I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Yesterday saw this page receive its 30,000th visitor. I still find this something that is ridiculously hard to get my head around. 19,000 hits have arrived from the UK. 4000 day trippers have turned up from the States. The rest are spread out from all over the world. It is odd how different blogs attract different nationalities. My blog wondering aloud if we are in the process of becoming a 21st Century version of East Germany drew in hundreds from Taiwan. My rant about a smooth talking marketing type from Barnardo’s was a particular favourite in Australia.

The reach of the Bloggersphere never ceases to amaze me. Three of my blogs have picked up by the Press and been turned into news stories. A few more have attracted journalists wondering if the characters in the story might be willing to go public. Fat chance! Stuff from one blog about food parcels actually ended up being quoted in a debate in the House of Commons.

When I kicked the thing off last July my idea was to try and raise my profile and sell a few more books in the Kindle Store. Has it turned out that way? Maybe. I now sell about 5 books a day which isn’t exactly John Grisham, but I guess it’s a start. I like to think that the blog has evolved into something more than just a frantic attempt to hawk a few digital novels. What I try to do is to take the various stories we see in the news every night and show how they play out for real people trying their best to get by in their real lives. Obviously the events of the last few months have hardly left me short of material.

In my years of writing books, I have tried to stick to three simple rules. Rule one, never make the writing hard to understand for those that don’t read a lot. I have always taken the fact that my books are so popular in the Scottish prison system to be proof positive that I have probably been successful in this goal.

Rule two, if someone is willing to shell out hard earned cash to read something of mine, they surely deserve to be entertained. For me, fast turning pages are way more important than literary niceties. Many dismiss what I do as the worst kind of grammatically flawed pulp fiction. Fair enough. My old English teacher felt much the same. I regularly get an invite to give talks to the lifers in HMP Shotts but I am yet to receive a call from the local book festival in Wigtown. Isn’t life tragic.

Rule three. I spent much of my working life with people who have been completely shafted by society. They are the forgotten ones who are increasingly hated as a result of the irresponsible guff spouted by politicians and the tabloid press. It seems to me that the fact that over 100,000 people have bought my books over the years and 30,000 have taken time out to visit this site suggests that there must be something in the way I write that has some appeal. Whatever this may be, I feel a sense of duty to use it to try and give a voice to all those people nobody wants to listen to. I suppose that sounds pretty sanctimonious and Victorian. So be it. I am what I am. Maybe it’s a Lancashire thing.

And then there are times when a Blog is simply a means to get something off my chest. Apparently there is lots of solid scientific research that indicates that writing stuff down is a pretty good way of helping to get the head around something. The US Army has recently spent millions of dollars on a centre in Washington DC where veterans can go to find help in getting the horrors in their head down on paper. It seems to work a bit like lancing a boil. I can go with that. A problem shared and all that.

On Wednesday night I was watching the Channel 4 news. And just like always, it was wall to wall bad. There were primordial horrors from Aleppo and primordial horrors from the Congo. But it was a quick 30 second piece that reached out of the TV and smacked me in the face and left me feeling sort of hollowed out. In fact it all but made me cry.

On Wednesday morning a schoolteacher in Pakistan did what she had done for the last 24 years; she went to work and taught her class. She was nobody special. Just a school teacher. A Headmistress in an all girls school.  Her routine was normal and predictable. Every morning she would catch the bus to work from Peshawar with her teenage son. And every afternoon when the school day was done, she would catch the bus back home. With her teenage son. It was this unremarkable routine that was to be her undoing. For in the eyes of certain people what she was doing was a crime punishable by death. As a woman, these people believed she was breaking the iron rules of Islam by going to work and teaching. By daring to teach female pupils, they saw these crimes multiplied and compounded.

And so they decided to kill her.

To execute her.

On Wednesday afternoon as she and her son made their way to the bus stop, a motorbike pulled up by the pavement. Two men jumped off and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of her son. He is now in hospital. Once the son was immobilised, they drew their pistols and shot her in the head, legs and chest. She died there and then. The killers escaped on their motor bike.

They didn’t take her money. They weren’t avenging some family feud. It seems unlikely that they were blind drunk or all crazed out on crystal meth. Instead they were no doubt completely brain washed by some long bearded Iman who had convinced them that by executing a school teacher they would open up their path to eternal paradise. I have never read the Koran in full. I have however dipped in and out from time to time. It is more poetic than the Bible. More elegant. Not that it has ever filled me with any great urge to fund Allah and buy myself a prayer mat.

Mohammed’s message seems remarkably similar to the ideas of Jesus. Try to be nice to people. Help those who are having a bad time. Don’t steal. It offers a basic set of rules that make for an easy going society where people are OK with each other. So how the hell can people twist such benevolent words to such a disgusting extent that it is suddenly OK for young men to execute a school teacher in front of her teenage son? The murderers must surely have been 100% convinced that their actions would put a smile on the face of Allah. They must have been utterly certain that the ‘One God’ would have been so impressed by their devotion that he would immediately put their names down on the list for eternal paradise.

What an utter abomination.

Ever since watching the thirty second news segment I have found it hard to get the thing out of my head. What will life be like for the various characters involved? There is the son who will be forever haunted by images of his mum’s summary execution for the crime of teaching girls to read and write. Then there are the two guys who fired the shots. Will the lunatic faith that prompted them to turn into monsters endure in the years to come? Or will cancerous doubts seep in like sewage from a cracked drain? Will the empty hours of their nights bring forth feelings of shame and disgust? And what of the Imam who drip fed poison into the minds of the impressionable and convinced them that the fast track to eternal paradise was to be found by gunning down an unarmed woman in cold blood?

No matter how I try, I find it impossible to make any sense whatsoever of such manic brutality. Did they scream out ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they unloaded their magazines? I expect they did. God is great?
God forbid.
God help us.

What an utter abomination.


  1. I think you've just got the material for your next 'novel' Mark! Once again a powerful combination of writing that makes me go 'YES' and writing that makes me go 'oh no.' But mostly, makes me go FOR GOD'S SAKE KEEP TELLING US THIS MARK YOU NEED TO KEEP SAYING THIS. So few other people have the balls or the motivation to DO this.

  2. I wonder if her murder was in some way a message for the young girl who under went reconstruction plastic surgery here in the UK, that to return to Pakistan and teach would one day result in her death. One can only feel for the women, what a life, 'Thank God' I live here.