Posts Tagged ‘a novel’


September 30, 2020



The vital struggle at the heart of World War II was the Battle of the Atlantic in which British and Canadian seamen on one side, German U-boat men on other, tried to starve their opponents into submission. It lasted for 6 years; 6000 vessels and 100,000 lives were lost; nothing less than the survival of Western Civilisation hung in the balance. By comparison, titanic battles such as Waterloo, Stalingrad and Trafalgar barely count.

         Conditions for the seamen on both sides were atrocious, for much of it was fought up in far Northern latitudes normally shunned by prudent shipping. Tempestuous storms, gigantic waves, icy seas, tiny corvettes and U-boats….only the very toughest of  men fighting for their families could have stuck it.

Journalists and politicians never went out there, while secrecy was vital. So the public was never to learn of the real struggle that would  decide all of  their fates.

         Every ingenuity was sought by both sides to get that decisive edge: code-breaking, bluff, radar, wolf-pack tactics, long range reconnaissance, sonar, acoustic-torpedoes, Huff-Duff, Operational Research, depth charges,  Hedgehog ….. sailors on both sides sought for measures, counter-measures and counter-counter measures which might turn the tide.

         Not only guts, but science, and a scientific attitude towards the evaluation of evidence became vital. The central character Sturdee is a young physicist and amateur sailor recruited into Western Approaches Command, based in Liverpool which was charged with winning the battle for the Allies. He goes to sea to try and find out why the Royal Navy can’t sink U-boats. He flies out to mid ocean with Catalina crews to discover why air reconnaissance is so effective at discouraging U-boats. He analyses convoy escort tactics while in a hurricane at sea and realises that Thucydides’ principle of Concentration in Battle is still paramount. But can he persuade Admirals and Ministers to change their minds? A shy lad at the outset he has to become a dogged, astute and relentless  man, not only to help win the battle at sea but to persuade his landlady, the formidable Joan, that she’s actually in love with him, and not with her far more glamorous fiancée. The Odds are against him all round but…… imagination and tenacity may sometimes succeed – in love as in war.

         I have been fascinated by this epic since growing up during the war close to a beach in Wales where all the sad detritus of that struggle washed ashore: life-rafts, charred timbers, oiled up sea birds, bodies, oranges, mines…..    and later, as a scientist myself, I came to realise that the innumerate historians’ accounts of the epic most often missed the point. By April 1943 the US Navy had given up, the wolf packs were ravaging Allied convoys, the casualties were appalling – all seemed lost; even the Admiralty despaired. A month later it was all over and Admiral Doenitz recalled his U-boats. What turned the tide? Was it code-breaking, science, admiralty……. or just plain guts?

         The book came out on Amazon as a paperback in 2021. Readers who enjoyed ‘The Cruel Sea’ (Nicholas Monsarrat) or the television series Das Boot might enjoy this also. The author, besides being a Space astronomer is a sucker for the Hornblower novels (CS Forrester) which he’s re-read many times. Go to the Amazon website to find out more about this, and other books by the author. [450 pages, £12.50 paperback, £3.99 e-version.]


September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The last of the 4 novels of a saga set amidst Space exploration and astronomical research between 1965 and 2015 when the extragalactic universe truly hove into sight for the first time. Voyaging to a new continent is hard enough, understanding it when you first arrive is harder still. Columbus imagined he was in Japan; in Cochin Vasco da Gama saw little beyond sandalwood and spices; Pissaro couldn’t tear his greedy eyes off Inca gold. What will the first voyagers make of the extragalactic universe as seen from Space? What delusions will comfort them, what preconceptions will blind them to the truth? Morgan and his colleagues, friends and enemies struggle to make sense of a vast new firmament none could have foreseen. Starting at the great radio telescope in Australia Morgan confidently expects to find his own obsession, his Hidden Galaxies. But the results will come as a shock. Or could there be some deep misunderstanding? Meanwhile the race is on to repair and refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope following the Columbia tragedy. Back in Wales Curly and Petrel struggle to make sense of the Sea Empress disaster which chokes their Pembrokeshire coast in oil. Love comes to Morgan from far far away as his university decides to sack him. Old Salt is on his last legs but is not too weak to take on the Establishment, while Frank has persuaded Europe to build the world’s largest telescope. The closest family relationships are poisoned by jealousy; Petrel changes tack; Morgan goes to Venice and ‘hears the horns of elfland faintly blowing’. But has he become unbalanced, as many of his colleagues believe? A great oak falls; Jack Cockle departs. Whose dreams will come true, whose hopes will be dashed`?

