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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


So here's a phrase you'll be familiar with. We all are . It's a phrase which has been kicking around forever and a day and it is used to describe someone who's having a rough old time of it.

'Treated like a dog, so he was.....'

Real bad, right? As bad as it gets. And our minds form images of wretched puppies all beaten up and miserable.

Well, yesterday morning I got to wondering whether these well worn words have any truth about them. As in now? As in Britain 2019?

It was nine in the morning and I was parking my van up at Morrisons. The mission at hand was to clear the shelves of packets of 'Market Value' instant custard. This is one of our food parcel staples. Add boiling water and you have something sweet and filling without the need for any cooking skills whatsoever. Less than thirty pence a pack.

But I digress. As I climbed out of my van, my eyes were drawn to small convoy headed my way. Two vehicles, both brand new and gleaming a vivid yellow in the morning sunshine. Even the tyres looked like they had been polished. The sides were branded to the standard demanded by a high flying marketing guy from the shores of Lake Michigan.

The largest, boldest letters demanded the attention of any watching pedestrian.


Boomf! No messing. Black on gold and bold as brass.

Next up, some context. 'A dog is for life'. No capitals for this old favourite, but pretty bold all the same.

Then to complete the picture, there was a picture of a lovable looking pooch nestled into a blanket.

Hard on the heels of this twenty grand's worth of double wheelbase came a car bearing the same livery. Shiny clean and fresh off the assembly line.

Well, I couldn't help turning around and giving my own van a quick once over. It looked pretty sorry in comparison with the golden convoy which had swept by with such a swagger.

Eighty thousand on the clock and in dire need of a wash. It isn't a First Base Foodbank van. It is my van. Fair enough, I get reimbursed for the mileage which runs to a thousand miles a month. Our foodbank has about as much chance of shelling out for £20,000's worth of fully branded double wheelbase as Cowdenbeath have of buying Lionel Messi from Barcelona.

I guess I afforded myself a small smile. Only the night before, the Channel 4 news had run a piece about the impact of us all feeding our garden birds. Many species are thriving like they have never thrived before. Not bloody surprising. We're spending £200 million a year on bird feed for the feathered treasures. I did some maths as the reporter wrapped his piece to camera. How many food banks are there in the UK right now? About a thousand or so I guess. There or thereabouts.

£200 million divided by 1000.......

Can you do it in your head? I couldn't. But my calculator could....

£200,000 each. Yup. I'll say it again. Two hundred bloody grand each! At First Base we run on £75,000 a year plus £45,000 worth of donated food. £120,000 a year all in to dish out 5000 emergency food parcels.

So were we to receive the bird feed windfall, we would have £80,000 change having settled every last one of our bills.

The small print on the shiny vans was made up of two short words. 'Dogs Trust'.

So. Google time. And five minutes worth of Google was more than enough . I'll just do the highlights.

Reserves - £168 million.

Annual income - £111 million.

No wonder they can run a fleet of gleaming vans. Christ, they could run a small army if they chose to.

A couple of minutes on Google images took be to a construction company's website where they showcased some work they had done for the Dogs Trust. A rescue centre in Basildon. This is the kind of bang you can get from eight million quid's worth of buck.

Check it out.

A very far fry from the leaking ceilings and peeling walls of our nerve centre in Dumfries!

A scan of the Dog's Trust accounts threw up some detail. They spend twenty million a year on marketing themselves to people approaching the gates of death. Lots of subtle messaging no doubt. Do you really like your relatives? Face it, the bastards have ignored you for years and only now are they turning up. Why is that? Maybe they have set their hearts on building a new conservatory like the one their next door neighbours put up last year.... think about it .... do the greedy bastards really deserve it... or maybe you can take the opportunity to stick two fingers up at them and leave it all to the dogs. Our lovely, cuddly, loyal furry friends..... go on....

It seems most of the Dogs Trust £111 million a year comes from wills. So it seems the £22 million they spend on marketing themselves is money well spent.

First Base has been around for 16 years now and we have only once received anything from a will. Obviously we're not spending enough on pushing ourselves forward. But would it make any difference if we did? I doubt it. Poor people or dogs? Not exactly a fair contest, right? Our furry friends will win the day every time.

Last year about a million emergency food parcels were handed out in the UK. If foodbanks like First Base enjoyed the a Dogs Trust level of income, then we could all have dished out Fortnum and Mason hampers and still had plenty of cash left over to award ourselves state of the art offices, gilded pensions and fat salaries.

And brand, spanking new double wheel base vans.

Dream on Frankland.

So I bought my packs of instant custard and went back to First Base. The phone rang. A support worker with the day's first tale of woe.

A man. 57 years old. From Latvia. Been in Scotland for twenty years and working every step of the way. Until now. Until his doctor diagnosed the pain as liver cancer.

A rejected claim for Universal Credit. An appeal in place. Probably nine months until any kind of decision. Income right now? Zero. Savings? Zero. Family to offer support? Zero.

Lots of zeros. Our man is in a small town and the landlord is running out of patience. Are they going to wait nine months for his appeal? Of course they're not. He'll be evicted long before, cancer or no cancer.

So I explained he could call into the local library to pick up one of our food parcels whenerver he needed one. And I said the worker could call in for £50 to keep the lights on for a while.

