amica’s true intent. She plans to execute Axel as he gives a world address, broadcasting from within the burning forest. Heidi has one chance to save the man she loves, if only she can persuade him to abandon his cause.

Demonic Tree – story of a major rewrite

Where did the idea come from?

It was time to visit an earlier effort, the fifth novel in the Drakul series. It had always felt that Tepesch Drakul was in some ways unwelcome in that narrative, which concerned a future London dominated and terrorised by a monstrous demonic tree that emerges from the Natural History Museum. The Cazash Tree is part fungus, part animate and needs to escape Earth to continue its expansion, but to do so requires the sporing, using infected humans as disseminators of male spores.

The demonic tree has an army of followers addicted to its deadly sap (‘kine’). The tree is an offence against Nature. Soon enough, nature goddess Annan resurrects a champion in the unlikely form of druid and mage Myrddin Wyllt. Myrddin must use ancient magic to defeat the Tree.

Enter the heroes…

Seven unlikely heroes will help him. These include Hama, the woman who originally caused his death at the hands of a fanatical monk, a hell-hound and a 17 year old blind gunslinger named Swift.

The Tree infects many of the Nature loving Edenists living in the forests surrounding London. They are doomed to become living spore-bearers and obey the Tree. They try to prevent Myrddin but will all die if the Demon Tree spores. Two ‘gifted’ children are Myrddin’s heroes – possessing powerful magic, the result of the earlier apocalypse.

Fortified towns hide within the forests, containing relict civilisations. The former city of Guildford is one such town, run by the De Veres. Obsessed with securing the Gifts, Gwynne De Vere kidnaps gifted children to experiment upon. Gwynne will follow Myrddin, alongside two bough runners (servants of the demonic tree). They comprise Swift, a blind gun slinger, and the mother who abandoned her.

The quest

Myrddin must secure the magical symbols to summon a demon capable of defeating the Cazash Tree. However, the demon in question is far more dangerous than that, and it does not come alone.

By the end of the novel, the planet faces a new future and must choose which direction to take.

Very topical these days.

Dragon Witcher Trilogy – 3rd book Ouroboros Finished!

I was really pleased with the way that this third and final(?)episode of the Dragon Witcher Trilogy played out, with the distant past and the present coming together to build a new future (hence the name Ouroboros, which I have trouble spelling btw). It stretched me as a writer, which what I was seeking.

A good novel seems to write itself and I was swept along in the narrative, which gave the primary characters scope for development as they faced new challenges. Leah Esvane realised her true Dragon Witcher powers in travelling back in time to change history, but in a good way. The biggest surprise at the end was the revelation that she was pregnant, and we can expect her to give birth to another girl, or possibly the first ever Dragon Warlock. But I was also sad to be leaving the planet Eco and the characters I have learned to love or tolerate, but that’s writing. I will wonder about the dragon witch lineage and the future world. Hopefully no more undersea cities appear and they can resume their sustainable lives.

Followed by…

When I completed Ouroboros, it gave me time to revisit an earlier novel and to give it a complete makeover (Demon Tree). The rewrite also changed the focus and tightened up the storyline, with wise direction from John (Jarrold).

Rewriting an existing novel turned out to be a bigger endeavour than taking an empty page, but it needed doing. And now I have no excuses for not getting stuck into latest idea Jon Darke, other than tinkering with this web site obviously.

Second Dragon Witch novel finished. Third underway

Second Dawn  ended up writing itself, which was great. But now the second dragon witch novel is completed, how does the trilogy end? How can witch queen Caia Esvane outwit the Scitha fleet, intent on reclaiming her planet for themselves?  The power of magic will not be enough this time, and she is not prepared to sacrifice the few remaining dragons. To do so would condemn the world to technology and greed, the way it was once before.

Leah Esvane, now twenty-three and as difficult as her mother Caia, wants new challenges. Her affair with one of the hated Centurions is not enough. But Leah is also the most gifted of the dragon witches, stronger even than her mother. Caia has to know how the first Scitha invasion was defeated, over seventeen thousand years ago. Leah is the only one capable of mind-joining across time. Her mission – to occupy the body of Leanne Ty, a fighter pilot in squadron leader John Mack’s team, sister to Simon, a scientist on the team developing the magnetic pulse. But when Leah makes the journey back across time, she finds that nothing was as she expected. To save the planet Eco, will she have to change the future and deny her own existence? This is the final dragon witch novel Ouroboros.

Second Dawn – Dragon Witch second novel is on the way

I began planning the dragon witch second novel after returning from holiday in the Spring. I’d spent some of the time raking over an entirely different synopsis, thinking whether I could work with more depth with a much smaller Canvas – the result of reading Calling Major Tom.

The decision was no – I had to continue with the Dragon Witch trilogy and there were so many ideas in my head, plus new central characters. The second dragon witch novel is ‘Second Dawn,’ already 30,000 words and going strong (slight delays caused by heatwave commuting and a medical op!). This time, three ex-‘waste disposal drones’ from City 5 (garbage men) are pitched into the centre of the novel, when socially ungifted Dil Crowne is taken during a raid and vanishes under the sea. Badly wounded, he is taken to a second undersea city. Rax has evolved in a very different direction from City 5, abandoning any attempt to preserve tradition. Instead, Rax is based on the marine ecosystem. The society is egalitarian, the creatures within adapted for an undersea existence. To Rax, the land is a threat.

Dil’s mates Octo and Hath escape from the Rift and seek sanctuary in the dangerous Outlands where they discover an impending war. Centurions, the lawkeepers from City 5 are re-arming with the city’s help, and are planning to invade the Rift for its resources.

And the People of White are finally heading south, cooling the climate as they come. They have decided it’s time to go home, and City 5 contains the secret.

A full synopsis of Second Dawn is available here and from the home page – do read it, suggestions welcome.

Sequel to Emergence – first thoughts

I deliberately left a few story stubs I could build out on for the sequel to Emergence, and am now spoiled for choice as to what happens next. In Emergence, a monstrous submerged city learns that the surface of the planet is once more safe to inhabit, albeit already inhabited by a relatively peaceful people imbued with magic. It’s a world of mysticism and the opposite of the city’s ruthless efficiency where lifespan is decided at birth, and a class system determines the destiny and purpose of each individual. The city, in short, is a mechanistic society reminiscent of ants, but it’s also crazy.  The build up to emergence sees the two societies being pulled apart as they come to terms with having share, and not surprisingly this ends up with head on conflict between the planet and the city. Not wanting to spoil anything for the avid reader, what happens in the sequel to Emergence, Second Dawn?

Emergence is just the start of the journey. The planet retains evidence of the original invasion that necessitated creating an undersea ark – crashed Machines, strange devices and ancient memories. There are strange races living in remote places – the People of White, with their worship of the Machines and intolerance of light. And the Grey Ones, not remotely human and rarely seen. The people from the city experience disturbing memories when they emerge, as if they too have some connection to the invaders, and Caia Esvane, Dragon Witch and leader of the clans, foolishly mind-touches their queen. There are also social conflicts to resolve – the different castes from the city reacting very differently to their new world, some wanting to learn new ways, others refusing even to leave the city, whilst some want the war to continue.

I’m spoiled for choice!  Watch this space….