The deepest image ever taken of the Universe. It was taken with the WFC_3 camera which Morgan helped to design and exploit towards the end of his career. Does it prove that the Universe isn’t expanding? Looks like it. Morgan thought there was something very strange going on here. It can see back 12 billion years, to before the Sun was formed. The study is called “the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project.” Courtesy ESA/NASA

Paperback available from Amazon £12.50, 400 pages, e-version £3.99


September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The third novel in the saga of Space exploration is a mix of triumph, disaster and surprise. The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up killing all the astronauts. A colossal Hidden Galaxy turns up crouching beneath the sky. Morgan unexpectedly acquires a daughter and discovers, to general surprise, that spiral galaxies are heavily veiled in smoke. The Hubble Space Telescope gets launched, but with a crippled mirror; ways must be found to put it right. Finally the first very deep images come back from Space; but what do they mean? Rows break out between the teams. Frank builds an observatory on a remote Atlantic isle. Bob Salt intervenes in the Cold War while, deep behind the Iron Curtain Morgan has two encounters which will change his life. But then he almost loses it all. The action shuttles back and forth between Wales, Cape Canaveral, The Caucasus, Castel Gandolfo, the Arabian mountains, Baltimore, the Canary Islands, India, Australia, Paris….. See ‘Against the Fall of Night‘ and ‘The Whispering Sky’ for the two previous novels, with same main characters and ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ its successor and the finale to the saga.

A montage of galaxies found by Morgan and his team solely based on their radio signals, thus it shouldn’t be influenced by their optical characteristics. Indeed such a search could in principle find entirely dark galaxies. As you can see some of the galaxies are almost invisible, but not quite. Perhaps most interesting are the six specimens bottom right, because they are all colossal Giants containing more Hydrogen (which emits the radio signal) than our Milky way. But as you can see some are very dim even so. Image courtesy of Prof. Julianne Dalcanton, University of. Washington Seattle, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Published Amazon paperback, 400 + pages £12.99 and as an e-book on Kindle 2021 £3.99 with equivalent prices elsewhere.


September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

The Whispering Sky is the second of a quartet of self-contained novels relating the saga of two astronomers, originally boyhood friends, caught up in humankind’s endeavour to explore the Universe from Space. Thanks to his feud with Bellfounder – the machiavellian Astronomer-Royal [See ‘Against the Fall of Night’, first in the quartet], Tom Morgan has been thrown out of British Astronomy. Cheated out of the post he had been promised he struggles precariously in Europe to try and prove that his theory of Hidden Galaxies is right. That takes him to far flung observatories from the peaks of the Andes to the Cape of South Africa. Meanwhile the US is building the Shuttle to launch a large telescope into orbit but demands European participation in the venture. Frank Cotteridge, by now Bellfounder’s protégé, is tasked with lighting the European fuse. At conferences and in laboratories across the Continent the struggle begins to try and build the first electronic camera, to act as the great telescope’s eyes. In the 1970’s that looked impossible. And yet without such eyes the telescope will be blind. The race against the clock, and with rivals in California, begins. Personal and professional tensions drive wedges between the two friends while the race for Space forces them to rely ever more closely upon one another. Morgan rashly plans his revenge on Bellfounder, a battle only one of them can possibly survive.

This illustration shows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in its high orbit 600 kilometres above Earth. Morgan and Cotteridge began working on its design back in 1977, 13 years before launch. Courtesy ESA/NASA.

At the same time Morgan is struggling, as a single parent, to bring up his son Curly and hold on to him in a bitter custody battle. When he loses, Curly is whisked away to Australia but then escapes and gets hopelessly lost in the bush.

The author was himself a professional astronomer, and a single parent, throughout this epoch. From 1976 until 2010 he was a key member of the Hubble Space Telescope team. Hubble’s story, our story, which he has been preparing to write for 20 years, is packed with dreams, heroes, shocks, villains, and the odd rare triumph. Like one of Magellan’s crew he saw great wonders and has tall tales to tell; the fight to get born, the Challenger disaster, the crippled mirror, the astronaut repair-missions, cancellation following the Columbia tragedy, renaissance, the race to prevent the space-craft dying, the huge discoveries… he was there; he was there; he was there. He knew the people, felt the pain, drank the wine. ENTIRE QUARTET ‘ called ‘Written in the Stars’ comprises: ‘Against the Fall of Night’ (1964 – 1974), ‘The Whispering Sky’ (1976 – 1983) , ‘Crouching Giant’ (1985 – 1995), ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ (1997 – 2012). All four paperbacks – each about 400 pages long – are out on Amazon, (2020), £12.99 or e-version £3.99.


September 29, 2020

A novel about astronomical research

  Against the Fall of Night is a story about astronomical research, of one man’s battle to prove that there is another universe out there, hidden below the light of the night sky. It is centred in that glorious epoch between 1960 and 2010 when mankind at last broke free from Earth’s atmosphere and had to confront the Cosmos as it truly is: vast, mysterious  and very likely beyond his puny comprehension. But will he realise that, or seize on comforting fairy stories that will only serve to conceal the truth?  

Tom Morgan the protagonist, often facing starkly contradictory evidence, is suspended between exultation and despair. Half heroic and half tragic, his quest becomes an obsession which drives him round the world in search of the killer clue, forces him into confrontation with a highly sceptical Establishment.