What about getting in touch with his MP?........ Ah. Right. His local MP is none other than Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland, the Right Honourable David Mundell. Lots of e mails had been sent and and not a single one had been honoured with any kind of reponse. Business as usual in our wonderful United Kingdom.

On a particularly rock bottom day, our man made his way to the local police station and begged the duty officer to arrange for him to be deported. The duty officer had explained he couldn't manage this. Not his department. Prison maybe, but deportation... sorry pal. No can do.

If only our guy wasn't a human being. If he was a lost dog with liver cancer, things would be so very different. A shiny yellow dog ambulance would come racing to the rescue and he would be whisked away to a state of the art centre where no expense would be spared.

How my man would just love to be treated like a dog. But he won't be. Not right here, right now. In Britain 2019. In the parliamentary constituency of the Right Honourable David Mundell MP, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Scotland.

Not in a month of Sundays.

And I don't suppose our name is going to feature in any wills either.

Helping out poor people isn't the way to get yourself a shiny new van and a roof which doesn't leak. 

Maybe it's time for the merest touch of emotional blackmail? What the hell, why not …….

If by any chance these words have made you feel sorry for us, then the link below will take you to our online fundraising page!


Tuesday, May 21, 2019


If you would like to give my new book, 'The Last valley', a try before you buy, here is Chapter One for you to check out. If the next few pages do the trick, all the links you need to read the rest of the book appear at the end of the blog.





Looking back, the day I set out down the road into the darkness couldn't have been more ordinary.

It was February. It was raining. It was Glasgow. It was another day in my life.

The alarm on my phone let me know it was seven o'clock. It didn't have to. I was awake already.

Just like every day.

Had I slept? Maybe. Probably. A couple of hours.

The car crash of my sorry life was laid out around me in the thin grey light which seeped in through a small window.

I lay on my back staring up at a ceiling which was in dire need of a lick of paint. A bare bulb, not lit. Cobwebs in three out of four corners.

No heating.

I was fully clothed on a lumpy camp bed bought from the charity shop three doors down.
When was the last time I had managed to take off my clothes and get under the covers? A while.
The table in the middle of the room told the story of the night before. An empty bottle. A full ash tray. A half eaten take away.

It was all laid out in the grey light like a Van Gogh for the twenty first century. Just another middle aged guy gone to seed.

As in me.

I'm Malone by the way.

Just Malone. People stopped using my christian name many years ago. Including me. When I mutter to myself, I address myself simply as Malone. Why? I have no idea. Somewhere along the line my first name just got lost.

To be honest, and I might as well be honest, I have little or no desire to write much about myself. I would rather avoid the whole subject. I would rather wash it away.

Along with all the rest of it.

The grinding, ongoing, never ending car crash of my life. Who wouldn't?

But it's not an option.

You see, this is the thing. The stark reality. The unavoidable issue.

There is no way I can tell the story of Gregor Curtis without also telling my own story.

Now, as I look back with a small degree of clarity, I can see it was no accident I became the guardian of the memory of Gregor Curtis. Just like waking up to a screaming headache and a sand paper mouth on that grey February morning was no accident.

If my life had been in a happy, smiley place, then I would never have heard the name Gregor Curtis. I would never have been chosen to follow his tracks down the road into the darkness.

My shit life made me the ideal candidate. I ticked every one of their boxes. I just didn't know it. Not then. How could I have?

I wanted a few things as I lay there staring up at the ceiling. I wanted to piss. I wanted to throw up. I wanted a sweet cup of tea. I wanted to make some bloody money. I wanted to clear the pile of bills in the drawer of my desk. I wanted to find something, anything, to make the day less empty.

I wanted a mission.

And like room service, a mission was duly served up.

It was a mission which took me thousands of miles away from the greyness of Glasgow. It was a mission which took me into the waiting darkness.

A choice mission, as addictive as uncut heroin.

A mission which quickly became an obsession.

And when the mission was done, I would never want another one.


At times I have been considered to be an orderly sort of man. So I guess a potted history is as good a way as any to lay out my life. The bare bones. The sad and the sorry. The four and a bit decades which took me to a camp bed in the back room of a small shop come office on Craigie Road in Glasgow.

I was born in Airdrie in 1974. Dad was with the Council and he wore a suit to his work. Mum was a primary school teacher. I had an older sister and no brothers. We had a dog and we went on holiday to Spain once a year.

We lived in a council house. Our scheme was dull. Nothing much happened. Crime was low and most people knew each other. People said good morning when they walked their dogs.

I was neither bullied nor abused. I wasn't particularly popular at school, but I wasn't a loner either. I had mates, none of them close. I played for the school team. Right back. I followed Rangers because my uncle supported them and he took me to games every now and then.

I did well enough in my exams to warrant an offer from Strathclyde University to study history.

In my first year I hooked up with Elspeth who also studied history. In years two and three we shared a flat along with two of her pals.

The time duly came to start making career decisions. I put my name in the hat to become an officer in the British Army and was mildly surprised when they said yes.

In 1996 I passed out of Sandhurst, joined the Military Police and married Elspeth. And I did OK. I did Bosnia and Kosovo. I banged heads together on Saturday nights in Germany. I banged heads together on Saturday nights on the streets of garrison towns at home.

