• Douglas Watkinson

What if...

An elderly neighbour was telling me about his owl nesting box the other day. Apparently it’s made of indestructible material, so not only will it be there a thousand years from now, there won’t be a mark on it. It made me think of the covid masks I attached to the straw drama faces on our thatched roof. One year ago. After a nasty winter they’re still there, still in one piece. As The Muse pointed out, you could take them down and breath through them as if they’d been bought yesterday. I challenged her to do so. She said if I got the ladder, went up it, took down the masks, she give it a go. Too much hassle. But the fact that the masks are still there is bad. It means there’ll be islands of the things floating around in seas, long after covid is history…

Anyway, from human covid to feathered corvid and back to my elderly neighbour’s owl box. All last year not a single owl gave it the once over. Instead a pair of Jays took up residence and my neighbour was disinclined to chuck them out. Round about September he shinned up to it (with the aid of a ladder and a son) and cleared the box out. He was surprised to find a fair amount of rubbish among the nesting material including one or two shiny, metallic objects. One was a chunk of tin-foil from a barbecue, another was a brass attachment to a lawn mower - a small valve by the look of it.

That was the point at which I became interested. What if…

What if my neighbour had found something more … inspirational than a brass knob or aluminium foil. The obvious, for a writer who is always looking for quirky beginnings to a story, would be something valuable. An antique ring with a history, for example, or, more gruesomely, something that could only have been picked off a corpse. A piercing say. And the mind boggles at which part of the human anatomy it had pierced! I say what if it had been a bullet? In the world of The Nathan Hawk Murder Mysteries my elderly neighbour would think back to the day four months previously when he heard a loud bang nearby, like an old car engine backfiring. (I have a friend in the village whose ancient Triumph seems to be propelled only by its back-firing thrust). My neighbour would now start wondering whether it was indeed an exhaust back-firing or a gun shot. He would convince himself that it was the latter. And partly out of curiosity, partly from concern, he would take the bullet to Hawk and ask him to find out just who this bullet went through before it landed on the ground ready for the Jay to scavenge.

Hawk wouldn’t be pleased but from then on he’d be badgered by the neighbour for a progress report. As a result he would send the bullet, via his Doctor ladyfriend, for testing. And find human DNA in the crevices.

That’s where the police would come in and, on account of his criminal past, they’d arrest the elderly neighbour, thus dragging Hawk completely into the story.

All this from a mad 20 minutes my elderly neighbour spent clearing out his nesting box.

I’m having a big sales campaign for Scattered Remains, ahead of the publication of White Crane, the latest Hawk story. If you read it and liked it can I ask you to go to Amazon and leave a review?

More what ifs to come. Many more.

Look after yourselves...


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