Starting in the swinging London of the mid-sixties  the action moves on to remote observatories in Arizona, Australia, Africa, the Soviet Union, the Andes, Hawaii, …..and culminates on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, for Morgan’s quest eventually leads him to become one of the designers of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Where so much of our story really began. This is Steward Observatory perched atop Kitt Peak, a mile above the Sonora Desert in Arizona. The 36-inch telescope left was used to find the Crab optical pulsar, and in the cylindrical 90-inch (centre) Morgan first started to think about Hidden Galaxies. Observers like him from the University of Arizona slept in the small buildings bottom right. The monster ‘4-metre’ was added later.

Morgan is no scientific cipher. An emotional single parent, he needs friends, comrades and lovers. He climbs, flies a glider, sails his boat and forges Van Gogh’s. Worse still he enjoys fighting a growing phalanx of enemies led by Sir Adrian Bellfounder, the unscrupulous Astronomer Royal. He is an extreme type: individual, competitive, irascible, passionate, imprudent. Throughout what will be a quartet, each part completely self-contained, but with the same central characters and spine plot, (see below) he is contrasted with his opposite, and lifelong friend and rival Frank, who has his own astronomical tale to tell. Frank  is the attractive, balanced, unselfish character who can get men and women to work together to build dreams beyond the reach of any single one. The story starts with the two friends leaving their universities, with very different prospects before them.

The author was himself a professional astronomer throughout this epoch. From 1976 until 2010  he was  a key member of the Hubble Space Telescope team. Hubble’s story, our story, which he had been preparing to write for 20 years, is packed with dreams, heroes, shocks, villains, and the odd rare triumph. Like one of Magellan’s crew he saw great wonders and has tall tales to tell; the fight to get born, the Challenger disaster, the crippled mirror, the astronaut repair missions, cancellation following the Columbia tragedy, renaissance, the race to prevent the space-craft dying, the huge discoveries… he was there; he was there; he was there. He knew the people, felt the pain, drank the wine.

ENTIRE QUARTET: ‘Written in the Stars’

  ‘Against the Fall of Night’ (1964 – 1974)  .

  ‘The Whispering Sky’ 1976 – 1983) ,

  ‘Crouching Giant’  1985 – 1995,

  ‘Beyond the Western Stars’ 1997 – 2014,

All four – each about 200 thousand words, i.e. 400 pages long have come out on Amazon, almost simultaneously (2020), as paperbacks £12.99 or as e-books £3.99 (2021)


September 29, 2020

How we could save the world with recyclable oil

This is the story of Griff Boatwright, a ‘mad’ scientist who discovered how to make ‘Recyclable Oil’, but was apparently killed in a plane-crash shortly before his magic discovery could be exploited to save the Earth from global warming. His friend Mike determines to find out what happened in the hope that others can re-discover the transformative substance before it is too late. He unearths the unlikely journey of Griff’s path towards his discovery, which takes in the mystery of tiny warblers that can fly the Atlantic, of marine iguanas, sun-loving creatures that thrive in frozen seas, and of giant pterosaurs that were, according to the laws of aerodynamics, far too massive to fly and yet, so evidently, did. This is a story of love too, of two close friends who fell for one remarkable woman , who loved both of them back, and of one man who fell in love with both a mother and her daughter, and made a fatal choice. What happened to Griff and why did did he depart this Earth before he could rescue it? Naomi believes God was somehow involved. Salome is sure he is still alive; somewhere. Mike follows the scent from a mid-Atlantic storm, to the Arabian mountains, from British Columbia to Queensland, from Tasmania’s Bay of Fires to the coast of Pembrokeshire and finally to Skomer Island. If Mike can resurrect Griff’s lost discovery humans could generate all the energy they will ever need , without harming a single ecosystem on the planet. But it all depends on Pterodactyls’ blood! The author is a Space scientist with a life-long fascination for bird-flight. The revelation of a tiny warbler landing on his ship in mid-ocean set him off wondering just how birds accomplish such apparently miraculous feats. That led him to become a soaring pilot himself and to the long-standing puzzle of how giant pterosaurs, weighing 20 times as much as any bird capable of flight today, could dominate the Earth a hundred Million years ago, before they were wiped out by a meteorite. He believes that if we can rediscover their secret , we too could make Recyclable Oil.

Wandering Albatross flying over rough sea, Southern Atlantic Ocean . I have watched such marvellous creatures with their 12 foot wingspan circling our ship for hours without a single wingbeat. Griff and Naomi spent their honeymoon studying them. We know they sometimes fly 5,000 kilometres in between feeding their chicks. They are being wiped out by long line fishermen. Mike Hill/ getty.images.

The paperback was published on Amazon in 2020 at £12.99 qnd the e-book version in August 20 21 at £3.99.

There are several posts on bird-flight, aerodynamics and pterosaurs on this site under the Category ‘Flight’. Do you know there are birds which can fly from Alaska to New Zealand, 8,000 miles, in a single hop? And we think we’re Lords of the Earth.