I made Captain.

And in 2003 I flew out to Iraq.

Let's just say things didn't go so well. I wasn't in trouble or anything. Instead, I was disgusted. With my country. With the army. With myself. With the things we did. With the way we behaved. With the abject, cheap-skating shoddiness of it all. With the endless lies. With the misplaced arrogance. With our complete and utter lack of understanding.

My mind was infected with a choice selection of sights and sounds. Snap shots, frozen in time. Decisions which looked OK at the time. Prawns sewn into the lining to fester and rot.

I became an arsehole. Suddenly I was always angry. Elspeth stuck it out gamely for a while before fleeing to her mum and dad's house in Bathgate.

Our divorce was finalised in 2006. I resigned my commission in 2007 and joined the police.

I was a detective with the drug squad for nine years. I did the dawn raids. I kicked in front doors. I marched guys out into the street in their underwear. I pulled addicts off the street on Friday afternoons and left them in the cells to shiver and rattle before sitting them down for interrogation in the early hours of Monday morning. I ran informers and I traded tenner bags of smack for the names of dealers.

And it was OK. I didn't have any problem with any of it. Sure, we cut corners. But to my way of thinking, we were dealing with the worst of pond life. Stuff the rules, right? We weren't exactly a band of brothers, but we were tight enough.

For eight years, my gaffer was DI Richard Walker. Rich was in all respects a cartoon version of a Glasgow copper. He was old school. He drank hard, smoked hard and was three stones overweight. He was long divorced and spent his evenings in pubs where every drink was on the house.

Was he bent? Of course he was. And when they investigated him they found a Nationwide account with an inexplicabe balance. They suggested a quiet retirement would be best for everyone.

So Richard quietly retired and set himself up as a Private Investigator. 'Walker Investigations'. A cheap office on Craigie Road with no business rates for his first year. The place had been many things. Asian grocery. Hairdressers. Computer repairs. Then it had became just another boarded up window on a street of boarded up windows. The landlord was more than happy to sign off on a peppercorn lease.

When I called in for a brew, Rich told me the address was immaterial. It wasn't like he was looking for passing trade. His work would come from thirty years worth of time on the Force. Contacts and connections. Favours owed. It was a place to keep his filing cabinets and to receive his snail mail. As ever, his real place of work was a chain of long familiar pubs.

A year after Rich started up on his own, it was my turn to resign quietly having cut one corner too many.

Rich offered me 50/50 partnership and I said yes. I did the leg work whilst he talked us into business. Most of our customers were from the wrong side of the tracks. Dealers who we had once upon a time chased down and arrested. Now they were more than happy to pay good money for what Walker Investigations had to offer. We gave them information on their competitors and helped them to identify weak links in opposition chains of command.

Things were good enough from a money point of view. Morally it stank to high heaven, but by this stage I was pretty much past caring. I spent my days watching scum bags going about their business and my nights in the pub with Rich. I started sleeping in my clothes. I started waking up from Basra nightmares. I started to unravel.

And then Rich died from a classic Glasgow heart attack and I became the sole owner of Walker Investigations.

Slowly but surely, the business drained away. To cut costs, I left my flat and moved into the back room of the office. I bought a camp bed. I stopped drinking in the pub and instead drank on my own. In the back room of the office. A bottle of scotch a day. Sometimes two.

The bill drawer filled up. My landlord threatened me with mates with baseball bats. And one by one, things fell apart. I stopped washing. I ate junk.

And I drank. All the time. Sometimes enough to acquire some oblivion. Most of the time not.

All the way to a grey, February morning. Lying on my charity shop camp bed. Staring at the same old ceiling. Fully clothed on the top of the covers.

Lost. Done. Gone. Shot.

I dragged myself to my feet. Kettle. Tea. Three sugars. The first roll up of another day. Two pints of tap water.

A piss.

Three bouts of vomiting.

Six 500mg Paracetemol.

More tea. Three rounds of white toast. No butter. There wasn't any butter. There was never any butter. Remembering to buy milk was about my limit.

After a while, my head calmed down to a dull ache. The dryness of the toast settled the nausea. The water and the tea pushed back the dehydration. Rolling Brexit talk poured out tinnily from my radio.

And the light coming in from the filthy back window turned from dark grey to light gray. I put on my shoes and carried my third mug of tea through to the front office.

One desk. Two filing cabinets. A phone. A coat stand. A 2016 calender from a local garage. A large front window giving a view across a busy road to three storey brownstone tenements.

Pedestrians hurried by. Cars splashed through puddles. Buses advertised new movies. Someone yelled to someone called Danny.

There was mail on the mat. Two brown envelopes and and one white envelope. Two cheap envelopes and one expensive envelope. Two bills and one......

One what? Grainy to the touch. The paper was almost thick enough to be deemed cardboard. My name and address was hand written in careful letters. Blue ink from a fountain pen. I turned it in my hand.

An address on the back in a severe font.

Hamilton and Brown,
Solicitors and Notaries Public
42 Dale St
Est 1876

No post code.

Would a firm of briefs boasting of being established in 1876 really stoop so low as to chase a nickel and dime private investigator for a bunch of nickel and dime debts? Most of the people I owed money to preferred the baseball bat option to the blue ink and fountain pen option.


I opened up and pulled out paper to match the opulence of the envelope.

A letterhead with the same address plus a phone number. No website. No e mail address. A vague scent of something Dickensian. Pale clerks and not a sound beyond a ticking wall clock.

'Dear Mr Malone.

Mr Hamilton would like to discuss a proposal. He is available at the above address at 3pm on Tuesday, February 17th.


Miss V. Done

If Mr Hamilton was chasing debt, he would have probably tried harder to sugar the pill. After all, the objective of the letter was get me to turn up. In person. In Dale St. A hundred and forty three years after the formation of Hamilton and Brown, Solicitors and Notaries Public. Solicitors seldom bother to threaten in person. They like to do it in writing. They like to have a record for their files.

A proposal then. A job. Maybe a daily rate sufficient to see off a few of the overdue bills. More than everything else, it was something. The first something in weeks. A reason to endure the shivering misery of a sponge wash care of the back room sink. Enough to yank out my one and only suit from the wardrobe. For a more or less presentable white shirt. I even jettisoned any last residual feelings of pride and knotted my old regimental tie around my neck.

The result? Not great. I looked myself over in the greasy mirror and turned down the corners of my mouth at the sight in the glass. Tired hair in dire need of a wash. Skin with far too much grey and yellow. A thin, sallow face with lines running in all the wrong directions.

Nondescript, ill and bitter.

Malone, 2019.

I can't pretend to have had any deep philosophical conversations with myself. I pushed a roll up into my mouth and lit it up. I stared into my refected hollow eye sockets. I drew in and blew out.

I spoke to myself.

"Fuck it."

Outside the damp air soon got the better of my rain coat as I waited on the bus along with a 'Jack the Lad' type in headphones and a large black woman clutching handfulls of stuffed carrier bags.

I holed up in a once familiar pub and quietly stiffened myself with a couple of pints of Heavy complete with chasers. Then it was Dale St in the rain.

Number 42. A glossy black door. A small name plate. Discreet. A place feeling neither the desire nor the need to advertise itself.

Hamilton and Brown
Solicitors and Notaries Public.

I rang and was imediately buzzed in. A hallway. Crimson carpet and cream walls. A line of sentimental nineteenth century water colours of the Highlands. A door to the right.


A desk complete with a bird like woman. Bunched grey hair. Charcoal jacket. Black polo neck. A string of pearls. The face of a hawk.

"Mr Malone."


"Please take a seat."

I took. The room lacked a clock to tick. Raptor lady pecked at her key board. Was her desk an 1876 original? Was she an 1876 original?

I guess about three minutes passed before a starched sort of man opened the door from the hallway. A coal black three piece suit. A watch chain. Pure white hair swept back from a bland sort of a face. Gleaming shoes. A handkerchief in his breast pocket.

"Please come with me Mr Malone."

I left the sound of clacking keys behind and followed the man who I assumed to be Mr Hamilton up the stairs to the first floor. We entered an office of dark wall paper and green leather. He took a seat behind a large hard wood desk. I sat opposite and took in my surroundings. Book cases and yet more watercolours of heather clad mountains.

"I'm Hamilton. Thank you for attending."

No hand shake. Not even eye contact. Instead he busied himself with some papers which he carefully laid out like a card dealer.

"I require some details. You are the sole owner of Walker Investigations?"

"I am."

"Malone. Christian name please."

"I don't use one."

"All the same. I would be obliged. For the file."


"Excuse me?"

"You wrote to me, remember? So maybe you can stop the fucking about and tell me about the job. If I decide to take it, then maybe we can decide what goes in the file. Or not. So to speak."

He lifted his eyes and fixed me with a kind of bleak stillness. He wasn't remotely intimidated.

"I see. Fine. Am I correct in assuming you undertake missing persons work?"

"You are."

"Good. I represent a client who wants a missing person found. My client is willing to pay a daily rate of £300 plus any reasonable expenses. A bonus of £10,000 will be paid if and when you deliver the aforementioned missing person to my client."

"So not just find then. Find and deliver?"


"And is your client expecting me to deploy force to make the aforementioned delivery take place?"

"Obviously not. Persuasion only."

I eased back into the green leather. "OK. I'm listening. What is your client's relationship to the missing person?"

His eyes were latched onto mine now. And not in any kind of friendly way. He weighed up my question for potential insolence.


I nodded. "How long has the person been missing?"

"Since 2016."

I greeted this with a quiet whistle.

"That's a while."

"Yes it is. My client is dying, Mr Malone. He has little time left. He will leave a not inconsiderable estate when he passes. The son is his only heir. My client desires a degree of reconciliation before he passes. He wants to know his estate will pass into safe hands,"

"Am I to take it your client isn't so sure about how safe his son's hands are right now?"

"You are."


This made him consider carefully. He fiddled with the small pile of papers in front of him before delivering weighed words.

"In the months before my client's son went missing his lifestyle, his way of thinking, his whole aspect..... well.. it became... unsound. Unsound."


"Yes. Mr Malone. Unsound."

It was my turn to weigh a few words. I had plenty to weigh. I had a desk drawer filled to bursting point with unpaid bills. I had a landlord threatening me with the kind of pals who liked the feel of baseball bat on shin. I had an empty fridge. I had fuck all. And £300 a day was way above my normal pay scale. But years of hard won experience had taught me to look every gift horse in the mouth. Every tooth."

"Why me?"

"Excuse me?"

"Come on Mr Hamilton. Let's not fuck about here. You've obviously done some research. Walker Investigations are hardly 'A' list. We don't get too many calls from Notaries Public since 1876 offering £300 per day plus all reasonable expenses. There has to be some kind of back story, right?"

Hamilton's only reaction was an all but imperceptible twich of the mouth. I gave myself a small smile. Of course he had underestimated me. I was pretty sure he knew only too well how flat broke and fucked I was. What he hadn't considered was the power of muscle memory. He was way too focussed on Malone 2019. He had forgotten Malone 1996 to 2016. Malone the Military Policeman. Malone the DS on the Glasgow Drug Squad. Malone who didn't take well to being pissed about.

To my great surprise he produced a bleak sort of smile.

"Your point is well enough made, Mr Malone. I contacted you having undertaken extensive research. Of course you were not the first choice. I engaged the services of a large firm of private investigators three months ago. Their results were disappointing to say the least. I asked them to look into someone who might be better suited to this particular task. They gave me your details."

"Did they say why?"

"They did. They suggested you are well qualified to take on the task. You have a strong military background. And your time with the Drug Squad has made you familiar with what we might call the underbelly of the city."


"Yes, Mr Malone. The underbelly. The dark corners. The nooks and crannies. The shadows where the secrets are kept. Do I need to go on?"

"No. You don't. That was actually quite poetic. For a Notary Public."

"They also informed me you are not averse to cutting corners."

"And you reckon corners might need to be cut?"

"I do."

"Hence the £300 per day plus all reasonable expenses."


"OK. You have my attention. Maybe you can tell me more?"

He hestitated like a man about to make a first parachute jump. It was obvious he hated every inch of the cut of my gib. His problem was that the cut of my gib was precisely what he was looking for. With an air of resignation he eased the small pile of papers across the desk to a place where I could pick them up.


I read. And from the get go I could see this was no run of the mill missing person.

Gregor Eric Curtis.

DOB 23/9/1985

Place of Birth : Inverness.

Gordonstoun School, Cambridge University, Sandhurst, The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders

Father : George Elison Curtis. Glenlarich, Sutherland, IV20 7TD

DOB 13/5/1937

Majority shareholder The Curtis Group BVI Ltd

Mother – Helen Curtis – DOB 21/11/1951 - Died of cancer 1991.

Gregor Curtis was medically discharged from the British Army in August 2013 having spent 11 months at the Headley Court Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre.

I checked the back of the paper to see if there was any more text for me to read. There wasn't. Instead there were some photographs. Gregor Curtis scrubbed and serious in the uniform of his Prep school. Gregor Curtis in filthy rugby kit looking ill at ease holding a trophy. An older Gregor in another school photo. 15? Maybe 16? A seriousness. A stillness. A certain composure. An oddly other worldly air. And now Gregor graduating from Cambridge. Maybe the merest hint of resentment. Not so much as a trace of a smile. And finally Gregor passing out of Sandhurst. This one got my attention. I recognised the bejewelled General who was presenting the sword for the year's 'Best of Intake.'


Gordonstoun, Cambridge, 'Best of Intake'.

The boy was clearly a player. And yet not one of the carefully posted shots showed so much as trace of happiness. Or contentment. Instead he seemed detached. Almost bored. Not quite there. I had met a few like him in my time. The ones who always sat a little apart. The ones who were never quite on the same wave length. They tended to be the guys you wanted to have your back once the shooting started.

Gregor Curtis was well and truly on the fast track. But now Hamilton had chosen me because of my connections with Glasgow's underbelly. Nothing seemed to fit.

One last sheet of paper. A print out from some kind of online news site. 'June 2015' was scrupulously hand written at the top of the page.

'New help for Glasgow's homeless Vets'

A grainy picture. Some kind of industrial yard. High breeze block walls with broken glass cemented on top. A beat up looking bus. And a figure in the foreground, half turning away from the camera. Long hair and a beard. Jeans. Work boots. A parka. One arm raised to sheild the face from the camera. Raised a second too late. Just a second.

A flash of anger. And a vicious scar running from ear to chin.

The story was only a couple of papargraphs long. War hero Gregor Curtis is still fighting hard for his comrades. A bus. Food cooked over a brazier. Warmth and comradeship on cold Glasgow nights. For the lost. For the broken. For the ones left behind by a heartless country....

A medical discharge. Nearly a year in Headley Court. And now here he is helping out the city's broken vets.

I flipped one of the sheets of A4. I pulled out a Bic. Armed and dangerous, right?

"This is all of it?"

"It is."

"OK if I ask a few questions?"

"By all means."

"When did father and son last speak?"

"At Headley Court. In 2013."

"Was it amicable?

"I rather think it wasn't"

"Do you know why?"


"Have you an address? I presume he didn't live on the bus."

"A flat in Sighthill. Vacated in 2016. No forwarding address."

"And then nothing?"


I tapped my teeth with the pen.

"Dad's address. A house name and a county. Big place I presume?"

"It is. A little over 2000 acres. The house has twelve bedrooms."

"So pretty much a castle then?"

"You could say that."

"The Curtis Group BVI Ltd. BVI as in British Virgin Islands, yeah?"


"What is it? The Curtis Group?"

"A hedge fund. My client founded it in 1985."

"What kind of funds do they manage?"

"A little over two billion."

"Last year's yeild?"


I tapped some more at my teeth and did the sums. "Two hundred and twenty million and not a penny of tax to pay. Nice work if you can get it. I presume his share is half a percent?"


"Hardly minimum wage then. So. Glenlarich. Is this a hereditary thing?"

"No. My client is originally from Edinburgh. He purchased Glenlarich in 1992. He also has property in Hampstead."

"Where did Gregor call home? The Highlands or London?"

"Glenlarich. Always. He hated the city."

"And now daddy is worrying about his legacy. Has the Curtis Group always made this kind of cash?"

"Most of the time. Obviously there have been one or two lean years."

"And Gregor never married? No kids?"


I dropped my pen on the desk and folded my arms. "You know what Mr Hamilton, I wish I'd read this lot before agreeing £300 a day. But there you go. Such is life. Is that all you have for me?"

And now for the first time I sensed a certain unease.

"There is one more thing. It is a little incomfortable. Since 2013 Gregor has left messages on the Glenlarich answering machine. Three in all. One in 2016. Two in 2017. The messages were recorded in the early hours....."

He glanced down to his notes.

"..... 2.43, 3.12 and 4.22.... I will play them for you.... just give me a moment please..."

He pecked at a keyboard for a few seconds.

And then the silence of the room was interrupted by an almost gentle voice. Low. Clear diction. A light Scottish accent. Measured and yet somehow threatening. The line was clear enough, but somehow the words felt like they were coming in from the depths of outer space.

' July 22, 2016

"Hello father. Here's something for you to chew on with the chaps. You know, those good old boys who come up in August to bag a few of your grouse. Contacts. Colleagues. Pals. Maybe even partners in crime. So why don't you all have a wee dram and ponder this. What is the definition of a terrorist? It is a man who throws a stone at a tank. What do you think father? You and all your pals....."

'February 3, 2017

"Try this on for size my dear father. Just try it. I think you will deem it to be filth. Garbage. Bloody communist claptrap, right? Of course it is. Here we go father. Here is what the man says. We can easily find the money needed to eradicate poverty but we will never, ever have enough money to satisfy the rich. Are you satisfied yet father? Are you sated.........."

'November 13, 2017

"GPS father. Oh don't you just love GPS. How did we ever manage without it? Life isn't worth living without a good old guidance system. The real deal. The best a man can get. Capable of delivering high explosives enough to explode a child into a thousand pieces and all from the comfort of home. From afar. From anywhere you like. Accurate to ten centimetres, right? All hail the age of the smart bomb. All hail the surgical strike. All hail the return on capital. All hail the bang for the buck. House by house and village by village and town by town and city by city. Let's just cut out the middle man and kill them all. Every last single fucking one of them. Every last one......"

Hamilton pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his lips.

"As I said. It seems Gregor's state of mind has become unsound."

But I wasn't really listening to what Hamilton had to say. The paperwork had already got my attention. But the voice? Christ. The voice sank hooks into me. The voice reached all the way into the dark places in my soul. The voice sent my head spinning like a hard pull on a crack pipe.

I stood. I folded the papers and pushed them into my inside pocket. I reached an open hand across the old desk. Hamilton duly shook it. Then he cleared his throat.

"I have prepared a basic contract. You can read it at your leisure. If you leave your bank details I will transfer £5000 by the close of business. Is that agreeable?"

"It is. I need you to arrange for me to speak with Geoge Curtis. Let's say the day after tomorrow, shall we?"

"That is completely out of the question. My client is not a well man and...."

"It's non negotiable. If he wants me to find his son, then he can grit his teeth."

"I will see what I can do."

"I also need you to email me the audio files. The messages."

A nod.

"I'll be in touch."

"Goodbye Mr Malone."

"And goodbye to you, Mr Hamilton."

At the bottom of the stairs I flicked a glance into reception and my eyes met the eyes of hawk lady. And then she passed out of my view.

I walked out of the glossy door and into the street. Into the grey. Into the damp.

And I took my first steps along the road into into the darkness.

To check out the Kupata Project.

To order an actual, physical book call or text me on 07770 443483 or email me on I'll send out a signed copy and once you receive it you can pop a £12.50 donation onto our fundraising page.

If you prefer your reading digital, the book can be found in the Amazon Stroe right here.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


About twenty years ago, I starting writing my first book on a clunky word processor I had picked up in Comet. I have a vague memory of endless hours of painfully slow typing. I had absolutely no idea if any of the words I was getting onto the tiny screen were any good whatsoever. After fifty or so pages, I bit the bullet and printed out the first few chapters. Much to my surprise, people seemed to like them. More than that, they wanted to know what happened next.

So I finished the book and 'One Man's Meat' was born. It did OK. Thankfully lots of readers gave me the only feedback I was really interested in hearing – 'couldn't put the bloody thing down.'

A few people had plenty to say about my woeful grammar. Nothing new there. Every one of my English teachers had had done the same. Luckily I had no aspiration to become the next Hemingway. If people liked the story enough to want to keep on turning the pages, well, that was good enough for me.

So fast forward two decades and here we are. See the book cover up at the top of the page? Yup. It's another one. My 25th.

I guess I should probably tell you a bit about it.

I'll start with the nuts and bolts. My last few books have all been written with the goal of raising funds for charity: three books for First Base, the foodbank I manage and one for the wonderful 'Clark's Little Ark' in Sanquhar.

Well, 'The Last Valley' is more of the same. This time all proceeds from the book will be going to the Kupata Project, a new charity Carol and I set up last year in Uganda. Every penny we raise here in Scotland goes to buying sanitary pads for the school girls in Uganda. We have no paid staff, no office, no fat pension schemes, no expense accounts. 

We don't pretend to know anything better than the good folk of Kabale Province. African school girls like Scottish school girls have a period once every month. And when they have their period, they need sanitary pads. Are sanitary pads available? Sure they are. How much do they cost? 50p per pack. And this is a big problem. The average wage in Kabale Province is about £1.50 a day. The price of a kilo of rice is about the same as we pay in Tesco.

Have you done the maths? Buying a pack of 'Always' requires a third of a family's daily income. I wonder how many Scottish families could run to £33 for a pack of sanitary pads? No wonder almost all Ugandan school girls miss up to a week of their education every month. So it's a massive problem with an utterly simple solution.....

Provide sanitary pads.

So that is what we try to do. We don't tell them how to live their lives. We don't pretend to know anything better than they do. We simply pay the bills.

Please check out our website via the link below if you want to find out a bit more about what we are doing.

Right now we are providing pads to one school – Kamuganguzi Janan Luwum Memorial School. When we delivered our first six month supply in November 2017, the school was home to 250 girls and 250 boys. We have recently delivered our third batch.

So what has happened since? Well, levels of absenteeism and infection have both fallen dramatically. But here is the real clincher. As I write this, the school is home to 250 boys and 412 girls. This seems to prove conclusively what a difference access to free sanitary pads can make.

We now have a waiting list of six more schools who would dearly love us to help them out. Everything is in place to make it happen – we have a secure supply chain all set up and two brilliant volunteers on the ground. We lack only one essential ingredient.


So with a bit of luck, 'The Last Valley' will raise a few quid and enable us to start helping out one or two of the schools on the list.

For the first time in ages, I have decided to print of some actual paperback copies of the book. 300. So eat your heart out Johnny Grisham! Hell, I guess it could be called a limited edition. Well, actually it couldn't because if I manage to sell the first 300 copies then I will print another 300.

If you would like a copy then you can either email me at or text me on 07770 443483. Please let me know your name and address and who you would like the book signed to. Then I will stick a copy in the post. Once you receive the book, please put a donation of £12.50 onto our fundraising page - £10 plus £2.50 postage.

Here's the link.

The proceeds for each copy are enough to provide a year's worth of sanitary pads for one of the girls.

If you are like me and prefer digital reading, the book is available in the Amazon store for £5. You can find it via this link.

The proceeds from each digital sale will sort out one of the girls for six months.

Before getting onto the subject of the book itself, there are a couple of other things. If you feel you might be able to persuade a few friends and family members to buy a copy, I would dearly love to send you as many copies as you need. Go on. Release your inner sales person.

Also I am more than happy to hit the road to hawk a few copies, so if you are involved in a Rotary club or Round Table of WRI group and you are always looking for a free of charge monthly speaker, then I'm your guy. Have books, will travel. You can get hold of me via either email or mobile.

OK. That's the nuts and bolts pretty much done.

The book.

For what it's worth, in my own opinion it might just be the best thing I have written yet. Obviously I'm too close to it for my view to be worth much. But there it is anyway.

The back story to 'The Last Valley' goes back forty years to the autumn of 1979. My life was about to spin off in all kinds of new directions. In fact it was already happening. My days as a Blackburn school boy were done. I was on a year off en-route to the cloistered Disneyland of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

My sights were set on a four month overland journey from London to Nairobi in an old Bedford truck. Which meant by hook or by crook I needed to come up with about £1000 by the spring of 1980. An ad in the Lancashire Evening Post alerted me to the chance of earning £65 per week plus commision. It seemed worth a look. A phone call won me an interview in one of Preston's less salubrious pubs. It turned out the job involved the door to door selling of loft insulation. The boss of North West Insulation Services was a crook to his toenails. A living, breathing caricature of a 1970's gangster. Sheepskin coat. A host of thick gold rings. A white Rolls Royce. He bought me pint, tossed a few papers at me and told me to read them. They were letters of complaint from members of the public who were outraged at the high pressure selling techniques deployed by his troops.

A broad Mancunian voice which would have walked into any episode of 'Life on Mars'

"If I don't get at least two letters like this about you in the first two weeks, you're fucking fired, right?"

And that was that. Three pints of bitter and I was hired.

I started knocking doors at six in the evening and kept on going until eight thirty. I averaged about a hundred a day. 90 would slam in my face. Ten would give my pitch a hearing. Four would sign on the dotted line and stump up a £20 deposit.

It all ended in tears when my boss and mentor vanished from the face of the earth leaving hundreds of angry punters and a police investigation. Rumour had it the man of the hour had hopped it to Hong Kong. An outraged article in the Lancashire Evening Post said the police were looking for an unknown salesman who had sold uninstalled loft insulation to six residents on one small Blackburn street. Thankfully by the time the article rolled off the presses, the unknown salesman was somewhere in the middle of the Sahara desert.

Anyway. It was evening work which meant my days were free. One afternoon I parked up my VW Beetle and bought myself a matinee ticket at Preston's crumbling Odeon cinema.

I had been waiting for 'Apocalyse Now' to hit the big screen for months. When I took my seat, I checked out all corners of the large cinema and realised I was the one and only punter. Which felt pretty damn weird. The lights went down and napalm lit up the jungle to a Jim Morrison overlay.

'Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain where all the children are insane...'

The next two and a bit hours put a hook into me which has been with me for four decades. How many times have I watched the film since? Christ knows. Maybe 20. Maybe more. I can virtually recite it word for word.

Further enquiries told me the inspiration for Francis Ford Copolla's masterpiece was an 1899 novella by Joseph Conrad. 'The Heart of Darkness'. I duly bought myself a copy and the back cover told me the story was all about a journey up river into the depths of the Congo.

Which of course was exactly where I was headed care of my efforts as a doorstep salesman. So I packed the book away and determined to read it once our truck made it all the way to the banks of the great river. Several months later I found myself sitting on the terrace of a crumbling old Belgian bar drinking a bottle of warm Primus beer. The vast river flowed by below me. The humidity was off the charts, but it didn't botter me much. By the time we reached Kisangai in the heart of what was then Zaire, I had gone pretty much native.

So I sat and I read. Five bottles later in the thicking light of an African dusk, I was done. And another forty year old hook was well and truly embedded.

A few weeks down the road from Kisangani, we climbed up and out of the jungle into the jaw dropping beauty of North Kivu. Everything about the magical heart of Africa got into me. Things got a tad hairy when the Rwandan border soldiers refused point blank to let us in which meant we had to bribe our way into Uganda. Our journey north to Kenya was extraordinary. A couple of months earlier, the Tanzanian army had invaded and thrown out Idi Amin. The road was littered with burnt out vehicles and walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. But the people were in full on party mode. Those few days made an indelible impression on the nineteen year old me.

I returned to the region a few years later to find it devastated by the Aids plague. And then a vast insanity descended. What started with the Rwandan genocide morphed into Africa's very own Great War. Five million died and North Kivu became a jungle version of Mad Max.

Zaire became the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the DRC became a by-word for complete and utter anarchy.

Thankfully Uganda by and large managed to stay clear of the madness. In November 2017, Carol and I made our way to the Kabale region in the south west of the country and set up the Kupata Project.

All of which brings me to right now. Once I made my mind up to write a book to raise funds for the Kupata Project, I needed a story. Well, duh!

I needed a story which would make its way from Scotland into the depths of North Kivu. A journey. It didn't take so very long for a long lost afternoon on the banks of the Congo to make its way into my head.

Why not a 2019 version of Joseph Conrad's epic tale? Why not indeed. And once the thought was in my head, the story of 'The Last Valley' quickly started to take shape.

In 'The Heart of Darkness', British sea captain Marlowe heads up river to find the mysterious Mr Kurtz. In 'Apocalypse Now', Captain Willard heads up the Nung river into Cambodia to find and kill the renegade Green Beret Colonel, Walter E Kurtz.

In 'The Last Valley', Malone, a Glasgow private investigator is hired to find the missing Gregor Curtis, the son of a hedge fund founder.

Have I done any kind of justice to Conrad's work of genius? And have I done any kind of justice to the terrible beauty to be found in the very heart of Africa? Well, that is not for me to say. I have done my best. At the time of writing I only have one review.

I'm of Mark's generation so I encountered 'The Heart of Darkness' and 'Apocalypse Now' around the same time and remember the impact they had on me. 'The Last Valley' is a worthy descendent, and Mark the perfect writer to do the update, because with Mark you always get uncompromising, real and honest writing about the dark places others avoid or manipulate. Like all his works it hooks you quickly, grips you and doesn't let you go from beginning to end. Oh, and you're giving money to charity at the same time. To a real, honest charity as down to earth and necessary as the story being told. Best fiver you'll spend all year! 

Thanks for that Cally.

I hope all readers will find themselves in a win, win situation. Even if you hate every single one of the 54,000 words I have written, at least you can know your purchase will have enable an African school girl to get a full, uninterrupted year of education. You will have made a huge difference in one life. Maybe a life changing difference. And yeah, yeah, this all sounds pretty New Age, but it also happens to be true.

One book sale = A full year's worth of school for one girl.

And that my friend means a small flicker of light in a place which has been home to such overwhelming darkness.

So I guess that's my sales pitch pretty much done. I hope you buy a copy and I hope you like it. I hope you buy lots of signed copies as Christmas presents for those hard to think of anything male relatives! I hope you nudge a few pals to give it a read.

And I hope we can sell enough books to help out the six schools on the Kupata waiting list.

So once again, here are the links..

To check out the Kupata Project.

To order an actual, physical book call or text me on 07770 443483 or email me on I'll send out a signed copy and once you receive it you can pop a £12.50 donation onto our fundraising page.

If you prefer your reading digital, the book can be found in the Amazon Store right here.